This is turning out to be the perfect Christmas. On Christmas Eve I celebrated a home Mass for a woman battling cancer with a handful of family members gathered together. I celebrated midnight Mass at the Cathedral in Cheyenne. On Christmas Day, I drove to Lusk and celebrated Mass in the Wyoming Correctional Facility for the women prisoners.
It is the perfect Christmas – Masses in a home, a prison and the Cathedral. To understand why I describe it that way, let’s go to the manger scene. Look at who is gathered there.
First of all SHEPHERDS because they were the first to hear about Jesus’ birth. Shepherds must have brought their SHEEP along, so you always find sheep near the manger. By the feast of the Epiphany, the WISE MEN show up with their CAMELS. The wise men were foreigners. They are often depicted as a Black man, an Arab and one from the Far East, perhaps Chinese. The magi were among the intelligentsia of the time. They were counselors of kings.
By the way, sheep and camels are stubborn and stinky. Gathered at the manger are ornery stinky animals with poor shepherds and top level advisors to foreign kings of completely different races. It is the most eclectic group you might imagine. If you visit Italy during Christmas, they add all kinds of other characters — virtually every kind of person who lives in the village – bakers, blacksmiths, teachers, farmers. You name it. They are all at the manger.
Christmas is for everybody, no matter what level of your work, from shepherds to the magi, from local citizens to foreigners of every race. People who have been away from the Church for decades should feel welcome. Because Christmas is for everybody, saints and sinners alike. The perfect Christmas includes those dressed in their Sunday best at the Cathedral and those stuck in prison.
In fact, Christmas is more for the sinner than the saint, more for the puny than the powerful. The angel of the Lord spoke to shepherds. They were specially chosen by God to be the first ones to hear this good news.
My family raised sheep for several years. When you work with sheep you smell just like them. The oil from their wool permeates your clothes. Shepherds stink. Raising sheep is hard work. If you can afford to do something else, you won’t raise sheep. Shepherds were the first ones to hear about Jesus’ birth because God wanted the ordinary people to know first. The angel describes Jesus’ birth as “good news of great joy that is for ALL the people” (Lk. 2:10).
God sent his Son to be with ordinary shepherds “living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flocks” (Lk. 2:8). People working at night. Common folk who knew what it was like to struggle for a living — like so many blue collar workers on the fringes of society today working behind the scenes in construction jobs, in the service industry or as farm laborers. Jesus was born among shepherds so that common ordinary people would know that God cares for them. He came to encounter them and save them.
Christmas reminds us that God came to be with us, no matter how poor or rich, from the people who work at the top level of government to prisoners serving their time. However, God’s first choice is to be with the least.
Later, the Pharisees and scribes complained about Jesus and said, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Lk. 15:3). Actually, he not only eats with them, but he feeds them with his Body and Blood. The “infant lying in a manger” will end his life by feeding sinful unfaithful disciples with his Body and Blood. Jesus gave us the Eucharist so that disciples in every age could encounter him in the depest way, and so that they would bring this encounter to the least.
Christmas is so powerful because it expresses the largesse of love….. not only the largeness of love, but also the largesse of love. The abundance and bounty and gratuity of love.
- How well do you live inside of this love?
- Have you let God embrace you in your sinfulness and brokenness?
- How well do you encounter the needy with the Father’s love?
- How well does our nation extend the largesse of God’s love to the needy of the world?
God chose to lay his Son in a manger in order to call back the LOST and to encourage the LEAST.
The prophet Isaiah tells of God’s frustration with his people who have wandered, “The Lord says, I have reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner and the donkey its master’s manger, but Israel does not know [me], my people do not understand” (Is. 1:3). That is why manger scenes have an ox and a donkey. Those animals know their master and his manger, the feed trough where they eat. But like rebellious children, so often we stray from our Lord who wants to feed us with his life.
No matter if we wander. Jesus was born among shepherds because his ancestor David was a Shepherd – King. Jesus is the Shepherd who leaves the 99 in search of the lost one. He is the King who died on the cross to conquer sin and death in us. He was laid in a manger to feed us with his Body and Blood and renew his life in us when we decide to obey him as our master.
Accept this “Good news of great joy . . . for all people.” Worship the Christ child as Savior and Lord. He is so faithful to you. Renew your fidelity to him.
Christmas is for everyone, saints and sinners. As he fills you with his own Divine Life at this Eucharist, let the largesse of his love fill you. Then ask him for the generosity to bring that love to others.