Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas 2013 -- First to the Shepherds

CHRISTMAS 2013 -- First to the Shepherds

As I ponder this Christmas season, I find myself going back to this painting by Carl Bloch. It captures the moment the angel of the Lord appears to shepherds who were "abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night."

I love this painting because it captures the essence of the message of Christ. Shepherds are kind of low on the whole socioeconomic status scale. They don't make tons of money. They probably smell bad. They spend their lives with animals who are probably dumber than rocks. Not exactly rock star status.

Yet, these are the choice individuals to whom the announcement of the birth of the Messiah was first made manifest. These are the individuals with whom the Savior of mankind would identify himself with when He referred to himself as the Good Shepherd. Isn't it curious that the Son of God would place himself with the often maligned shepherds rather than at the thrones of kings, where He rightfully belonged? To those who study the life of Christ, the answer is an obvious no.

To be a true Christian is, I think, to be like those messengers of Christ on that first Christmas Day. If, as so often said in church services, the spirit of Christmas is really the spirit of Christ, how are we honoring him? How are we striving to be more like Him whose message went first to the shepherds?

What does that mean? Here I am talking in abstractions without application. I'm getting there. Don't you fret your pretty little head.

The message of Christmas is the message of hope through the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We maintain as Christians that we follow Him and His teachings. If this is true, ought not we be living and acting the way Christ did? He who sought out the poor, the broken, the ill and infirmed, the despised and rejected, the lonely. Ought not we do the same? Should we not spread His message of hope to the hopeless? Is that not the true spirit of Christmas?

Pope Francis, whom I affectionately think of as Pope Social Justice, recently wrote, "We have to state, without mincing words, that there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor. May we never abandon them." That, dear friends, is the spirit of Christ. His message of joy and hope was first preached to the shepherds and then to the woman taken in adultery and then to the leper and the lame man.

May we, too, during this Christmas season have the faith to be as the angel of the Lord and deliver hope, happiness, and healing. First and foremost to the shepherds.