Gospel Reflection 24 Dec - SVD INM - India Mumbai Province

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Gospel Reflection 24 Dec

Christmas Mass at Dawn [Lk 2:15-20]

25 December 2017

The Visit of the Shepherds

Readings: (1) Is 62:11-12 (2) Titus 3:4-7

1, Theme in brief

Proclaiming what we have seen and heard

2.  Focus Statement

Celebrating Christmas means like the shepherds hearing (accepting) God’s message, seeing (experiencing) its truth, and proclaiming to others what we have heard and seen.

3, Explanation of the text

In today’s gospel passage we notice three categories of people responding to the event of Christ’s birth in three different ways. First, there are
shepherds, to whom the breaking news of the Messiah’s birth is announced by the angels. The shepherds were poor, illiterate, ignorant (as they were not allowed study the Law), impure (as they could not participate in the temple liturgy), dirty (as they could not afford to take regular bath) and outcasts. It is a wonder that the good news of salvation is given first to the poor, ignorant and despised people.

The faith-response of the shepherds is highlighted by their: (1) eagerness ("haste", 2:16) to go toBethlehem to see "the thing" (that is, the event) that has taken place (2:15); (2) making known to others what has been told to them about this child (2:17); and (3) glorifying and praising God for all they haveheard and seen (2:20). They go to verify what they have heard from the angel that a Saviour is born for all people in the city of David (that is, Bethlehem, 2:10-11). What do they see? They see a helpless child born to a poor and homeless family lying in a manger (2:12). In this fragile child they recognize the glory of God. Their haste indicates their eagerness to receive the good news of salvation. They become a model for themissionary call of Christian disciples – to witness to what they have heard and seen.

Secondly, we notice a group of hearers who are amazed at what the shepherds tell them (2:18). But nothing is mentioned about their faith-response. They are like the ones who hear the Word but do not respond with faith because of lack of roots (cf. Lk 8:13).

Then there is a third category of people represented by Mary who treasures the Word and ponders its significance in her heart (2:19).  She is like those who after hearing the Word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and produce a hundredfold fruit (Lk 8:8, 15). She becomes a model believer for her efforts to discover the meaning of life-events (especially God’s incarnation) in the light of faith.

4. Application to life

According to today’s gospel, all that glitters is not Christmas! What glitter is there in those shepherds who are considered dirty, impure and outcasts by the respectable people? What glitter is there in a manger either? Is it not a wonder that God favours the
despised people like shepherds, and identifies Himself with our deprivation?

After hearing from the angels the good news of the Saviour’s birth, the shepherds are so eager toexperience ("see") for themselves this wonderful event of God becoming a human person ("this thing"). When they reach Bethlehem they see or experience two things:

(1) They see poor, homeless and helpless parents (Joseph and Mary) and a defenceless child (Jesus) lying in the manger. It is a tremendous contradiction to see the Saviour of the world in such a misery! They see God’s boundless love and humility to stoop down to their own level; to be like one of them. Christmas challenges us to examine whether we favour the type of people whom God favours. God seems to favour all sorts of "less" people – the homeless, landless, jobless, defenceless, voiceless, helpless and powerless. Though God loves all people, in Jesus he decides to make a preferential option to favour or to take the side of less privileged people. If so, what is our concern for such people and families? Do we have anything to do with them? Do we side with only influential and powerful people, or side with the above-mentioned "less people" also? Allowing Jesus to take birth in our hearts today involves making some room for this sort of people in our minds and hearts first, and then in our deeds.

(2) They see the Saviour of the world born in an ordinary human family. They observe how a father (Joseph) and a mother (Mary) struggle to nurse, protect and take care of their new-born baby. They come to know how God reveals his love through the image of a family. On Christmas Day, the response of the shepherds leads us to ponder how God reveals His love through our own family even today.

In this sense, Christmas is a great Family Feast. Jesus takes birth again and again in our families. Like the shepherds, we need simple but deeper faith to recognize him in our genuine and human love. In many societies, we notice that the family members who are scattered due to jobs or studies hasten to be at home during Christmas. Today’s gospel invites all those who come home for a family reunion to see with the eyes of faith what the most important thing we must value the most in our families.  We need to see whether thetraditional family values which the older generation cherished so much such as mutual sharing, adjustment and collaboration, sacrifice of one’s own comforts, personal care and joyful togetherness are still there or not. How sad we feel to notice the gradual erosion of these "family-values". They are replaced by individualism, superficial relationships and "you-do-your-work, I-do-my-work" attitude. Even on Sundays, instead of spending some time together, all (including children) think of keeping their own schedules and attending to their own ‘appointments’.

For persons of faith it is a big challenge to see to it that they rediscover in their families the values for which Jesus was born. Jesus was born in a deprived family to tell us that our families should learn from him the spirit of sharing even the meagre resources and limited time we have! In a busy world today, the greatest Christmas gift which parents need to give to their children is not the best clothes or latest gadget in the market, but the gift of time.

Christmas is also a Missionary Feast. After "seeing" (experiencing) what the Lord had made known to them (2:15), like the shepherds wee too must share our experience with others. Celebrating Christmas means like the shepherds, accepting God’s Word, seeing for oneself its truth and proclaiming it to all. Because God became one with our human condition, we hear and see every day God’s mysterious presence and hidden love in whatever happens to us. Like the shepherds, we must bear witness to our experiences of these signs of God’s love and care. When we bear witness to the values we have "heard and seen" (experienced) in and through Christ (e.g. non-retaliation and forgiveness), people may ask us: "Why do you do what you do?" That is, why do you behave differently from the general pattern of the world or human behaviour? If people ask like that, it is a clear sign that we are bearing witness to what we have "heard and seen". Through our testimony to Christ’s values in society and workplaces, we see Jesus being born anew in our situation.

Finally, the feast of Christmas invites us to imitate the faith-response of Mary. We need to discover themeaning and significance of various events in our lives in the light of faith. Like Mary, we are invited to ponder the implications of what Christmas means for us today. Surely, it does not mean only new clothes, decorations, cakes and parties. It also means a deeper reflection on the meaning and purpose of our lives or the mission for which God has called us.

5. Response to God's Word

Do we most often side with the powerful and influential people only and brush off the poor and the underprivileged? Is there genuine love and concern for one another in our families? Is there a spirit of sharing in our families, especially when our resources are so meagre? Do we show in our words and deeds that Jesus is truly our Saviour and Lord? Does our life’s example of living Christ’s values speak louder than our words? Which values? Does our behaviour or action which is different from people is general make others ask us why we behave that way? Like the shepherds, do we marvel at God’s love, goodness and mercy in our lives and respond to it by glorifying and praising God?

6.  A prayer

With the faith of simple shepherds, we praise and glorify you O God. What wonders you have done for us and for the whole world by giving the gift of your Son. What thanks can we render to you for what we have heard and seen in and through Jesus. Grant us the courage and strength to rediscover His values in our families. Give us the generosity to make some room for the deprived and the despised in our minds and hearts first, and then in our deeds. We make this prayer through Christ who is born anew today. Amen.

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