Contemporary Scripture Reflections for Spiritual Seekers
Dr. Elizabeth-Anne Stewart, BCC, PCC
SUNDAY BIBLETALK
December 25th/ 26th, 2021
The Christmas Issue

Shepherds
From Advent Pastiche, 1985

For them
the NEWS was free--
no long pilgrimage
through foreign parts
for them,
no hard questions
or painful quest
for them--
only answers,
freely given.

Glory! Glory to God
in the highest
and peace to God's people
on earth!

They sat with their sheep
in the fields,
keeping watch
through the night
until the glory of the Lord
seared their eyes
and unsettled their stomachs.
Such happenings
were too much
for peasant kind--
for rough and ready fellows
with their skin flasks
of crude wine,
their black bread
and goats' milk cheeses,
calloused feet
and ungodly oaths.

Glory! Glory to God
in the highest
and peace to God's people
on earth!

But they overcame their fear
and, entrusting their sheep
to the hills,
plodded towards Bethlehem.
There, they found the Baby
lying in a manger
as the angel had said.
And they told their story
and all were astonished.

Glory! Give glory to God
in the highest,
rejoice in God's peace and go,
praising God's Name.


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QUESTIONS
FOR REFLECTION

  • If Jesus were born in our own time, to whom do you think would the angels announce the Good News?
  • If Jesus were born today, what would be some of the places where he might enter the human condition?
  • How well do you handle the "messiness" of your own life?
  • When does perfectionism become a spiritual liability?
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Greetings, SBT Readers!

This issue of Sunday BibleTalk is both a celebration of Christmas and of the Feast of the Holy Family. Ideally, there would be two issues of SBT but since I have just finished grading student finals and since I am hosting Christmas lunch, one issue will have to suffice. Christmas, of course, is a season rather than a single day and the Feast of the Holy Family falls within this season. There is also a rich assortment of sacred texts to choose from, depending upon the time of the liturgy -- Christmas Eve Vigil, Mass at dawn on Christmas Day and Mass during the day. Faced with multiple options, I will focus on a single word: messiness. This one word allows me to reflect on both Luke's narrative of the shepherds from the Vigil (Lk 2:1-14) and on the Gospel for December 26th -- the Lukan account of the Child Jesus conversing with his elders in the temple (Lk 2:41-52).

Life is messy, whether for shepherds or for the Holy Family. It is certainly messy for us as we deal with our own struggles, challenges, regrets and failures. The Good News is that it is precisely in the messiness of life that the Holy One is to be found-- in all the uncertainty, unpredictability, disappointments
and heartaches that insist on manifesting whether it is Christmas or not!

Christmas Blessings!

Elizabeth


SCRIPTURE REFLECTION

Now there were shepherds living in the fields, 
keeping the night watch over their flock.
The angel of the Lord appeared to them 
and the glory of the Lord shone around them, 
and they were struck with great fear.
The angel said to them,
“Do not be afraid;
for behold, I bring you good news of great joy 
that will be for all the people.
For today in the city of David a savior has been born
for you who is Christ and Lord.
And this will be the sign: you will find an infant
wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:
   “Glory to God in the highest
    and on earth peace to those
on whom God's favor rests.”
LK 2:1-14

Messiness. This is not a word we typically associate with the spiritual life but it does reflect the world we live in and the world into which the Christ Child was born. In the infancy narratives, the glory of God shines in a humble stable while out in the fields, angels disrupt the messy lives of shepherds with their ethereal anthems. These shepherds --no doubt as foul-smelling as their sheep-- hasten to Bethlehem, overjoyed at the Good News that has been entrusted to them. Poor and despised, they become the first witnesses to the Birth, bearers of glad tidings. The Holy One, it seems, does indeed have "a preferential option for the poor" -- for those who have no claim to power, status or resources; for those considered "nobodies" by the "Haves" of society; for those who are homeless, stateless, even nameless...

The theme of "messiness" continues in the Gospel for The Feast of the Holy Family. The Child Jesus, now 12 years old, stays behind in Jerusalem while his parents, assuming he is traveling with their caravan, begin the journey back to Nazareth. We can only imagine how distraught they are when they discover that their son is not with their friends and relatives. Having already traveled a day's journey, they turn back and then spend another three days searching for him, until they find him in the temple. Mary's words sum up her emotions: “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” Instead of offering an apology, Jesus rebukes his parents for failing to understand his mission: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” This episode from Jesus' youth foreshadows his family's inability to understand his ministry when he is an adult, as for example, in Mk 3:21 when his relatives believe he is out of his mind.

In a perfect world, everything would be pristine. There would be no chaos, conflicts, misunderstandings, cruelty, or violence; nor would there be pandemics, global warming, warfare or natural disasters. In such a world, we would be entirely self-sufficient and most likely very arrogant. Messiness, on the other hand, keeps us humble-- it is the doorway into Christmas, the portal through which God can enter our lives.
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