“Good News of Great Joy”

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:

We heard parts of the Vigil Mass Gospel last week. That’s Matthew 1:1824, when Joseph learns why Mary is pregnant.

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.

“Do Not be Afraid”

The first shepherds lived roughly three millennia before our Lord’s birth.

By the time Judea became a Roman province, they didn’t own the sheep; although they were still important in the regional economy.

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.'”
(Luke 2:812)

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:

“And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:
6 ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.'”
(Luke 2:1314)

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.

Bethlehem “and the Infant Lying in the Manger”

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.”
(Luke 2:1720)

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.

“The Light Shines in the Darkness”

From Calendar of Major Events, Jubilee of Mercy, 2015; used w/o permission.

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.”
(John 1:15)

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 1:23)

Let’s look at what the angels said again:

“And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:
6 ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.'”
(Luke 2:14)

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.

Jesus said we could expect trouble. Matthew 16:2425 and Luke 9:2324 make that clear. But our Lord also said we shouldn’t ‘let our hearts be troubled.’

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)

The Best News Humanity’s Ever Had

For me, the trick is remembering the big picture; not the current speed bump.

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.

God loves us, and wants to adopt us. All of us. (John 1:1214, 3:17; Romans 8:1417; Peter 1:34; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1, 2730, 52, 1825, 1996)

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 5:4344, 22:3640; Mark 12:2831; Luke 6:31, 10:2527, 2937; 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.

Building a better world for future generations is hard work, starting within each of us, within me, with an ongoing “inner conversion.” (Catechism, 1888, 19281942)

But like I said, the trick is looking at the big picture.

We won. The war is over. This world’s renewal is in progress, and nothing can stop it. (Matthew 16:18; Mark 16:6; Catechism, 638, 670)

The “last hour,” two millennia and counting:

1 Matthew 27:2654; Mark 15:3439; Luke 23:1447; John 19:140.

2 Luke 23:4624:53) is a pretty good place to read what happened. I’ve talked about our Lord’s resurrection before:

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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