Regardless of whether we are ready or not, all the preparation and time waiting has come to an end. Christmas is here! Even knowing it is coming, it can seem like Christmas springs up before us, catching us off guard. While our panic may be different from that of the shepherds, perhaps we can look to them for inspiration as to how to react.
Can you imagine looking up into the night sky and seeing a “multitude” of angels? How awesome! How terrifying! The shepherds were the one of the lowest in ancient society, and to be granted such a sight, not to mention the wonderful message given to them, must have been overwhelming to them at the least. What did it sound like when they heard the praise of God said in unison? Perhaps their solitary life and their skills at understanding the nature surrounding them prepared them to be able to receive this message. After all, in order to manage the flock they would need to be cognizant of the health of each individual member of the flock, be aware of any dangers in the area that would want to harm the flock, and make sure the animals had enough food to graze on and water to drink. If they were watching over the flock in the night, perhaps they worked in shifts. Did the angels wake any who may have been sleeping? Or were some told about the magnificent appearance?
As a spinner and knitter, my curiosity is in the details of the flock. How many were there? Was it a combination of sheep and goats or just one or the other? How did the animals react? Were they the ones who noticed the angels first? Did they join in the angels’ chorus of praise with their bleating; or was the angels visit no different than a thunderstorm with loud noise and bright lights? Since the shepherds were guarding the flock at night, they were responsible for all of them. Did the shepherds discuss who would go and find the child that the angels spoke about? Or did they all go into the town? What about the flock, did it journey with them or did they stay in the fields? Did they find Jesus that very first night or did it take several days/nights of searching for Him?
It is only Luke’s Gospel that gives us the account of the shepherds. What we do know is that there was discussion among them and they agreed that they needed to quickly go into Bethlehem and find the Baby. Once they found the Holy Family, “they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.” (Lk 2:17-18) For people who were on the outskirts of society, who did they tell? Travelers? Other shepherds? Townsfolk with whom they came in contact? Perhaps who they told is not important, but rather that they spread their experience and the message. This is what Christmas is all about. God became one of us. He came so we can have a personal relationship with Him. By our encounter with Him, we are changed and we cannot keep the details to ourselves; this is the good news that we are called to share with others and to invite them to seek out the Christ Child and experience Him for themselves.
Lastly, “the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen,” (Lk 2:20) forever changed by this monumental event. While they may have returned to their shepherding jobs, they continued to praise God. Most likely they knew they would probably not see this special child become a man or hear his preaching. Yet this encounter with Love personified became a blessing without end. So let us feast on this Christmas season with all its wonders and songs of praise, filling in us a never ending storage of praise for God who became man to be with us, redeem us, and invite us to everlasting union with Him.