Jesus, Mary, The Shepherds and Us

Continuing these reflections on lessons we can learn from Mary’s life, we now come to Bethlehem, where Christ was born to Mary and the shepherds were His first visitors. The surroundings for that first Christmas were far from what people would expect for the newborn King, God who is with us. Rather than a glorious palace or the magnificent Temple, or surrounded by the multitudes, Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem to Mary and Joseph, who found no room at the local inn.

The world ignored them; and so the angels announced the glorious news of His birth to the least likely characters, shepherds keeping watch at night, semi-nomadic members on the lower rungs of society. In the midst of a seemingly ordinary night, the shepherds saw and heard the angels and their long awaited Redeemer. Mary and Joseph received comfort and assistance from these unexpected friends, who then went forth at daybreak to proclaim this wondrous event. Some residents of Bethlehem believed them and gave the Holy Family the crucial assistance that the town had failed to provide the night before.

Those shepherds were thus the first ones to help Mary and Joseph at the dawn of the new era of grace; and they led others likewise to venerate the Holy Family and provide them assistance. As the great Catholic evangelist Fulton Sheen wrote in The Life of Christ, this humble birth of Jesus demonstrates in so many ways that “Divinity is always found where one least expects it.” We should not wait until the time seems favorable in order to enter deeply into prayer or bring the Gospel to others by our way of life.

Christ is always with us; and when the circumstances seem unfavorable, our knowledge that we need divine grace may be precisely the opening for the power of heaven to come down to earth. As the simple shepherds were the first people to assist the Holy Family bring others to Christ, so we should be open to how God may be sending people to us and to the Church in ways we do not expect. As the powers of the world did not recognize Jesus when He was born long ago, so the powerful forces in the world today often ignore His love.

Now, as then, God often turns to those who are humble in the world to experience and demonstrate His Good News. As Jesus would later say, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven.” Matt. 5:3.