Christmas Eve, 2009  Jesus has come to cast out fear and to bring peace and joy to all of us. We can joyfully sing, “Joy to the world!”

Christmas Eve, 2009

Fr. Ed Oen, C.PP.S

Were you ever in a Christmas pageant or play? Do you remember what part you played? Was it St. Joseph? The Virgin Mary? The innkeeper? Shepherds? Or, the angels? Many boys were reluctant to be shepherds. They wanted to be St. Joseph or the innkeeper. Shepherds seemed to be too insignificant. If we stop to think, we should all be shepherds. They are the superstars in the Gospel by St. Luke.

At the time of Jesus, shepherds were near the bottom run of the social and religious ladder. They were in a class called sinners because they didn’t observe the laws. For example, they did not go to the synagogue on the Sabbath. They had to tend their sheep. They were despised by the religious leaders who considered them crooks, beggars, thieves, and not able to keep the religious laws.

St. Luke’s nativity story is brief. On the night Jesus came into the world, shepherds were the only earthlings present, except for Jesus, Mary and Joseph. They were the first to pray to Jesus.  Jesus came into the world to save such lowly people as the shepherds from their sins, and others like them. Jesus came to save all of us. Jesus wanted to include tax collectors, sinners – Jesus wanted to include everyone. And He wants His church to also be very inclusive.

When you look at the manger tonight, notice that Jesus is holding his arms up. Almost all baby Jesus’ are depicted with arms held up. Which is trying to say, “Come, you are all welcome. I’ve come for all of you.”

At the time of Jesus, people were afraid of God. They thought they would die if they looked on the face of God. The angels told the shepherds to not be afraid. They were assured they had nothing to fear.

The heart of the Christmas message is this: “God has come!”  He has not come just rich and the powerful.  Rather, He has come for the lowly sinners who need Him most. Jesus has come to cast out fear and to bring peace and joy to all of us. We can joyfully sing, “Joy to the world!” We offer each other the sign of Peace at Mass; we wish one another to have peace between themselves and God, peace with one another, peace with one’s self, peace with the world. That sign of peace – that handshake or whatever sign we use – means much more than “hello!” It’s really the Hebrew “Shalom.” That word means all those things that I said before. That is the word that the Hebrews used for the opening of the Hail Mary. They say, “Shalom Marian”, which means, “Peace be always with you.” And that is what Jesus came to do – was to bring peace to our hearts – not necessarily to take away all wars.  It would be nice if that would happen. But we can live in the midst of war and find peace in our hearts if we stay close to Jesus.

There’s a detail in St. Luke’s gospel that is often overlooked. Luke tells us that Jesus was laid in a manger, or a feeding trough. The actual word is feeding trough. This detail is of great significance. Jesus came to be the food for the world. Jesus was laid in a manger to remind us that He came to sustain us with His word, and with the Holy Eucharist. Jesus continues to feed and nourish us with the word of God, but especially with the mystery of the Holy Eucharist. The Eucharist is the continuation of the mystery of Jesus taking on flesh to feed us with the best of food.  We celebrate the birth of Jesus with great joy. Here at Mass, we receive Jesus in Holy Communion this afternoon.  We welcome Him into our hearts. We make special room in our hearts for Him on the 24th day of December 2009. Jesus wants to be reborn in our hearts. And He will be reborn there if we only have faith and ask Him to come so that we might have that great joy of not just celebrating this feast that happened 2000 years ago – but we celebrate Jesus’ coming today, coming into our hearts this afternoon as He came in Bethlehem. So it is a great joy to celebrate this feast as we try our best to recognize Jesus, in the word and in the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist so that the Lord can come in and bring the joy and peace that He has for us.

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