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Shepherds, to Bethlehem

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The vigil has been long and silent in the rough fields of Judea. The sheep sleep safely and quietly, warming one another, always in view of the shepherds who gathered their flocks in the common sheepfold, as they have done every night. Some doze while others watch closely for the proximity of wolves, who are always ready to feast on the weaker or tender sheep, and especially to protect themselves from the thieves who take advantage of any carelessness to decimate the herd.

A rugged people with a bad reputation, the shepherds belonged to a social class that everyone despised. They had a reputation for taking what did not belong to them, of not caring for the honor of their women and their families, and were not allowed to give any testimony at trials or litigation, as they raised suspicions about their honesty. Lying on the ground and protected from the night dew under an improvised tree hut, they were perfect guards, observers of the environment, ready to act in the face of any unforeseen event. Marginalized men, rejected by society, the best image of “the least of these” whom God chooses to reveal his heart and his life. From the end of Easter until the arrival of the rainy season, they brought their sheep and goats to the sheepfold each night because the cattle remained in the field fattening from March to November, after the birth of their young in the spring.

To the scandal and amazement of many, the Gospel of Luke chooses this framework for the great announcement of the Good News to Israel. The night disappears before the total brilliance that gives backdrop to the words of the celestial herald: “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” Wrapped in the glory of the Lord, those poor pastors suddenly find themselves entrusted with the revelation of the most important event in history, the manifestation in human flesh of the only Son of God, the Savior, the Christ Messiah, the Lord. It has just happened “today in the City of David,” in Bethlehem Ephrathah, the least populated place that the prophecy of Micah places as the smallest and most humble of the cities of Judah. However, according to the text of Matthew, from that moment Bethlehem is no longer “the smallest” because the “shepherd of his people, Israel” was born there.

The intense glow that surrounds them is the sign and stamp of the presence of God, who is perpetually “light of light,” and of the contagious fire that the newborn offers to all those who wait for the triumph of truth and justice. The angel's voice has prophetically announced the words that, at the proper time, the disciples would hear at each appearance of the Risen One: “Do not be afraid,” an invitation that by means of God’s closeness, calls for trust and faith as the only way to truth and life. Have no fear, but instead the permanent, enthusiastic certainty that allows us to face the challenges and darkness of the moment with peace and joy. The angel has announced the beginning of a new journey: the gospel of joy, the advent of the one who arrives in order to be anointed to proclaim it, as the only way of salvation, through which the glory of God will be manifested to Israel and to all peoples.

The joy that now overwhelms the shepherds will be the sign that will always accompany the announcement of the time of salvation. The 72 disciples, pioneers of evangelization, return two by two filled with joy; the apostles, battered by the Sanhedrin, instead of keeping silent as they had been ordered, shout with joy and share their faith, overflowing with joy because they have been affronted for the honor of Christ.  

The angel has given them a sign, which as faith mandates, must be verified to recognize that it is God himself who acts in this mysterious event. Three things should be noted: a small child, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger, an absolute contradiction to the expectations and hopes of Israel. The savior, the Messiah, powerless, poor and helpless, wrapped in swaddling clothes and with a manger for a bed? It indicates that the weakness of God, “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,” will accompany the ministry of Christ and his Church, called to become permanent announcer that in the weakness, persecution, poverty, sickness and helplessness of those who suffer all kinds of misfortune, remains the solidarity and closeness of God, who recognizes them as blessed and heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven.

The prophecy of the heavenly messenger becomes magnificent when the night is invaded by angelic crowds who sing the glory of God and wish for peace to all those who are the object of the love of the Lord. This love seems to disrupt all possible logic when infinity is enclosed in the limited, when all power is annihilated in human weakness, and when the Lord God of hosts assumes the condition of total helplessness before the powerful, injustice and human error. The Prince of Peace comes to restore in abundance all that sin had hidden and buried in humanity, to show his unconditional love, to encourage those who suffer and are humiliated, to heal, comfort and forgive. 

With the haste that emanates from the joy of their encounter with the Word of God, the shepherds run to Bethlehem to be witnesses of the good news that they have received. Before Jesus, Mary and Joseph, they discover with their own eyes what they had already believed. What they find are not precisely the signs of extraordinary greatness, as humans see it; they only see in a poor place a young mother with her husband and her son wrapped in swaddling clothes. Nevertheless, the eyes of their hearts have tuned in and found in the little newborn infant the bearer of the splendor of the glory of God and the definitive messenger of peace, joy and merriment, which he brings to every man and woman who comes into this world.

Comments from readers

JOSE IGNACIO JIMENEZ - 12/31/2018 12:34 PM
Thank you for this beautiful article on the birth of our Savior.

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