The Shepherds and Mary

Homily for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Eight days have passed since we came together here at Church to celebrate Christmas. Most of the world has already moved on from the message of Christmas. Some have already taken down their Christmas trees, packed away their decorations. Things have gotten back to normal for so many people. But for us as Catholics, the celebration of the Christmas Season only begins on Christmas day. The Church hasn’t stopped celebrating or reflecting on this most incredible event in the history of our human family – and we won’t stop until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

There is an invitation in that for us…the Church is asking us to stay in tune with the message of Christmas for just a bit longer. She doesn’t want us to miss the importance of when the very Creator of the world humbled himself, stepping down from His throne in Heaven, to take on our human flesh – to become one of us so that He could save us from sin and death.

Today, we gather as a community of faith once again to celebrate Christmas. We gather around the manger on this New Year’s Day, joining Mary and Joseph to adore the Christ-child. And this “New Year’s Day would have little meaning if Christ had never been born to give us hope[1]”; if He had never been born to show us the way to the Father, to invite us on our own journeys of discipleship.

The Gospel this morning gives us a couple of examples to follow in terms of living out of that hope and relying on the guidance of the Lord for our spiritual lives. The first example can be found in the shepherds.

St. Luke really “paints a beautiful picture of those poor, hardworking shepherds making their way to the stable at Bethlehem to see the child Jesus. But where did Luke find out about this encounter? He obviously wasn’t there. No newspapers covered it.”[2] It wasn’t broadcast live on CNN or Fox News. None of the Apostles were there. So how did he know about it? Only Mary could have told him. And when she did, she chose her words carefully, to make sure that the importance of this event would be passed on to generations yet to come – passed on to you and me.

Once the angel told the Shepherds that the Messiah had been born in Bethlehem and told them about what to look for, the Gospel says that they “went in haste” to find this tiny baby. “They were eager to meet the Savior, to spend time with Him, to get to know Him, to receive His blessing.”[3] Isn’t that exactly why Jesus came to earth in the first place? So that we could more easily enter relationship with God. Before then, we were a people completely “lost in darkness and searching for meaning, forgiveness, grace, and light.”[4] All of humanity was a people who needed some hope. The Jewish people who were being oppressed under the rule of Caesar certainly needed hope, they needed a mission, they needed purpose, they needed salvation. And Jesus was the one who brought them that. The shepherds understood that; they understood the meaning of the message of the angel. That’s why they went in haste to Bethlehem. Do we do the same?

Often times, we, too, can be a people in darkness – I think that has especially been the case over the last two years or so. Many of us have been searching for meaning and purpose. Maybe some of us have been stuck in a state of hopelessness, looking for forgiveness for mistakes we have made in the past or trying to make sense of a difficult family situation or trying to move past a hurt that has been inflicted upon us. We’ve needed an outpouring of grace, we’ve needed a little bit of light – we’ve needed some hope.

The answer to all of those needs is Jesus. The message that the angel told to the shepherds is the same message that we receive each and every day of the Christmas season. The angel is announcing news of great joy to us this morning. The angel is announcing that a child has been born in Bethlehem who is Christ the Lord, the Messiah, the one who has come to save us from a world of darkness. All we have to do is go in haste to Him. All we have to do is come to this altar to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, inviting Him into our hearts in a new way.

The shepherds are models for every single one of us as Christians. They remind us about what is most important in life: seeking Christ, sharing how He has come to save us, and rejoicing in His message. But life for the shepherds didn’t end on Christmas. They had to return to their daily tasks, they had to return to their normal lives after Christmas day. We have to as well. So the challenge for us is how can we keep the meaning and lessons of Christmas burning in our hearts even after we take down the Christmas decorations? We look to Mary![5]

Mary knew exactly who Jesus was – she knew what His mission was going to be – she knew the importance of this event in the history of humanity – she knew what Jesus was going to bring to the people who walked in darkness. Mary held onto that message throughout Jesus’ life. As she watched her son grow from a tiny little child born in a stable to a young boy found in the Temple teaching the elders of the Jewish faith. As she watched him become a young man working with his earthly father, Joseph, to learn how to be a carpenter. As she saw him leave for a time of tempting in the desert. As she challenged him to begin his public ministry at a wedding feast in Cana. As she watched him instruct his disciples on how to share the Good News with the world. As she watched him carry his cross through the streets, being jeered at and mocked by the Roman soldiers and people who had, days earlier, welcomed him as the Messiah. As she watched him die on that cross. Through all of it, Mary held onto the promise that Jesus was the One who would save the world. She reflected on these things and kept all these things in her heart. That is what allowed her to hold onto the hope of Christmas.

“Today in Holy Communion we will receive the Body of Christ, which was formed in the womb of Mary. When we do, let’s ask our spiritual Mother, the Mother of God and of all Christians, to teach us how to take care of the precious faith we have received and renewed during these [Christmas] days.”[6] Let’s ask her to keep us like the shepherds, attuned to the message of the angel that today in Bethlehem the Savior has been born. Let’s ask her to pray that we always go in haste to her Son when things of this world try to distract us from the Truth. Let’s ask her to be a companion for us, teaching us how to stay focused on the message of Christmas, reflecting on it in our hearts all the days of our lives.

[1], “Homily Pack: Learning from the Shepherds”

[2], “Homily Pack: Learning from the Shepherds”

[3], “Homily Pack: Making Haste to See Christ.”

[4], “Making Haste to See Christ.”

[5], “Homily Pack: Mary’s Secret,” paraphrased.

[6], “Mary’s Secret.”

Painting: “Adoration of the Shepherds,” Gerard van Honthors

Published by Fr. Tom Pringle

Priest of the Diocese of Orlando. Parochial Vicar at Holy Family Catholic Church, Orlando.

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