Without humility of heart all the other virtues by which one runs toward God seem -- and are -- absolutely worthless. – St. Angela of Foligno: (1248 – 1309: Italian Franciscan)
Gospel Text: (LK 2:1-14)
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus
that the whole world should be enrolled.
This was the first enrollment,
when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town.
And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth
to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem,
because he was of the house and family of David,
to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
While they were there,
the time came for her to have her child,
and she gave birth to her firstborn son.
She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger,
because there was no room for them in the inn.
Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields
and keeping the night watch over their flock.
The angel of the Lord appeared to them
and the glory of the Lord shone around them,
and they were struck with great fear.
The angel said to them,
“Do not be afraid;
for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy
that will be for all the people.
For today in the city of David
a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.
And this will be a sign for you:
you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes
and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel,
praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
The good news came first to shepherds. They didn’t live in town but slept side by side with their sheep, carrying the smell of the animals with them always. They would have been less than welcomed in the market stalls in town with their dirt and smell and matted hair. Yet it is these people, living on the margins, who first hear of the birth of the savior. Not only were the terrified shepherds reassured, “Be not afraid,” but they were invited to seek out the baby and to be the first to meet this savior face to face.
Luke’s gospel describes how the oppressive Roman government who now ruled their land, wanted a census of all of those who lived there. So Joseph and Mary had to travel to Bethlehem, an arduous journey for a woman fully pregnant. They left home, family and friends to comply with the Roman order. Adding hardship to their trip, crowds in the city meant they had to stay in a stable, where an exhausted Mary finally gave birth. Into that stable, the dirty shepherds straggled in, sleepless, wide-eyed and as humble as anyone can imagine.
We might not always think “Humble,” when we think of our Christmas celebrations today. We spend extra effort for special occasions and might splurge a little in spending or time to make it exceptional. But as we celebrate this day, we will find our true “peace on earth” and the Light shining into our lives if we embrace humility in the midst of today’s joy. We have to remember that it is not about us.
If my Christmas celebration is not “perfect” or all of my hard work seems under-appreciated, I can draw on the humility of the shepherds, remember that Jesus is with me in every moment of this day, and whisper to myself, “A light has shown.”
When family tensions rise at the dinner table or yet another toddler falls apart in
furious wails at the celebration, instead of snapping impatiently, I can ask
for humility and serenity and silently pray, “On earth, Peace.”
Too often I might be stretched and frazzled by the time people gather and I’m not
in the mood to ask for patience. It is into this very moment that Jesus can enter
my life so deeply. Jesus has come into my life for the challenging moments as
well as the wonderful ones and I am often more aware of my own need for a
savior when I am not at my best. When I am disappointed or angry or frustrated
at those around me, that is when I can pause and remember how much Jesus longs to hold me close and enfold me with his love. He isn’t waiting for me to behave better to love me, he is loving me right now. And that is a deeply comforting thought.
On this Christmas Day, when everything glitters, we can take a moment to imagine
ourselves in the midst of the smell and noise of the stable and the shepherds.
Like them, we are being called to meet our Savior and to rejoice.