Christmas at Dawn, A, B, C
Is 62:11-12; Ti 3:4-7; Lk 2:15-20
Introduction: This is a homily/Scripture reflection in a book, titled: ‘Every Week God Speaks We Respond’, Cycle C, intended to be published in the future by Reverend John Tran Binh Trong.
It was published in Vietnamese in the US 2008 and republished in Viet Nam 2011. To keep the author’s writing style, this homily has not been edited and may not be by a hired hand. However, if readers would like to point out mistake(s) in spelling and grammar and/or to suggest English phrases and expressions, it would be greatly appreciated by the author, whose English is not his mother tongue and who did not live in the US until his adulthood. Passive sentences are used intentionally in this context as to avoid using the first personal pronoun ‘I’ when applicable. That might be associated with any idea of egotism, in accord with the French saying, known as: ‘Le moi est haissable’ (The ego is detestable).
The mass at dawn used to be called the Shepherd’s mass. Today’s Gospel tells us about the shepherds: Let us go then to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us (Lk 1:15). Why were the shepherds quick to respond to the message of the angels as such? The scripture today tells us the shepherds kept night watch by turns over their flocks (Lk 2:8). If they had been asleep, they would not have heard the voice of the angels, and thus not seen the glory of the Lord shone around them (v.9). The shepherds lived close to nature.
They must have found it easy to have a feeling of fear and wonder before natural forces such as storms and thunders and lightning. That was what today’s Gospel tells us: The glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were very much afraid (Lk 2:9). How were the shepherds able to recognize the tiny infant lying in the manger as their Lord and Savior? Each one of us can find a different answer. In order to help us find the answer, we can put the question in a different way. Who is the person who can easily recognize God’s presence in his/her life? Who can find it easy to recognize the footprints and the handiworks of God? What kind of heart should we have in order to recognize God’s presence?
Every day around us, there are found footprints and handiworks of God around us. What we need to do is to open our eyes of faith. The shepherds found it easy to put their faith in the words of the angels in order to make their decisions to go and see the wonderful phenomenon at Bethlehem because they were simple folks and they kept night watch. In order for us to be able to find God, we need to have a spirit of simplicity and trust before God like that of the shepherds. Simplicity, age, wealth and education are not positively correlated. Therefore, even if we are highly educated, we can still be simple before God. Even if we are advanced in age, we can still be trustful in God. Only with a spirit of simplicity and trust, can we open ourselves: our mind, heart and soul to welcome the Lord.
The Gospel of today tells us: Then, the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them (Lk 2:20). In the first Christmas night, there were only a few persons who observed the Bethlehem event: Mary, Joseph, the angels, the shepherds and their flocks. The first Christmas was celebrated at the stable of the flocks, not at home, not in a hotel, not in a hospital. In our days, we make beautiful mangers for Christmas. However, the very place where Jesus was born was the manger in a stable, perhaps smelling and filthy. How did Mary observe the first Christmas? Scripture had little to say about Mary’s celebration of the first Christmas. Scripture only recorded: Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart (Lk 2:19).
After all those busy days, preparing for Christmas such as sending Christmas cards and gifts and decorating home and church, we need to find some quiet time to ponder the Christmas mystery. Only in silence can we feel God’s presence.
In 2003 when praying the Angelus, Pope JP II called upon the faithful to relive the Christmas event in the atmosphere of silence and the spirit of humility of Mary. Our Holy Father said: Mary calls upon us to be humble so that God can find a room in our heart. She also shows us the value of silence so that we can hear the song of the angel and the cry of baby Jesus, not to be suppressed by noise and chaos.
As mature Christian Catholics, we should not consider Christmas as a distant event unrelated to our lives. We must try to find out the real meaning of Christmas. We must renew the meaning of Christmas and make it alive in our hearts.
A prayer for a spirit of detachment to seek God:
Oh infant Jesus just born!
In the first day of your birthday,
only Mary, Joseph and a few shepherds present
along with sheep around to celebrate your birth.
Give me a spirit of simplicity,
detached from worldly attachments
so that like the shepherds
I may find it easy to come to you. Amen.
John Tran Bình Trọng