Homily — Christmas Night MMVI

Homily — Christmas Night MMVI

Adoration of the Shepherds by Ridolfo Ghirlandaio 1510

 The stage is set:  Mary and Joseph have taken shelter in the cave where the animals lodge;  the shepherds have begun their Night Watch.  

 In a few hours, the Virgin will give birth, the angels will appear in the night sky, and the shepherds will make their journey to Bethlehem and arrive at the manger.

 Far far off in the distance, exotic Magi dressed in the finest robes on sleek camels slowly but surely make their way to the creche by the light of a still distant star, bearing gifts for the New Born King.

 But those Magi are twelve days away;  tonight, the shepherds will have the Baby Jesus, and Mary, and Joseph all to themselves.  But first, the shepherd also must make that Christmas journey, from their fields to that Manger.

 In many ways my brothers and sisters, most of us here are very similar to those shepherds we meet tonight.  And in many ways, their Christmas journey to the New Born King is like our Christmas journey to the New Born King.

 Who were the Shepherds?  Unlike the very wealthy, highly educated, globe trotting Magi, the Shepherds were hard working, family men of modest means, too busy taking care of their children and their sheep to fancy far off trips to other countries.

 The shepherds enjoyed the simpler things of life:  earthy jokes, singing and dancing, home made wine, time spent with family and friends.

 But what made them even more different from the pagan Magi was that these Shepherds were born and raised to follow the One True GodShema Yishrael — Hear O Israel the LORD alone is our God, therefore you shall Love the LORD God with all your heart, soul, and strength.

 But, how fervent were these Shepherds in their faith?  How well did they Shema, and follow the commandments of the One True God?  We don’t know, but probably they were a mixed bag:  some very devout and religious shepherds, others somewhat devout, others not religious nor devout at all.

 The angel appears to the whole lot of them, and bids them all to “(go to Bethlehem) and you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

 Go to Bethlehem, and you will find.  No star, no address, just “go to Bethlehem”, which means “House of Bread”, and you will find the Baby Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

 And inspired by that vision in the night, they all went in search of Him.  

  What was their journey like?  Bethlehem was at least a half hour’s walk away, in the dark and cold of night, through the wilderness.

  It was also an uphill walk.  The shepherds had a 600 foot climb in front of them to reach the city — no Mount Everest, but at about 1 A.M. in the morning, no picnic either.

 And after they reached the gates of that nearby City, a city which they had been in so many times before, which they grew up in and around, as they began the search from place to place, not finding the Baby Jesus in the first dozen caves they looked in, perhaps the Shepherds began to wonder whether it was all just some kind of dream, whether angels had spoken to them at all.

 Could God really be born to us here, in our own day?  The great King David was born here, but that was over a thousand years ago.  Could The Christ, that all the Scriptures spoke of, The One who will save His people from sin and even death — could He really be born tonight, just up the road from us?

 But fortunately they rejected those temptations to give up the search, and pressed on.  And finally, after an hours search through the city, they spot a cave with Light streaming out from it.

 They enter into that cave, and there it all isjust as it had been told to them says St. Luke. 

Just as it had been told to them by the angel.  Just as it had been told to them by their scriptures, and by their priests.  Just as it had been told to them by their pious grandmothers.

 My brothers and sisters in Christ!  The angel of God’s grace has brought us to this Bethlehem, this “House of Bread” tonight.  We come here in search of the Baby Jesus, the Prince of Peace.  The angel tells us Go to Bethlehem tonight, and you will find Him, born anew this Holy Night.

 We search for Him Tonight, — in our hearts, in our parish, in our world.  We are tired from the climb, the night has grown long, it’s cold outside in our world, and we may even be tempted to doubt whether He will be born anew tonight in this very familiar place we’ve grown up in.

 But have faith, O shepherds.  The Prince of Peace will be born this Holy Night to all “Hominibus Bonae Voluntatis” — all Men and Women of Good Will who search for Him;  they will find Him just as it had been told to them by the angels, the scriptures, their priests and their pious memeres.

  And as a reward for their faithful searching, these shepherds will have the Baby Jesus, and Mary, and Joseph all to themselves for the next twelve days, at which time they will be more than happy to share Him with the Magi and their camels!

 A merry and blessed Christmas to all shepherds who tonight take that Christmas journey to Bethlehem, and to their families and sheep as well.

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