The Christmas Mass marathon — that’s not what it’s called — started yesterday with the Vigil Mass. Mass During the Night was next, followed by Mass at Dawn and Mass During the Day.
I didn’t go to all four, I don’t know how many folks do, but I looked up the Gospel readings for each:
- Vigil Mass
- Mass During the Night
- Mass at Dawn
- Mass During the Day
The Vigil Gospel includes one of our Lord’s genealogies. The other one is in Luke. (December 18, 2016)
This weekend’s readings from Luke, Luke 2:1 through 20, are the familiar “Christmas story,” starting with Caesar Augustus ordering a census. That census was why Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem, and our Lord’s first crib was a manger. Come to think of it, crib also means manger or grain bin.
The first shepherds lived roughly three millennia before our Lord’s birth.
Most of them were unmarried men, paid to look after someone else’s sheep. My guess is that today’s equivalent, in terms of status, would be night watchmen or janitors.
Some of these near-the-bottom-of-the-ladder folks got the Messiah’s birth announcement. So did the Magi, but we won’t meet them until later.
“4 Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock.
“The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.
“The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
“5 For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.
“And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.'”
We don’t know if the shepherds said anything to the angel. Even if one of them had been chatty, there apparently wasn’t time for a long conversation:
You know the rest. They said something like ‘you heard God’s message: let’s go see what’s happening.’ Luke 2:15 has them conversing in a somewhat more formal manner, and maybe they did. I don’t know, I wasn’t there.
Anyway, they made good time getting to Bethlehem “and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger;” like it says in Luke 2:16.
“When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child.
“All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.
“And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.
“Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.”
We don’t learn how Joseph was taking all this. I’m quite sure this isn’t how he imagined things working out, back when he and Mary got betrothed.
Life would get even more — interesting — soon, and I’m getting ahead of the story.
Two millennia later, we’re still praising God for what has been told to us.
“1 2 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
“He was in the beginning with God.
“3 All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be
“through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race;
“4 the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
It’s easier, sometimes, to notice darkness. “Destruction and violence, … strife, and clamorous discord” were happening off and on long before Habakkuk asked “How long, O LORD?” — and haven’t let up all that much since. (Habakkuk 1:2–3)
Let’s look at what the angels said again:
The footnote explains that this “peace” is more than the pax Augusta’s absence of war. Joseph, Mary, and the shepherds could have remembered the security and well-being that came with peace in the Old Testament.
“1 2 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.
“Peace 12 I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”
(John 14:1, 27)
Jesus died on Golgotha.1
But that didn’t last.
He was back, alive, a few days later.2
Ever since, we’ve been in “the last hour,” passing along to anyone who will listen the best news humanity’s ever had.
I’ve accepted God’s offer, which comes with a job that’s not even close to being finished. I’m expected to love God, love my neighbor, and see everyone as my neighbor. (Matthew 5:43–44, 22:36–40; Mark 12:28–31; Luke 6:31, 10:25–27, 29–37; Catechism, 2196)
It’s not just about me, of course. Learning that ‘everyone is my neighbor’ means everyone, no exceptions; and that respecting the “transcendent dignity” of humanity, and each person, matters — isn’t easy. But it’s necessary. (Catechism, 1929)
I think we are learning. Slowly.
But like I said, the trick is looking at the big picture.
The “last hour,” two millennia and counting:
- “Gabriel, Joseph, and Mary”
(December 18, 2016)
- “Jesus and Expectations”
(December 11, 2016)
- “Advent and Being Prepared”
(November 27, 2016)
- “Authority, Superstition, Progress”
(October 30, 2016)
- “‘Wait For It’”
(October 2, 2016)