Merry Christmas! We certainly know what we mean when we wish someone a “Merry Christmas.” Yet, the words take on a different meaning for each person, depending on their circumstances.
To someone who has just experienced the death of a loved one, there might not be too much celebration attached to the Feast. A homeless soul on the street might not have reason to be joyful. The folks who must work through the holiday might even have to miss coming to Holy Mass. What is supposed to be the happiest time of the year, for some might be the most challenging. Depending on how we define happiness determines our outlook. The shepherds in the fields knew nothing about Christmas nor what was happening to them. Not every day that an angel appears. The shepherds were the least likely candidates to be chosen to visit the Christ child. Shepherds were not well-educated, not financially rich, not at the top of the social scale. On the contrary, they were held at bay by most people. They lived apart from their families—knowing more about sheep than how to relate with others. Yet, they were chosen. The only instruction they were given was to look for an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Most infants are not wrapped in swaddling clothes, nor are they put in a manger. Swaddling clothes just means that he was tucked in the blankets. However, a manger was like a trough from where the animals fed. The shepherds concluded that they were not in search of a rich baby. Obviously, not wealthy if he was lying in a place from where animals ate their food.
The shepherds didn’t say much. The multitude of heavenly host with the angel made a beautiful sound, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” The shepherds started out on their quest, and they found the infant, otherwise we would not have them on our nativity sets. They kind of balance off the three magi on the other side. Think about the least likely candidates by today’s standards—who would they be? What folks would we categorize as the rejected of society? Several groups jump right up to first place. Consider that the people that God chooses are the ones that we would not want to be caught dead in their company. The repulsive kind. Throughout history God shows us that His ways are not our ways. But we disguise the scandalous choices God makes with glitter, paint, and lights. Our shepherds are nice. They don’t stink, don’t cuss, and don’t misbehave.
Christmas pulls at our heart strings. We remember that all people are created in God’s image to be good. If even for a few days we forget about the violence, and the cheating, and the infidelity. Infants remind of original innocence. With the gifts, Santa squeezing through the chimney and the visits of family we tend to put the tension of life on hold. But the season passes. Just like the shepherds had to get back to their fields, the sheep and the work. The infant grew to become the greatest person in human history. He changed the world. Not so much with the miracles, which He kept trying to keep quiet, but with His kindness, especially towards the notorious sinners. We forget that the infant became the adult who touched the untouchables—lepers, adulterous women, the demoniacs. The main reason that Jesus was hung on the cross was because of the company He kept. Jesus upset the social status. His example continues to disturb those who prefer to discriminate against others. The true message of Christmas is about inclusion of those whom we would rather exclude. Our definition of happiness is challenged by a stable, animals, a manger. Yet, the best locations that money can buy cannot equal the happiness of the shepherds, of the Blessed Mother and of St. Joseph.
We are the ones who are now chosen. The angels are all around us. We do not have to go far. The Christ Child is here for us and gives Himself to us in Holy Communion.