December 25, 2019. Christmas Day. A reflection on Luke 2:1-14, (15-20).
“The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” (v20)
So the shepherds were in high spirit, they were very happy – they were merry. Why were they very happy glorifying God? Is it only because they have seen what they heard from the angel “to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” (v11)
I find it important to know about shepherds and shepherding so that we can be in the context of that first Christmas. Shepherding is among the oldest occupations, beginning some 5,000 years ago in Asia Minor. Sheep were kept for their milk, meat and especially their wool and shepherds are the ones who milked their sheep, and also made cheese from this milk. Some sheep were integrated in the family farm along with other animals such as chickens and pigs. To maintain a large flock, the sheep must be able to move from pasture to pasture. This required the development of an occupation separate from that of the farmer. Moreover, it is a bounden duty of shepherds to keep their flock intact, protect it from predators. In many societies, shepherds were an important part of the economy. Shepherds also lived apart from society, being largely nomadic. It was often a job of solitary males without children, and new shepherds thus needed to be recruited externally. Shepherds were most often the younger sons of farming peasants who did not inherit any land. Shepherds would normally work in groups either looking after one large flock, or each bringing their own and merging their responsibilities. They would live in small cabins, often shared with their sheep. Shepherds were low class in Israel and are marginalized by the religious leaders and are amongst the majority affected by the situation of the society ruled by foreign masters. The Israelites collectively and individually were slaves in an agrarian society Roman Empire.
The coming of the messiah – God’s anointed one to save His people from misery. To learn of a savior, a messiah to be born to save them from all their miseries because of the love of God (John 3:16) gave them hope, joy and peace makes it more of a reason for the happiness on the birthday of Jesus – thus, a merry Christmas. And the shepherds were the first people who witnessed this very important event in the whole process of God’s redemption. What a happy night for them!
Let’s also look on the manger which is closer to the situation of the shepherds and the Jewish society under the empire. In verse 7, “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
A manger or trough is a rack for fodder, or a structure or feeder used to hold food for animals. The word comes from the French manger (meaning “to eat”), from Latin mandere (meaning “to chew”). Mangers are mostly used in livestock raising and generally found at stables and farmhouses. A manger is the most important amongst the things in this places for the animals to live. Yet it symbolizes lowliness for a newborn child to be laid on it which cannot happen if there was the availability of the inns in the area.
Shepherds and manger best described the kind of society during the time and the reason for the birth of Jesus. It also described the lowliness and humility which is what happened in the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, conceived in the womb and born of Mary. And of course it added the reason for merry in that first Christmas.
What would be our source of merry Christmas today?
Many people expect material gifts and make them happy. But it is only a seasonal happiness and it is not true to all because there are many who will not receive material gifts this Christmas as in the past Christmas times. So I suggest that we turn a bit from our perspective of happiness to that modelled by Mary expressed in her song, The Magnificat. “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; Because He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaid; For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed; Because He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name; And His mercy is from generation to generation on those who fear Him. He has shown might with His arm, He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and has exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. He has given help to Israel, his servant, mindful of His mercy even as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity forever.”
After being convinced of her pregnancy and knowing that she conceived the messiah, the savior, Mary was so happy and hopeful that all the miseries of God’s people will come to an end.
Like Mary, we should also be hopeful. That the Christmas celebration every year, will also give us hope every day that all the miseries that we are experiencing will come to an end. That as God came and intervened in the history of the people in Jesus Christ in lowliness and humility symbolized by a manger, we in the Church must also come to ourselves and realized God in us.
Let us be the Church that is called and sent like broken pieces of bread to mankind. Do not wait and expect for people to come and give you material gifts instead let us go, give and immerse to the people of God – the lowly, the meek, and transgressed by the rulers which Mary described in her song. Then like the shepherds on that night of Jesus’ birth let us rejoice and sing praises to glorify God.
Merry Christmas to one and all.
Until next for the First Sunday after Christmas.