“Let us all rejoice in the Lord, true peace has descended from heaven.”
The shepherds were standing in darkness and they saw a great light. They were brought abundant joy and great rejoicing. They heard that a “child is born for us, a son is given us”.
The group of sheep-watchers that night were asked to “behold”. They may have had familiarity with the prophetic announcement we hear in the mass of midnight for this celebration. They have their privacy interrupted from above. “Good news” for them and for all, a Savior has been born “today” Who is the Christ, the Awaited-For.
Interruptions are always some kind of invitations, and they are invited firstly to not be afraid of the light shining all around them. Then they are invited by looking for a sign which will validate the invitation. “You will find a child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” Then before they can stand up in this new light around them, more angels show up, singing the first Entrance Song or Processional to the Eucharist at the “manger” or “eating place.” They sing glorifying God to the max and peace to those all who enjoy God’s favor. In fact God is saying, more than in words which God spoke upon the original creation, “It is now more than very good.” There is an implied promise or vision, that the created world will again become God’s kingdom. It begins tonight!!!
In the Gospel for the liturgy of the Nativity at Dawn, we hear the shepherds encouraging each other to respond and go and see what is going on in Bethlehem. When they arrive they see and relate what has been told them by the angels. So the Gospel’s theme begins, hearing, seeing, touching - invitations to receive and believe. They leave the liturgy changed and return praising and revealing the goodness of God, even though they could not understand totally all that it meant and would mean. They had received enough for one night anyway.
In the Gospel for the mass of the Nativity during the day, we hear again about how Light has come into our darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. The Light is Life and Love and has “made His dwelling among us.” This Light has come into the world to “enlighten everyone.” The “world” or the “dark” has not known the light, but to all who did see, they were given the name, “Children of God.” The Creator is at work then, giving life and giving names of love back to the world, saying again, “Let there be Light, let there be Life, let there be Love.”
So back to the supporting cast for today’s liturgy, the shepherds. They certainly had a night of watching! I wonder if some had to stay back: some out of fear, some doubt, some out of duty and responsibility. I wish that Luke had written about that scene. Were the doubters consoled and excited to take their turns running over to the stable to see for themselves? Did the scoffers joke a little amongst themselves about those “others” who say they heard and saw? Was it just another sheepful night’s work for the dutiful? I reflect how the original, and now famous, “shepherds” lived with what they had heard and seen. After this first Christ-centered liturgy, were they changed in how they lived and related with others? I wonder if they heard about and saw merely a birth, or was it a consecration leading to a distribution and sharing? I would think the shepherds would have been changed and their view of the scoffers, the doubters and even the sheep would have been rearranged. Intimacy has such effects.
We have in English the word, “suspect” literally meaning to “look beneath”. Our use of the word usually means we do not look beneath the surface, but judge, or “see” just the surface of things or persons. I offer a new word to the language, which I suspect happened to these few shepherds. “Transuspiciate” which means to not be governed by that which merely seems to be. It means to look upon, within and beyond. Persons and things become more than what appears. The angels appeared, the Baby appeared, the shepherds appeared who then peered upon the scene to which we are invited in this liturgy and during this season. Perhaps, for several of the shepherds, it was a strange event in their usually uneventful lives. They might say they had done “the stable thing”. Others may have experienced the whole thing as a mysterious meeting that moved them past evaluation and into non-senseic way of relating with everyone and everything. They had received from the Manger what was offered. While Mary “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart”, and Joseph wordlessly watched his wife’s fulfilling her promise and God’s as well, the shepherds turned and re-turned to their old-yet-new lives.
Joseph and his wife came to Bethlehem to be enrolled according to the reigning ruler’s plan of counting who belonged to his kingdom. With the birth of Jesus a new and eternal enrollment takes place. There is a new kingdom which transuspiciates the shepherds and now each of us who comes forward to receive from the Sacred Manger, the Body of Christ. As with the shepherds, we return then to our fields to give Him flesh and just sometimes, we are accompanied by angels who whisper, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” This celebration becomes our own personal invitation to be enrolled.
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