When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
Today’s reading brings together two moments in Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus that may seem quite disparate but, in reality, unite in revealing something of the wonder of Christ coming to earth. The shepherds were caring for their flocks on the hillside that surrounds the hilltop town of Bethlehem when the angels of heaven proclaimed the birth of the Messiah to them. Prior to the angels appearing to the shepherds an angel had appeared to Mary and Joseph, announcing God’s intention that Mary should bear his Son and proclaiming that that Son’s name should be Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.
As was their custom, the shepherds would have gathered together each night for security and companionship. They would have herded their flocks into pens where they would be safe from wild animals and robbers. Then, one night some two thousand years ago, their nightly routine was disrupted in the most dramatic of ways.
Mary and Joseph were two people who had become engaged, and who were probably looking forward to the day of their marriage. As plans were being made for that happy day, their daily routines, and everything they understood to be ‘normal’ and ‘decent’ was disrupted by the visitation of an angel. The bride-to-be was to bear a child, a very special child. The groom-to-be was to find that his future life-partner had become pregnant in the most miraculous of ways.
Every one of whom we read today had their lives changed by messages brought from God by angels. Every one of whom we read today had to choose between allowing God to change their lives and turning their back on him!
Today’s revisiting of this moment in the story of Christ’s Nativity is important because it reminds us that we are confronted with the same choice as Mary, Joseph and the shepherds. The shepherds heard the message of the angels and then went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. Mary and Joseph accepted God’s call to bear and care for his Son as he came into this world in the form of a vulnerable new-born child. Then, after eight days, when the child was brought for circumcision, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel.
As we continue to celebrate the season of Christmas, we are being urged to remain true to God’s call in our lives. However it may have come to us, we have also received the message of the angels; now it is for us to go in haste glorifying and praising God for all [we have] heard and seen. It is for us to live the role of the angel for others as we bear and share the Good News with all we meet.