Solemnity of Mary Mother of God
January 1, 2012

Readings: Nm 6:22-27 / Gal 4:4-7 / Lk 2:16-21

I write painstakingly using a Chinese keyboard, where I make tons of errors as I type. My new toy doesn’t have MS Office for MAC, so I have to make do with an ancient machine, with Chinese characters to boot!

It is New Year, and many people mistakenly think it is a Church feast. It is not. Whilst it starts a new civil year, it just coincides with the octave of Christmas, which is the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God.

Last week, Christmas Day, the focus was on the Son, God who took on flesh for our salvation. Today, the focus is on the mother of the Son of God, through whose cooperation, the miracle of the Incarnation took place. This is both the historical and theological truth, the kind for which an entire people of faith pauses, stops, reflects, and celebrates with then full capabilities a community of faith can muster.

It is just like Christmas today, which really means everyday this past week, was exactly like Christmas Day.

It is a story of gargantuan proportions, a mega story whose repercussions have reached all times, places, seasons, and cultures. But like in any big story, there are big role players and bit players, but every character has a role to advance the story and make it bear fruit for everyone. Whilst Christmas Day focused on the main characters in this drama of salvation, today, by choice, I focus on the seemingly bit role players who did not seem to matter much in our worldly scheme of things.

I refer to the shepherds, who were among the secondary messengers, apart from the angels who gave the good news and sang lusty hosannas, proclaiming glory to God and goodwill to all men and women of good will.

There are two things I would like us all to pause and reflect on …
First in my list is the fact that the shepherds “went in haste.” I don’t know about you, but last thing we would ever hear of shepherds is being in any state of rush. They are not exactly people who would be in a hurry to do anything. They have no need to rush as their schedule depends on the pace of the animals they lead to pasture. Flocks cannot be rushed, and their grazing and browsing cannot be put on a strict timetable, like we do now. Shepherds who take care of their flock are not in the business of meeting deadlines, and coming up with timely reports of any kind.

But the shepherds went in haste … They did something that was not part of their vocation to do … No … they were on a mission. They were sent, jut like angels were sent. And they had an urgent message, not a favor to do, but a message to get across.

What sort of message was it? It was a message that had no time to wait, because the “fullness of time” had come. It was a message that was ripe for the picking and mature for the delivering. It was a message that was not theirs, but God’s to give. And God, who is not subject to worldly, earthly time, is not going to tarry, not going to fall victim to people’s shortsightedness and selfishness.

And God does not fall victim either to the messenger. Any messenger is good enough for the message, but it only required exactly what was required of the angels – obedience and openness to the will of God.

It is well worth repeating here. The angels were not schooled in any way. They were not qualified. They had no degrees, no titles, no pedigree, no nothing. Like Mary and Joseph, they did not have everything going for them. Like the disciples of the Lord, they did not have any credentials that would propel them to greatness from the human plane.

But the fullness of time has come. Jesus was born of a woman, the woman promised yet from Genesis at the so-called “protoevangelion.”

But there was something else that mattered more and meant more … Shepherds are not tale-bearers. They were not story-tellers, primarily. They were too close to the soil and to their flock to be running around giving scoops of stories that make it to the headlines. They were not trained to be giving away hints of what unfolding events there would be. They were not newscasters. Neither were they meant to be anchor persons on TV and radio.

But they bore the tale that shook the world. A child has been born! The promised baby awaited for so long has come. But the story they told did not go smoothly down the throats of hearers. Luke says they were all “amazed” at what they heard. That was probably an understatement. It was probably more like they were initially incredulous.

We too, are an incredulous, doubting lot. We refuse to believe, at times. Like me, we become cynical. We lose hope and get discouraged at so many things. And we always find reasons not to believe, not to listen, not to obey God’s will. This, we do, despite so many messengers sent to us … so many reminders given to us. We are indifferent to the Church’s teachings. We even go against the teachings of the Church. We think we are more intelligent than the shepherds. We know more than the Pope, than our bishops and pastors. We definitely think we could have less pontificating from them and more surveys, and pseudo-science to follow towards the attainment of an earthly, everlasting, and prosperous paradise, this New Year, every day and everywhere.

But let us get just one thing straight. Shepherds tell no tall tales, I submit. But they told no tales that were just meant to shock us. They told tales, yes … but salvific tales! And they are stories that made the shepherds go in haste … stories whose time has come, for the fullness of time that is the Lord’s has come, is with us, and is here to stay. This is the time of our salvation. And it was ushered in, not by some well-known personality, but anchored for us by dirty, smelly, and ordinary people who had with them the beginnings of the greatest story ever told!

Happy New Year to all of you!
Salesian House of Studies
Chaiwan Road, Shaekeiwan, Hongkong