When the angels went away from them to heaven,
the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem
to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”
So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger.
When they saw this,
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.
And Mary kept all these things,
reflecting on them in her heart.
Then the shepherds returned,
glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen,
just as it had been told to them.
– Luke 2:15-20
God became man! Allow yourself to soak those words in! God became man. The Creator of the world loved us enough to come to Earth as a vulnerable human baby who remained fully divine as well. Our minds cannot fully understand this mystery, but our souls can embrace the gift that is beyond all comprehension.
I once read a story of a man who struggled to understand the reason for the Incarnation. That is until one day when a flock of birds kept flying into his window trying to escape the harsh winter storm they got caught in. The man wanted to help the birds and to save them. He tried everything from providing them shelter in a warm barn, giving them a trail of breadcrumbs to show the way, and frantically attempting to shoo them into the barn. But nothing would get them to see he had a better place for them to go. Until he thought to himself, if only I could become a bird just like them then they would understand why I am doing what I am doing. Suddenly, the man comprehended why the Almighty God came down from Heaven to become man. The love of God has tried throughout all of salvation history to lead us to a safer place. But He chose the most intimate and real way by taking on our human form in all ways but sin. When the Divine God became man, He could truly show us the pathway to Heaven, restore our relationship with God, and save us from our sins.
“We consider Christmas as the encounter, the great encounter, the historical encounter, the decisive encounter, between God and mankind. He who has faith knows this truly; let him rejoice.” (Pope Paul VI)
What powerful words these are from Pope Paul VI! They remind us that the Nativity scene is a place of Heaven touching Earth. It is an invitation into the true gift of the season — an encounter with God.
In the opening Scripture passage, we see the primary witnesses to this encounter with the Christ Child — the shepherds. Angels appeared to them to proclaim the good news that the Savior was born. The shepherds could see the miracle of God’s Love Incarnate with their very eyes an
d they went in haste.
How would we have reacted if we were the shepherds? Would our initial fear fade into a longing to encounter Christ? What fears hold our hearts back from a transforming encounter with God?
The shepherds shared with Mary and St. Joseph the news spoken to them by the angels. Mary took these words and pondered on them. She knew the profound mystery that she had given birth to Jesus the Christ as angels had proclaimed to her at the Annunciation. Mary teaches us that reflecting upon the gifts and graces of God is central to allowing the mystery of God to be embraced within our souls.
How often do we take time to ponder God’s touches and truths in our lives? Do we hear and see God speaking to us so personally?
The passage does not speak directly of the emotional moment of encounter for the shepherds. The focus is on the effects that the encounter produced. For how can we put into words being present at the feet of Baby Jesus along with Mary and St. Joseph? How could they describe being with such Love and holiness? Their experience was so touching that they could not help but give God glory, praise Him, and share all they had seen with others. Christmas is a call to receive love and share love.
How will we share our encounter of Christ with others? Will it change how we live from day to day? Will it give us pause to pray more often for ourselves and for the world that needs to experience the profound love of God?
Our weeks of Advent preparation have exploded into joyful celebration! As Catholics, our celebration of Christmas has just begun and doesn’t conclude until the Baptism of the Lord on January 10. May we continue to open ourselves and our spirits to a personal encounter with Christ throughout this Christmas season.
This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice in it and be glad. – Psalms 118:24
Merry Christmas to all! May we encounter Christ anew in our hearts today!
Pope Paul VI quote retrieved from https://www.popequotes.org/pope-paul-vi/we-consider-christmas-as-the-encounter-the-great-encounter/
Author: Laura Stephens, FF Sacrament Preparation Catechist