Nativity of Our Lord
Show of hands, how many of you find the holidays stressful? How about life in general? Most of us, at any given time, are carrying around a full load of worry. You are right now in church surrounded by the beautiful candles, the decorated tree, the beloved Christmas songs, the holy Sacraments, and the old stories of God’s salvation, but you probably aren’t singularly focused on those things. That’s OK. Life is tough. You may be worried about how early you need to get up tomorrow to put in the turkey. You may be worried about seeing that one family member tomorrow- you know the one. You may be worried about your crushing credit card debt. You may be worried about whether or not your loved one will actually like the present that you picked out for them. You may be worried about that one person you forgot to get a present for. You may be worried about going back to work and the stresses that await you there. You may be worried about finding work that is fulfilling or about finding work period. You may be worried about your health. You may be worried about getting through the coming days without missing someone more than you can bear.
The holidays and life are stressful. That’s just the truth. Know, however, that you are in good company with the shepherds. The shepherds that we read about tonight are carrying within them countless stresses and fears. These lone folks in the fields tending their sheep at night are feeling the strain of hours and hours of labor each day- their muscles ache and their minds are worn. They are worrying about the sheep they had lost to the wolves or that got lost in the weeks prior. They are contemplating how they are going to be able to pay their taxes to the Roman government. They are worried about making ends meet. They are worried about the rumors of war. They are worried about feeding the sheep with the grasses growing thinner. They are worried about the brother who is going to stay with the family for at least a couple of weeks. They are worried about providing for the child who is on the way. They are worried about their place in the world and whether or not they matter. In that moment, the government was conducting a comprehensive census and the shepherds aren’t considered important enough to even count so they are left in the fields. If the ruling powers don’t consider you to be important enough to count and if they leave you undocumented, how long will it be before they dispose of you? These are the thoughts that haunt the shepherds.
In the middle of these worries and fears- in the middle of work- an angel appears suddenly. Out of nowhere a heavenly being radiating divine light shows up in front of you and your coworkers. The angel opens her mouth and tells you, “Do not be afraid!” Afraid of what exactly? Afraid of the strange, otherworldly creature’s mystical entrance? Or afraid of the challenges of life? Both seemed pretty frightening to the shepherd at that moment.