The Lord said to Moses: "Speak to Aaron and his sons and tell them: This is how you shall bless the Israelites. Say to them: The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace! So shall they invoke my name upon the Israelites, and I will bless them."(P) The word of the Lord.
May God have pity on us and bless us; may He let His face shine upon us. So may your way be known upon earth; among all nations, your salvation. (R)
May the nations be glad and exult because you rule the peoples in equity; you guide the nations on earth. (R)
May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you! May God bless us, and may all the ends of the earth fear Him! (R)
Brothers and sisters: When the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. As proof that you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying out, "Abba, Father!" So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then also an heir, through God.(P) The word of the Lord.
The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them. When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
In today's gospel we read of the shepherds' visit to the newborn Jesus in Bethlehem. Prior to this passage, Luke narrates that an angel appeared to the shepherds on the night of Jesus' birth. It was a night like any other night - dark, quiet and peaceful. Some shepherds were in the fields resting and keeping watch over their sheep. And suddenly the skies were no longer dark. A bright light shone around them. As the shepherds were in shock, fear and awe, an angel of the Lord appeared and told them not to be afraid and comforted them with the joyful news that "a Savior had been born to them in David's town and He is the Messiah and the Lord" and that they would find their newborn Messiah "wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger". As they were listening to the angel's message suddenly a whole host of angels appeared singing praises to God, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests." Yes. The earth was given a declaration of peace and graciousness.
Imagine the shepherds' joy when they heard the good news of the Savior's birth. Like all the Jews, the shepherds also had been waiting for the Messiah for centuries, and finally when He came, He did not choose to reveal Himself to people living in royal palaces nor to a large crowd of people during the daytime in a public place but to the marginalized, ordinary, simple and poor shepherds at night. As soon as the shepherds heard the message, their fear turned to joy. They felt blessed to be the first ones told about the Savior's birth and were compelled to act. They believed the message recorded in their scriptures concerning the Messiah had been fulfilled and wanted to see this for themselves. So after the angels had left them, they said to one another, "Let us go to Bethlehem and see this event which the Lord has made known to us."
Today's gospel begins by telling us that the shepherds immediately left their sheep and hurried off to see the child. As they hastened to witness the fulfilment of God's promise, they talked to one another and recalled the stories of the Messiah that were passed down from their families. When they had finally arrived and saw the child, they were filled with joy and could not keep the events of the night to themselves. They told Mary and Joseph what the angel had told them about the child. Then they returned to their flock, rejoicing and praising God for everything they had seen and heard.
As for Mary, after the shepherds had departed, she "kept all these things, and reflected on them in her heart." Surely Joseph too must have wondered in awe as he remembered the comforting words of the angel who had instructed him in a dream to take Mary as his wife and the words of the prophet Isaiah (7:22-23), "The virgin is with child and will give birth to a son whom they will call Emmanuel, a name which means "God-with-us." And then Mary and Joseph did everything according to the Law of Moses. The Law required that every male child be circumcised on the eighth day, Leviticus (12:3). Circumcision was the sign that a child was part of God's covenant with people, Genesis (17:10-12). A rabbi or a priest or even the child's father could perform the circumcision.
So, in keeping with the Law, Mary and Joseph on the eighth day after his birth, took Jesus to the Temple and he was circumcised. Bethlehem was near the Great Temple in Jerusalem, and the Temple would play an important part for Jesus and his parents in the weeks that followed his birth. On this occasion they also, as told by the angel of God, officially named the child, "Jesus", in Hebrew Yeshua which means "He saves". In this way, Mary and Joseph willingly obeyed God's Word and joyfully fulfilled their religious duties.
What is the message for us?
The birth of Jesus was the beginning of a new age in which, on the one hand, people would hope for the salvation of the world, and on the other they would enjoy this salvation already present. The shepherds are models for those who are seeking salvation. Let us, therefore, respond as the shepherds did to this good news of great joy.
God offers all people the wondrous privilege of having a personal encounter with Him. He manifested Himself to the lowly shepherds and wanted them to know that He came for them personally. The message was simple and direct - "Do not fear, a Savior is born and He is the Messiah, the Lord." The shepherds hurried off to find the Savior, even though they did not fully, or even partly, grasp the significance of all this. After seeing the child, they had an understanding of the word that had been spoken to them concerning Him.
So too, God wants us to have a personal encounter with Him. It is not enough, therefore, just to know that Jesus Christ was born for us and He dwelt among us. If we, as the shepherds did, value God more than all else and make an effort to personally receive Him, we too can have the heavenly experiences like the shepherds did.
I wish you and your families a Blessed and Happy New Year!
God Bless You!