As we move ever closer to Christmas, we continue to wonder with the ever-familiar saints of Christmas. Today we will look at the everyday sainthood of the shepherds. What can we learn from the simple, most humble servants that visited our Lord at his birth?
Nobody will argue that the shepherds are a part of every nativity scene that we see and an instrumental part of the Christmas story? But why? Have you ever stopped to wonder why God sent the angels to the shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus in the middle of the night? Were they the only people awake? Were they the closest in proximity to the manger? Probably not! God has a purpose…as usual! I’ve often thought, the shepherds must have been so lucky. They were in the right place at the right time on that chilly December night in Bethlehem. As I ponder it more fully, this appearance of the angels was not one of luck.
The shepherds were hard workers and they were exactly where they were meant to be! These shepherds were the poorest of poor. They worked day and night to watch their animals in the fields, warming themselves by a small fire, made by the most modest means. Yet, God wanted them there! He wanted these shepherds to be remembered forever in every home that celebrates the birth of Jesus.
From reading the Gospels, we do know that Jesus thought very highly of shepherds, even calling himself, “The Good Shepherd!” He admired the care and dedication that they had for their flocks. The image of the shepherds can be found throughout the entirety of Jesus’ life. From his beginning where the shepherds came to pay Him homage to His last breath on the cross where He laid down his life for His sheep!
After Jesus’ life Our Lady appeared to three children in Fatima who were tending to their sheep. As Catholics, we should realize that shepherds must be important? But why? I propose that it’s because they are the everyday saints! They had normal jobs, they worked hard, and yet they took time to find Jesus amidst their busy lives.
In many nativity scenes and paintings, we see the shepherds, and their sheep adoring the baby Jesus. In a famous painting of the nativity, entitled: “Adoration of the Shepherds” by Juan Ribalta he reflects eight shepherds who look different and all seem to be doing something very different. I have pondered this painting and I am always left fascinated. It took me a while to find a common thread between these shepherds. That common thread is not the sheep, nor their tattered clothing…it’s the awe and wonder on each of their faces. They were in amazement of the Baby Jesus…ALL of them!
Looking closer at the eight shepherds, only two of them have sheep…the other six left their sheep somewhere else. One of the sheep is carried around the neck of it’s shepherd and the other is laying on the ground while his shepherd calms him. Two of the shepherds are kneeling and the rest are standing. One is bowing in worship to Jesus. Some of them are pointing at Jesus and others are just looking in awe. One is on the outside at the back and other shepherds are right up front near the crib. One of the shepherds is much older than the others and one of them looks like a child. They are all different…but they are all present. The manger in Bethlehem is proof that God came for everyone that night. We see that in this painting. God calls everyone to encounter him.
We can think of these shepherds as guides for our lives. As families we tend to our children, yet we keep our eyes focused on adoring Jesus. We see that each Sunday in Mass. If you think about it when we look at the nativity scenes they all have sheep, and some even have other animals. These animals made noise and my guess is they maybe even woke baby Jesus…However, I bet Mary and Joseph were just glad they were there…they are happy they came to worship. Just like a parish family should be when I bring my not so quiet children.
I pray this Christmas and Advent we can all learn from the shepherds and truly be in all of the miracle that happens in our world each December.
“Today we join the angelic host, the enraptured shepherds; we too sing in exultation:
“Christ is born for us: come, let us adore him”. From the night of Bethlehem until today,
the Birth of the Lord continues to inspire hymns of joy which express the tenderness of God,
sown in the hearts of men. In all the world’s tongues, the event most grand and most lowly is being celebrated: Emmanuel, God with us for ever.” – St John Paul II
St John Paul II’s Christmas Prayer to Mary
Mary, the Virgin of expectation and fulfilment,
who hold the secret of Christmas,
make us able to recognize in the Child
whom you hold in your arms the heralded Saviour,
who brings hope and peace to all.
With you we worship him and trustingly say:
we need You, Redeemer of man,
You who know the hopes and fears of our hearts.
Come and stay with us, Lord!
May the joy of your Nativity reach
to the farthest ends of the universe!