December 28, 2015

Nativity: December 28, 2015


"there were shepherds in that region living in the fields 
and keeping the night watch over their flock" (Luke 2:8)

With the infant Jesus "wrapped in swaddling clothes" and lying "in a manger", the Christmas story shifts from the intimacy of the nativity to the silent pastures outside. There were "shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock." (Luke 2:8) As mentioned earlier, the birth of Christ was outside Bethlehem. The mountains' "rocky caves had been used as stables since ancient times" [7]. After walking with his flock during the day, shepherds would have herded the sheep together by nightfall. The sheep would sleep in the cave, safe from the weather and any predators. The shepherds would man the entrance to the cave, protecting the sheep as they rotated "keeping watch" during the night. Starting with nightfall, and sectioned in three-hour increments, the shepherds would rotate sleeping and "keeping the night watch over their flock."

When it was his turn to keep the night watch a shepherd lived under the quiet blanket of night. When you kept the night watch you paid attention. You paid attention to the rhythm of the sleeping sheep. You paid attention to the silence of the night. You paid attention to your surroundings. And, because shepherds spent so much of their life in silence, they paid attention to within. Our Holy Father writes: "The first witnesses of the great event are watchful shepherds. ... perhaps they were living not only outwardly but also inwardly closer to the event than the peacefully sleeping townsfolk." [8] Shepherds spent most of their lives with sheep. That meant shepherds spent most of their lives in silence. They lived in silence. They lived in harmony with nature. They understood the rhythm of life. Quiet, simple and reflective, shepherds paid attention the world within them as much as they did the world without them.

Most of us don't live in serene pastures. Our homes January through November don't look nearly as decorative as they do in December. Our families don't always get along the way they do around the grand dinner table or the present laden Christmas tree. Our rhythm of life may not feel as balanced in next week's return to work as it felt during this week's vacation. Most of us would like to live within. Yet, most of us feel surrounded by so much noise and busyness that the description of the recollected shepherds seems distant and unreachable.

Merry Christmas. Again today, I mean this: Merry Christmas. Emmanuel is here; "God is with us." God is within us. The shepherds point us to a posture; peace comes from within, not without. Peace comes from God, from within. Whether you are in the pastures outside Bethlehem or traffic in the big city, Emmanuel is with you. Whether you are tranquil or troubled, Emmanuel is with you. Whether your life is messy or merry Emmanuel, is with you.

Where do you seek fulfillment: within or without? Where do you go for comfort and refreshment: within or without? What are you searching for: within or without?

 You may not be able "live" within, but you can pay attention to within. The more we pay attention to our spiritual life - the more we pay attention to within - the easier it will be for us to see God at work in all aspects of our life. 2013 is just around the corner. What if 2013 were the best year ever for your spiritual life? What if during 2013 you were more able to live within?

For your prayer

he Psalms are the sacred music of a chosen people. The Psalms were written as songs to praise God. Imagine how the shepherds would have sung the Psalms during their quiet lives with the sheep. Begin by slowly reading Psalm 119:1-32 and Psalm 85:9-14. Read them a few times. Imagine the shepherds singing these Psalms the very night Jesus was born. Now, prayerfully imagine the scene in Luke 2:8. Be in the scene. Be with the shepherds. Be with them as the Angel comes. Be with them as the glory of God envelopes them. 

Today's prayer

"Father, I long for peace. I long to live more in tune with your movement in my life. I give you permission to teach me how to live quieter on the inside, regardless of how noisy my life seems on the outside."

[7] Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, page 67
[8] Ibid., pages 71-72.

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© Fr. Mark Toups, 2012. Expressed written permission required for duplication.