Christmas Eve Homily 2021

Honthorst, Adoration of Shepherds

The songs, the holiday greetings are so beautiful and good to share. Yet, if we are honest, we have to recognize the Christmas season, while truly blessed, is also, for many a time of stress and even depression. It is, for many reasons, a time when the human soul seems to sense the weaknesses and wounds that life brings. It is a difficult and yet blessed time. Let us share a story that may help us better understand these real challenges.

In the hills around Bethlehem that first Christmas there were shepherds tending their sheep as they had for centuries. And on the cold wintry Bethlehem night, there was one shepherd who was especially unhappy. He was a young man, in his early teens. He has always found it hard to feel he belonged or fit in. Although his family were all shepherds they were not particularly kind to Zadok (for that was his name). Zadok was not big or strong like his brothers and cousins. Nor was he especially smart. And he certainly wasn’t handsome like his oldest brother. But worst of all Zadok had big ears. Everyone loved to tease him, the other shepherds, the people in Bethlehem all would laugh and mock Zadok with the big ears. So, he was the unhappy shepherd.

That wintry night he had gone off to get away from the other shepherds. Zadok would often find the most peace when he could go off alone. And that night the stars were especially beautiful and the sheep who were with him were good to be with. And they never laughed at him. But as he sat there in the starlight his big ears heard something.

Zadok went back down the hill. He went to the other shepherds and said “Do you hear that?” It’s getting louder!” The other shepherds looked up and told him to quiet down and tend to the sheep (for it was his shift). “Get back to work and let us rest you fool! Go take your floppy ears and get away from us! they shouted at Zadok. So Zadok turned and started to leave. But… he heard it again…Louder! Glo….ria! Glor….ia! GLORIA !!!!!! Suddenly the night sky was filled with angels singing to God! And now all the shepherd could not help but hear! They jumped up and stared at the angelic visitors. An angel told them to go to the stable in Bethlehem for their newborn King, their Savior was born!

In great excitement, fear, and uncertainty they all, with their sheep trekked into town. They knew the stable, it was with the inn. They could not figure out how a king would be there. It wasn’t that big and there were always donkeys, a cow or two and who knew what else inside. They were shepherds so they didn’t notice but some complained of the stink. But off they went. It was best not to argue with the angels of God!

They came to the stable. Inside they saw the animals but in the back as far from the cold as could be they saw a beautiful young mother holding a newborn baby. With her was a man the older shepherds knew as Joseph for he was from their town. The shepherds crowded in. Even young Zadok crowded in as best he could. The bigger, older, better shepherds kept shoving him aside. But Zadok could see the mother, he heard her name was Mary, and her newborn son, Jesus. Zadok was amazed. Never had he seen such awesome beauty and glory. They actually glowed with a peace and joy he could not understand. Zadok felt he should turn away, he was so unworthy to be there. He tried to leave… but he couldn’t. Then he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned and saw Joseph. Scarred he tried to leave but Joseph smiled and whispered…”He came for you!” Then he gently patted Zadok’s big ears and said… “And he loves your ears!”

At those words, tears came to Zadok’s eyes. But not the tears of an unhappy shepherd but tears of joy. Zadok knew. He belonged! He belonged to the King!

Is this story true? Well, probably not, specifically. Although Zadok was a common enough Hebrew name in the time of Jesus. So perhaps it is but a little Christmas story. But, on the other hand, it is true. That first Christmas there were sad, lonely wounded people. This Christmas, centuries later there are those who hurt, who feel they do not belong. They may be mocked and ridiculed, wounded. And, just as on that first Christmas night, they, if they listen, will hear the angels call them to Jesus.

And we can feel the tap from a saint or angel on our heart. And we can hear and know…HE came for us!