Additional Resource Material for this Sunday
Ideal for catechetical and liturgical dramatization of today's gospel.
Christmas Day (Cycle
The surrounding areas of Bethlehem were appropriate for pasture. Those were the same fields where David had nourished his sheep before he became king of Israel. Until now, the Arab shepherds lead their flocks through the vast terrains surrounding Bethlehem. Outside the city, in the so-called “shepherds’ field,” there is a church in the form of a Bedouin tent which reminds those shepherds from Bethlehem of their enthusiastic celebration in honor of the newly-born babe from Galilee.
The shepherds from Bethlehem, like the rest from other parts of Israel, were not “affectionate, charming and sweet,” as they are generally portrayed in stories about Christmas. They were not only men from the lowest social ladder, they were also considered “dangerous” elements. The shepherd was a real outcast in that society. He was regarded as a delinquent, a thief, and a cheat. Although there were no proofs, they were always suspected of leading their animals to properties not their own and of stealing part of the produce of their flocks. Some “religious” communities had prohibited purchase of wool, milk or young goats from them. In disregard for a number of important texts of the Old Testament, where God and His Messiah are represented as shepherds, or of the traditions showing Moses and David as shepherds of their flocks before becoming leaders of the people, the literature of Israel, specially that of the time of Jesus, is replete with very critical judgments against the shepherds. If the gospel of Luke presents the shepherds as the first to know about the birth of Jesus, he is not only providing us with a historical information, but basically he contributes to us a theological element. It is not a coincidence, much less a poetic detail, but it is a clear indication from the beginning of the gospel of who were beside Jesus, who were around him when he was born, and for whom he was born. The good news, the joyful news was received by the shepherds, who readily understood they had a liberator in their midst. Those men, poor and despised, represented in their poverty the people to whom Jesus would proclaim the gospel. Those “poor of Yahweh” had nothing but hope in the Lord, the desire to be free from centuries of oppression. As in the text of the annunciation to Mary, Luke, in this narration, employs the angels once again as messengers of the news of liberation. If, in biblical language, the figure of an angel is used, the purpose is to give solemnity to a given moment, to highlight the importance of the narrated event. It is very important that the awaited Messiah be born among the poor and refer to his community, the “least of all” as the first; and that “it is necessary” that the angels should appear. Matthew, the other narrator of the infancy of Jesus, who also wants to underscore the universality of the message of Jesus – vis-à-vis his countrymen’s nationalism –, would say that wise men (with another religion) from the Orient came to Bethlehem. This would show that Jesus did not come to solely liberate Israel but all the peoples of the earth, that he would break barriers among nations. A manifestation of this is inspired by the prophecies of Isaiah (Is 49:12 and 22-23; 60:3-6). The mention of a star is a reminder, at the time the gospel was written, of an old prophecy of a foreigner, who, in the beginnings of the history of Israel, saw a star, announcing the coming of a king, who was to rule all the lands of the earth from Israel (Num 24:15-19). The birth of a child is a reason for celebration in all cultures. Surrounding this event is an infinity of popular customs. Burying the placenta in the cultivated land, asking God for fertility, or sprinkling mother’s milk over the furrows of the land for good harvest are some of the many rituals involving childbirth in a number of towns. The Nativity, a feast deeply rooted in the Christian tradition, ought to look for more profound, popular roots, in order to get closer to the origins of Jesus. An excessive and artificial consumption, utter extravagance that is common these days, have nothing or little to do with the birth of that child, who was himself surrounded by great joy and celebration, but never by pomp.
Through the angels, Luke gives a proclamation that is traditional song and acclamation among the Christians: “Glory to God in heaven and peace to men on earth,” whom He loves so much. This, in synthesis is the meaning of the birth of Jesus for mankind. The “glory” of God throughout the Bible is the revelation of God’s authority and Holiness. In this poor child, born like the rest, amid a group of rejoicing countrymen, is found all God’s glory, His definitive revelation. From now on He is there, amid the people, from whom we must seek God, where He wanted to reveal Himself. Jesus’ birth also signifies “peace.” In the Bible, the word “peace” is one with the richest of meanings. Peace (“shalom” in Hebrew) may be translated, for example, twenty-five ways in Greek. Peace is health, salvation, joy, contented life, complete life, full life; well-being, material and spiritual prosperity for each one and for the community. All this is what that child born in a cave for the sheep has come to bring us, and for whom the shepherds of Bethlehem had feasted with great rejoicing.
from the book: A Certain Jesus, Vol. 3 (Chapter
This book offers a new approach to appreciating the life of Jesus. The first part of the Chapter is in dialogue form in an up-to-date conversational language. This makes the reader realize that Jesus was once a very ordinary guy, a typical man in his time. The last part of each chapter contains an explanation of the biblical references, thus giving one the perspective for reflection.
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