Christmas 2010 Mass at Dawn:
The Feast of Christmas, the birth of Christ, is such a grand feast in the Church that we celebrate it at not only one Mass, but actually there are 4 different Masses for Christmas. Each of these Masses has their own prayers and readings. At this Mass we are celebrating the Mass at Dawn. There are also the vigil Mass, which anticipates the birth of Christ, the Mass at Night, which celebrates the Birth of Christ, and the Mass of the day which reflects on the impact of the birth of Christ. This Mass at dawn reminds us of those first moments in the life of Christ. Listen again to the words of our opening prayer: Father, we are filled with the new light by the coming of your Word among us. This Mass at dawn is held during the first moments of the day as the new light breaks over the horizon. The new light of this day helps to remind us of the new light of Christ that came into the world the first Christmas morning. At this Mass we relive, so to speak, that first morning when Christ, the light of the world, was born for us and to us.
As we listen to the gospel today, it seems to me that we are like the shepherds. They are types or images for us. Shepherds were common, ordinary people. But when we reflect upon the Christmas story we hear that even when the great king Herod was unwilling to accept the birth of the new king, the humble, poor shepherds believed the message. So we should see ourselves as the shepherds in the Gospel. If we do so, we will see many similarities between our lives and the lives of those shepherds.
The gospel tells us that angels appeared to these shepherds and told them the good news about the birth of Jesus. The same thing is true for us as well. When we think of angels we normally think of the celestial, spiritual beings who are servants of God, and rightly so. Now these angels we may have never seen. However, the word angel comes from the Greek angelos which simply means messenger. So the shepherds heard about the good news of the birth of the savior because messengers made it known to them. The same is true of us. None of us would be here if it weren't for the work of some messengers. None of us would know the first thing about Jesus if it were not for the work of someone who spread the message.
After the angels left the shepherds, they had to make a decision. What would they do next? If the message of the angels is true, the shepherds had to go looking for Jesus. If we believe that the child born in the manger is God, we must look for him. If we believe that this child grew up and proclaimed the good news of salvation, we must look for him. If we believe that he suffered and died on our behalf to take upon himself the sins of us all, we must look for him. If we believe the he rose again and that we too can overcome sin and death by the power of this resurrection, we must look for him. We have to search for him. The shepherds in the story heard the message, they believed the message, but knew that was not enough, they needed to find Jesus. This became their focus, nothing else mattered. It says they went in haste to find Mary, Joseph, and the infant in the manger.
The same is true for us. If we believe the good news, if it inspires within us a desire to follow Jesus, we have to go looking for him. There are many places where we find Him. We find him here at church, we believe that when the Christian community gathers together Christ is in our midst. We find Jesus when we pray, or when we serve others. But, most of all we find Jesus when we approach the manger.
What is a manger? It is a place where the animals eat. This is not a coincidence. We continue to look for Jesus at a place where we eat: this altar is such a place. Having heard the good news, believing it, and knowing that we now need to find Jesus, there is no better place to look than this altar. Right here on this altar, this manger, we find Jesus really and truly present in the holy Eucharist. This is the place where we meet Christ.
So, we have heard the message about Jesus, we look for him, and we find him in this Holy Eucharist. However, we cannot forget the last step. Once the shepherds heard the message, believed it, looked for Jesus, and found him, there was one last thing that they did: they told others. This good news was so amazing that they knew they couldn't keep it to themselves. Rather, everyone needed to hear about this good news. We too have a responsibility and we should have the desire to share this good news with others. We do this by what we say, sure. But, we also do this by our example.
It seems to me that our lives as disciples of Jesus is presented to us by this story of the shepherds. This story takes place after the birth of Jesus. We live after the birth of Jesus. The shepherds were sent messengers who told them of the good news, we have heard this message from others. They believed this message, which made them search for the lord. We too believe and realize that if this good news is true we must follow Christ. They found Jesus lying in a manger, we find him here on this altar. Once they found Christ, they told everyone else about him. When we meet Jesus here at this Mass the last words we hear are: Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. Merry Christmas to all of you, and may God bless you.