Adoration of the Shepherds

Isaiah 9:1-6
Psalm 96:1-13
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-14

"And His Name Shall Be 'Wonderful'"

"And His Name Shall be 'Wonderful, Counselor, Almighty God ...."
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Through the gracious gate of a virgin, God visits His people. And since Heaven has come down to earth, let us pause to ask a question: "What is Heaven like?" Now, isn't it so that the temper of every country or nation can be seen in the customs and sensibilities of its natives? Surely, if we reflect upon visitors from Heaven, we shall learn something about this most wonderful Land.

We have many instances of this. The Archangel Gabriel appeared to both Zechariah and Mary. Joachim and Anna also encountered angels. Before them Lot received angels. Abraham and Sarah entertained Three Divine Visitors. In all of these cases, the Heavenly visitors were imposing, even overwhelming, beings. The mere sight of them necessitated the words, "Be not afraid." Not only was their physical appearance awe-inspiring, but they were also possessed of extraordinary powers. Gabriel transforms Zechariah from a proud, authority figure into a subdued and muted man. In Sodom, the angels raise their hands and issue a flash of light that blinds the manic and aggressive assailants around them .... and then with another wave of a hand transport Lot's family out of the city.

But their greater dominion resides in the knowledge they possess. Each of them knows the intimate life circumstances of those whom they visit. They are privy to secrets and griefs. And they are able to peer flawlessly into the future — the child Mary will be spoken of by all peoples in every generation; the child John will possess the spirit and power of Eliā€²jah; the Child Jesus will bring salvation to His people.

Perhaps the most remarkable part is that these divine encounters are not rare, nor are they limited to the Holy Ones of history. Attested by no less an authority than the Lord Jesus is this astonishing fact: each person on earth and everyone ever born has been attended to and guarded by an individual angel. "See that you despise not one of these little ones," Jesus declares. "For I say unto you, that their angels in Heaven always see the face of my Father who is in Heaven" (Matthew 18:10). Now, children during the first century were regarded as being the lowliest and the least. If each of these should have the dignity of an angelic guardian, then be assured, all humankind must certainly share in this emyreal blessing.

But what can this mean in practice within the space of our individual, particular lives? It means that there is another being, far more powerful than we and having more knowledge than we could ever hope for and more imposing in every way than we are, who knows every little detail about us — everything we have done, everything we have thought, and and all that we are now contemplating. Indeed, this super-intelligent being who sees God's face knows us better than we know ourselves, for sadly humans do not see themselves as they really are.

After we have grown accustomed to this reality — as reassuring as it is unsettling — we are left with a very important insight: we realize that we are understood, perfectly understood. No matter what has happened in the past, no matter how things stand today, we are completely and unerringly understood by the most important person we shall ever know.

Now, this may not seem important to many people. But make no mistake about it: being misunderstood can be much more than a disappointment; misunderstanding can nullify us, can subtract us to nothing. Consider the wife, perfect in her devotion, care, and fidelity, who must live forever under the tyranny of her husband's suspicion because something in the past was misunderstood. Consider the valorous man who after risking his life for others is misreported and written down as a coward. Consider the falsely accused public official, the underestimated girl, the wrong man who is arrested and put in prison for the rest of his life. Conversely, to be completely understood affirms us right down to our deepest sanity, beyond every doubt, to the bedrock peace of honest life. Yes, there are things our guardian angel knows that we are not proud of. But we must seek forgiveness and get beyond that. For to leave out regrettable secrets is to lose integrity and authenticity and the peace that flows from reconciliation.

Have you ever experienced true love, the love between two soul mates in which all things are shared, all faults admitted, and every shame confided .... and then to be accepted and approved and loved in all the power and depth of that divine force? If so, then you know what it is to be profoundly understood by an angel, who is our loving God's ministering agent.

The alternative is love and life that are not worthy of these exalted names. How many of us press on in a life or a love that is not honest? I will never forget the relief I felt the first day I sat, the only white person, in a crowded Haitian terminal. The weight of suffering was palpable and lay upon me as surely as the privation and despair that I could see and feel around me. And then the strangest thing in the world happened: a relief swept over me. I felt as light as a feather, for a great weight had rolled off of my back. The great lie was over. I no longer safely sequestered myself in an affluent bubble in Maine. I now honestly owned the truth of something that I knew every day of my life. The world suffers; 800 million people go to sleep each night hungry. The world is poor; half the world's people live on slightly more than $2 a day. 80% of the world's population lives on less than $10 per day. That is what the real world looks like. And finally for the first time I was in the world. The date was March 21, the first day of Spring, and on that day, for me, life began.

Soon, I would begin meeting other Americans and Europeans who had come to Haiti twenty and thirty years ago — religious sisters and brothers, priests, volunteers who were passing through. So many of them were strikingly bright and talented and full of life and, yes, holy. They had poured out all they had and all they would ever have and gave it to the poor never receiving anything in return. Some of them now were in their 70s and 80s continuing cheerfully in their work every day. I am humbled to live with such as these today in our little Franciscan Community.

Today, Love is born among us. Heavenly Love. He is fully God and fully Man. Having all beauty and stature and power and knowledge, he has poured Himself into the form of a helpless child. He lies amongst barnyard animals and dung, for He is not interested in the rich. He alone knows all of us perfectly. Yet, for all of that, He loves us perfectly .... and truly and faithfully. And He will never let us down, who love Him, nor will ever leave us. Through His shining eyes alone can we arrive to authenticity and integrity, and in Him alone could our lives ever make sense.

From the time we are children, we wonder about Heaven. Our self-centered desires pave its streets with gold, afford us private white sand beaches, and surround us with sumptuous villas and servants. Yet, Heaven's real citizens and Heaven's King are nothing like that. How often have I spoken to people who have encountered loved ones from the other side. They only appear, I am told, in times of crisis. The holy angels are ministering angels who care .... for us. Our Blessed Virgin Mother, whenever she appears, always bears tidings about and for our welfare. Holy men and women continue to pour their talents and gifts into humble lives of poverty in order to help others. They suffer in order to relieve suffering. No, Heaven's citizens do not spend their days on so many private beaches. And their God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.

He lies silently in the night midst angels and archangels and all the company of Heaven. Wise men bow down to Him in royal spendor. And the suffering poor stand in the cold night air and draw near to Him.

In Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.