Bishop's Column

Poor heirs to Christ’s richness

Imagine the shepherds of Bethlehem, on the first Christmas Eve.  Poor men, doing a difficult and lonely job.  Preparing for a long night: counting sheep, driving away wolves, fighting sleep perhaps.  Poor men, working hard, waiting for daybreak.
Imagine their surprise when angels appeared in the sky.  Imagine their response.  Fear, the scripture tells us.  The shepherds were struck with great fear.
But the angel of the Lord told them not to be afraid.  The angel told them that born in their small town was the Savior of the world.  And that the savior of all mankind could be found lying in a stable.
Imagine the fear.  The doubt that an angel might really appear—and if it would appear, that an angel would appear to ordinary men.  And proclaim to them that the Messiah, foretold for centuries in the scriptures, was a baby-- simple and poor.
The shepherds must have been confused.  If the story wasn’t already familiar to us, we would be confused as well.  Why would the savior be born in a stable?  Why would he lie in a manger?  Why would God reveal his son to ordinary people, instead of to princes or priests or prophets?
Blessed John Henry Newman said that the “shepherds were chosen on account of their lowliness, to be the first to hear of the Lord’s nativity.”  The Almighty, said Newman, wanted to “show…that God had chosen the poor in this world to be heirs of His kingdom, and so to do honor to their lot.” 
Shepherds were chosen, reflected Newman, because “in God’s sight greatness is less acceptable than obscurity.”  We should remember that lesson this Christmas.
The savior of the world has come for us all.  He has come to invite us to peace, eternally.  He has to come to forgive our sins, and to offer the chance to live in the company of the Blessed Trinity.  The savior of the world has come to redeem death, and suffering, and to allow those mysteries to help us love with God’s own love.  The savior of the world has come to make us holy, and to give us himself.
But we need to hear God’s invitation.  We need to find God as he is.  And the first Christmas teaches us that we will hear God when we are humble, and simple, and poor.  God is not found in the way we expect him to be found: he is found in the humility of a newborn infant in a manger, or in the grace of a family, or in the poor and outcast, or hidden in the appearance of simple bread.
If we want to find God this Christmas, we need to be quiet.  We need to put aside our hopes for worldly glory, or fame, or wealth.  If we want to find God this Christmas, we need to be with the poor.   God announces himself to the world in the presence of the poor, the obscure, and the simple.
Of course, the shepherds didn’t know that angels appeared to them to teach the world a lesson.  They knew only that the savior was born.  In a beautiful Christmas poem, Thomas Merton writes that:
one by one the shepherds,
with their snowy feet,
Stamp and shake out their hats upon the stable dirt,
And one by one kneel down to look upon their Life.

May we listen for Jesus Christ this Christmas.  May we be quiet and simple.  May we be poor and humble.  And when we hear that Christ is born, may we kneel down to look upon our eternal life.

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Bishop Conley

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