“I will light candles this Christmas, Candles of joy, despite all sadness, Candles of hope where despair keeps watch. Candles of courage where fear is ever present, Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days, Candles of grace to ease heavy burdens. Candles of love to inspire all my living, Candles that will burn all the year long.” ~Howard Thurman
Just two months ago, I was privileged to attend the birth of my fifth grandchild … well, more honestly, I almost attended the birth. He decided that when it was finally time to make his appearance, he wasn’t going to hang around rethinking the move.
Mom and Dad were in the hospital all of 12 minutes before he arrived, five minutes before me. The empty room in maternity, which my son decided to wheel his wife into while the reception desk was busy with details, was now a hive of activity – nurses for mom, nurses for baby, the doctor who ran in from surgery to make the catch, dad who was trying to stay out of the way, and me, looking around and saying, “Seriously? I missed it?”
My poor daughter-in-law, God bless her, had done a heroic job, and was, as expected, exhausted. When I got close enough to the bed for her to speak with me, she leaned over and said, “I just want all these people to go away!”
I remembered what that was like, wanting just some quiet time, some breathing space, some time with baby and husband before the rush of life flooded back in and all the work began.
Certainly, it was similar for Mary, and for Joseph who must have been spent with traveling and worrying about providing his wife with an appropriate place to give birth.
Any experience of bringing a child into the world is best met with some period of rest and some time to adjust to a momentous change in one’s life. Of course Mary didn’t have to deal with a room full of doctors and nurses, machines and medical staff.
Instead, Mary was visited by shepherds … and she welcomed them, in spite of their rough and dusty appearance, the smell of sheep and their status as second-class citizens.
Once a noble occupation in the time of the Patriarchs, shepherds now occupied the lowest rung on the ladder of society, and yet, God chose them to be the first to hear the announcement of the birth of God’s son, to be the first to have the opportunity to respond to the invitation to visit the Child, and the first to be welcomed by the Holy Family.
What an awesome privilege for these shepherds, who were visited by an angel and a multitude of the heavenly host who delivered the most famous birth announcement of all time – from God. Can you just imagine it? No kings, no royalty, no priests or religious elite got the announcement or were given the opportunity to be the first to visit the Son of God – just the lowly shepherds. It was an honor and recognition of their true status as children of God.
Who’s to say that Jesus wasn’t influenced by their visit, having probably been told the story at every family gathering about the night Mary and Joseph welcomed shepherds, and probably some of their sheep, into the stable to see the newborn king. Jesus, after all, chose to be remembered as one of them. “I am the Good Shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me,” he said.
For us, Christmas is both an opportunity to be welcomed at the stable, and to welcome the Christ Child into our homes and hearts. But, as Jesus taught, it is after the welcome that the true work of Christmas begins, something I never considered until I sang “O Magnum Mysterium,” a Christmas Oratorio composed by Tim Keyes, an accomplished composer, conductor, and pastoral assistant for music and liturgy in St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Skillman.
For the Epilogue, The Work of Christmas, Keyes used a text by Howard Thurman, an African-American theologian, educator, and civil rights leader. Together, with Keyes’ hauntingly beautiful score, the epilogue will forever be a reminder to me that there is more to Christmas than just one day:
“When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flock, the work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among people, to make music in the heart.”
Mary Morrell is an award-winning writer, editor and educator working at Wellspring Communications. She can be reached at email@example.com, and read at her blog,’ God Talk and Tea.’