At the First Mass of Midnight
The Gospel. Luke 2. 1.
And it came to pass in those days: that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria: and all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem: because he was of the house and lineage of David: to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the Angel of the Lord came upon them: and shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the Angel said unto them: Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people; for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the Angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying: Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
As Catholic Christians, we are taught that Holy Scripture is the unique account of God’s self-Revelation, as told in two parts, if you will; the Old Testament reveals God’s Law, which is the standard for how we must know Him, Love Him, and follow His plan for us; further, the OT foretells the coming of the one who would deliver God’s Chosen people from bondage.
The New Testament recounts the story of God’s Holy Incarnation through the Gospel of His Son; His ultimate Revelation of Himself through the account of the life, miracles, and teachings of Jesus Christ; who is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies. And likewise, the NT also tells us of how God’s chosen people may escape from their real bondage; the bondage of sin.
I offer this rather dry beginning because I wish to emphasize the main focus of our worship tonight; the self-Revelation of God. On this night we are able to actually see God; on this night, God exposes Himself to us; “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given“. On this night, we are blessed to be witnesses to the event of God’s Holy Incarnation.
Of course we know that we are not alone in our witness; as St. Luke tells us, “And, lo, the Angel of the Lord came upon them: and shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the Angel said unto them: Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people; for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord; and there was with the Angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God“.
Here we need to back up a bit and remind ourselves of the first part of this passage; “And, lo, the Angel of the Lord came upon them: and shone round about them“. Here we need to remember who was chosen to first receive the news of the Birth of Christ; here we need to recall the people who first came to know of the Incarnation of God.
Of course the very first to be given this miraculous news was our Holy Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary; and likewise her espoused husband St. Joseph. At the same time, Mary’s cousin St. Elizabeth and her husband Zacharias were given to know that they were about to receive a child who would be the forerunner of the promised Messiah. In both cases, the first human beings to know of the imminent Incarnation were not kings or princes; they were not high priests or members of the Sanhedrin (though Zacharias himself was a priest). They certainly were not wealthy nor part of “high-society”.
Rather, they were humble people, faithfully carrying out their daily duties and just trying to get through life. And it is here that we come to the next group of people who were to witness the miracle of the Incarnation; “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night“.
Now in spite of their humble existence, the Holy Family could at least claim to be descendants of King David. Likewise, Zacharias and Elizabeth were the children of a priestly line. But those employed to be shepherds could make no such assertion.
They were the simplest of people; uneducated and ignorant. Because of their duties and responsibilities, they were unable to comply with the customary laws and regulations for washing and purification. Likewise, the demands of their flocks prevented them from participating in the many religious observances of that time. As a result, shepherds were a class of people that was looked down upon by pious orthodox folks.
And yet it was these shepherds, these simple people that were chosen by God to receive this wonderful Revelation. It was the lowest class of society that first heard the Good News. It was this group, who had little hope of rising above their earthly status that was privileged to witness God’s Glory.
But there was something different, something distinct about this particular group of shepherds. From St. Luke’s account, we can surmise that these shepherds were minding a flock in close proximity to Bethlehem. This flock would have been special in that it would have included a number of unblemished lambs that were kept specifically to be offered at the Temple in Jerusalem. And so, the shepherds who were tasked to look after the Temple lambs were the first to see the Lamb of God.
Tonight, WE are like those shepherds.
According to modern society, we are an ignorant people, an “unenlightened” people; a people that society looks down upon. We cannot aspire to the royal status of the Holy Family nor the priestly lineage of Our Lord’s forerunner; but still we are charged with an exceptional duty; the duty to mind a special flock and to present to Our Lord a group purified unto him, and zealous of good works. And when we faithfully fulfill this duty, then we too may be given to see God.
“And suddenly there was with the Angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying: Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men“. This is how we know that we are fulfilling our duty; at that time in history, the birth of a son was celebrated by all as an occasion of great joy. The Nativity of Our Lord is no different.
And so when we join with that heavenly host crying out, “Glory to God in the Highest“, we are also declaring the fulfillment of that ancient prophecy; “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given“. When we do this, we are acting as true shepherds; offering our guidance and leadership to His flock, and directing them in the way to safety. When we do this, we are bearing witness to all that we have seen; we are bearing witness to the ultimate Revelation of God; we are bearing witness to the Holy Incarnation of God.
And so, on this night, let us reverently rejoice that we have been chosen to receive the magnificent greeting of the Angel of the Lord; “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people“; let us bring our joy at this Angelic greeting to all the world; “for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord“. On this night, let us be inspired by the Birth of Our Lord and Savior to invite everyone we know to join us with the whole heavenly host in praising God and saying; “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men“.