Friday, December 26, 2014

Second Day in the Octave of Christmas

Isaiah 62:11-12
Psalm 97
Hebrews 1:1-6 [7-9]
Luke 2:8-16

REFLECTION: “Simplicity Bears Fruit”

Take a moment and clear your minds of all your preconceived notions of our Lord's birth. We know very little of the minute details concerning the event. We know it took place in Bethlehem, since Joseph was a descendant of King David. We know there was no room for the Holy Family in one of the many guest-houses available in the area. Likely, this was because Jesus birth took place around the time of one of the pilgrimage feast; probably the Feast of Tabernacles. The pilgrimage feasts were principal reasons for a lack of lodging. They were like the Super Bowl, World Series, and World Cup of the Jewish religious calendar. Everyone packed Jerusalem and its environs, and there would literally be no room in the inn for a last minute arrival for something as obnoxiously inconvenient as a census. Bethlehem is only six miles from Jerusalem. Even I could walk six miles for something as important as Passover, Pentecost, or Sukkot! Now, in the interest of full disclosure, Hanukkah, though not one of the Feasts of the Torah, was also popular... so it is possible that Jesus birth fell during this time of year; though it is questionable as to how busy Bethlehem would have been for the festival. Ultimately, we have no idea when in the year Jesus was born... but this is the time of year the Church has chosen to celebrate the mysteries of the incarnation so, until we get a postmarked card that has the details of his first birthday party, we'll just have to be content with that. 

Moving on... Regardless of when the blessed event occurred, Scripture presents us with a group of shepherds in the hills outside of the town. It doesn't tell us where, or how many, or what they were wearing. We don't know the size of their flocks, or what breed of sheep... or goats... they were tending. It simply doesn't matter. They were wise in the ways of animal husbandry, having learned from their fathers and the experience of other shepherds. But they probably had a simple faith and understanding of prophecy. 

And so it was that, at some point after Christ's birth (within a day, we can suppose - depending on what 'nearby' meant to Luke), the shepherds arrive. And they do something simple, yet profound. They come and stare. 

In fairness, they probably did a lot more than that. I am sure they spoke with Mary and Joseph. I am sure they smiled in the direction of the infant Jesus. I am sure they reached out - with permission from mom, of course! - to stroke a lock of hair or, perhaps, to touch his cheek. After all, we have no idea if Jesus was born bald or with hair. But most importantly, they came because the fulfillment of prophecy, the Savior spoken of so boldly by Isaiah and the prophets, had come; and it was their privilege to behold him face to face.

They may not have fully understood things like the hypostatic union, the indissolubility of the human and divine natures in Christ, the divine mode of the Messiah's conception, or the reasons for Jesus' humble entrance into our world. But they understood that when God's messengers speak, it is vitally important to listen, for just over the next hill, redemption, joy, and hope may lay.

The simplicity of faith exhibited by the shepherds in our Gospel reading today gives us hope. For all our wisdom, we're still highly ignorant of much of what is true about our faith, mainly because human language and concepts are not sufficient to explain the Mystery. And that's OK. We don't need to have a highly developed and sophisticated understanding. We need faith. Simple faith.

God will take care of the rest.