God’s
got it.

For the Lord has redeemed Israel from those too strong for them. They will come home and sing songs of joy on the heights of Jerusalem. They will be radiant because of the Lord’s good gifts

The average temperature, that night, outside Bethlehem is forty-two degrees. Not exactly summer picnic weather. Shepherds never had an easy life. The average salary of a shepherd – while in that day there wasn’t any – and I’ll get to that – is today only $26,200.  That is less than half of the median household income. It is barely enough to cover housing and a little food. It is the definition of poverty.

I mentioned that shepherds in Jesus’ day did not really make a salary. They were typically elderly or younger family members who couldn’t be trusted in any other role. So they got to watch the sheep.

Cold, in poverty, unwanted and thought useless. They are who we celebrate today. We celebrate them because they were the first to see and get the message. They were the first to tell of it, to spread the Good News. God has entered the world to bring to fulfillment what He spoke through Jeremiah: I will turn their mourning into joy. I will comfort them and exchange their sorrow for rejoicing.

This has been a strange Advent and Christmas season for me. A movie, a song – I’d find myself getting emotional. This holds a deeper meaning and lesson. God was teaching me a lesson.

We must never let the cold of the world, the constant just above freezing forty-two degree spiritual environment around us shut down the warmth of our hearts. If the cold of the world has gotten to us – today we must recognize and acknowledge that God’s got it. He will not let the cold win.

Are we impoverished and weakened, poor for want of physical, spiritual, or intellectual gifts? Today we must recognize and acknowledge that God’s got it. He will not let poverty win.

Are we unwanted, estranged, facing deep loneliness, rarely thought of, shuffled into the elderly corner or to the kid’s table? Today we must recognize and acknowledge that God’s got it. He will not let separation win.

We long for so many gifts, as did the shepherds on that hill.  We long as individuals, a community and neighborhood, and as Church. Suddenly, life was different and it IS different now because God’s promise is fulfilled- He has us.

Who’s
first?

but when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior

The Christmas season is a time for recognizing firsts. As we browse through the scriptures, we encounter those who did things for the first time. It is, however, a little difficult to decide who did what first.

Did John the Baptist proclaim Jesus first? Not really. The Shepherds we honor today did that. They heard about Jesus and told of Him first. They made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child.

Was John the Baptist the first to be killed because of his proclamation of the truth? On December 26th, the Church honors St. Stephen, called the proto-martyr – the first martyr for the faith. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. But on December 28th the Church honors the Holy Innocents, the children and infants killed by Herod after the Magi’s visit. Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region. They were first.

People have an affinity for firsts. We like winners – and these martyrs and evangelists were indeed the first winners. But do we realize that we are all winners? Like the Humble Shepherds, Jesus’ birth heralds the fact that we have been made winners, and are in first place.

In writing to Titus, Paul lays down the way winners, people in first place, are to live. He says that winners are different from non-winners because they lead different lives. Paul shows us that the change wrought in Jesus coming – the appearance of God’s kindness and love – gave us the possibility of changing – becoming victorious. It is not that we have done anything to bring about this change. Rather, it is a change gifted to us by Jesus’ appearance.

Those first visitors encountered this opportunity. Poor and outcast humble shepherds encountered Theophany. They saw the glory of God and heard the message. They were changed to winners, not just by the encounter, but because they acted on it.

Paul walks us through a formula he frequently uses, comparing before and after. In verse 3 he says how things once were – we were total losers: foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by men and hating one another. Now we are winners because, He saved us.

Because we are made winners, people in first place, we are called to boldly and richly live the life laid out for us by the One who gives the first victory.

Hurry
up.

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste

Reflecting on this team of shepherds we see some amazing things happening.

For the shepherds, their meeting an angel and seeing the whole heavenly host would be amazing enough. Hearing that the Messiah had been born – for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Messiah – represents a promise that had become a dream that for them had now been fulfilled. Amazing to have one’s dreams fulfilled in an instant.

We have several choices when we encounter something amazing. We might stand there with our mouth open. We might jump for joy. We might, after the initial shock, begin to question whether it was real. Would we leave everything, would we abandon our entire life, for that amazing thing?

Throughout faith history we encounter amazing things happening. An elderly barren couple becomes the progenitors of God’s chose people. The people of Israel, enslaved, are freed. Judges are chosen to lead the people against enemies that vastly outnumber them. A youngest son, a shepherd, is anointed king.

In Jesus’ coming those amazing things are magnified. The deaf will hear. The poor will have the good news preached to them. The dead will be raised.

On this Solemnity of the Humble Shepherds the amazing teaches us an important lesson.

Among the amazing things that happened that morning was the fact that the shepherds left their herds. They abandoned their herds, their means of livelihood and hurried toward Bethlehem “to see this thing that has happened, which the Lord made known to them.”

This is the same thing that was to happen thirty years later along the shores of lake of Gennes’aret. Men would leave their livelihood; abandon their families and boats to follow Jesus.

Let us reflect on our faith journey, that moment we finally recognized the power of accepting Jesus and placing our faith in Him. In that the amazing became real for us.

Following Christ goes far beyond just believing certain things about God. It is more than intellectual endeavor. It comes down to our willingness to be part of the amazing and to do the amazing because our lives have been changed by God’s agenda for us.

By God’s grace, the shepherds left their flocks; the apostles dropped their nets. What are we to do? Our call is to hurry up in leaving the old self behind and join with Jesus in living amazing grace filled lives.

Reflection for the Solemnity of the Humble Shepherds 2014

Come to Me

Getting even
busier.

Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands afar off; say, `He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock.’

Today we celebrate a special day within our Holy Church. Uniquely, we celebrate this Solemnity in honor of the humble shepherds that God chose to first hear word of His Son’s coming among us. He chose these simple shepherds, who were generally outcasts from society, to not just hear of His Son’s birth, but then to go forth and proclaim it to all: And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child.

In these days after the celebration of the Solemnity of the Nativity we may be tempted to relax a bit. The hustle-bustle seems to have died down a bit, yet if we look at our Church’s calendar we will notice that we are just getting started. That’s what happened to the shepherds. Their mission was just starting that night in Bethlehem. They recognized the preciousness and joy of the Lord’s birth and then got busy.

Getting busy means that we too recognize the meaning and import of the tremendous joy that is the coming of the Lord. This requires two things, two kinds of busyness.

We must keep this solemn season before our eyes and in our hearts. Jesus’ coming was not a one-time event. His coming as man marks only a beginning. He constantly stands before our doors, always knocking, asking that we allow Him to enter our homes and our lives. We have to get busy in answering the door. We need to open ourselves to Him and carry out His will for us. We have to recognize that His coming again remains immanent. We have to get busy in making His presence known to those who are not hearing the knock, who do not recognize it.

We must also respond in a special way, particularly the men among us. We encourage them to get busy in answering Jesus’ special call, for He needs those men to go out, as those humble shepherds did. Jesus is knocking and they are being called to make known the saying which had been told them concerning this child.

Our Holy Church is so blessed for we are not a Church at rest. Right here, in our community, we are busy working diligently at making the Lord’s coming known. We have among us those humble shepherds who have responded with joy to the Lord’s call to be busy about the work of the Lord as bishops, priests, and deacons. Let us give thanks for God’s tremendous blessings to our community and our Holy Church, for all who commit their lives to being busy about the Lord’s work.

Reflection for the Solemnity of the Humble Shepherds

Slide1

“I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow. I will feast the soul of the priests with abundance, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, says the LORD.”

In 1906 a Special Holy Synod of our Church was convened and one of its actions was to declare the Sunday after Christmas the Solemnity of the Humble Shepherds.

As the faithful of the Polish National Catholic Church we annually celebrate the example of humble working people represented by the Bethlehem shepherds, the ones chosen by God in Luke’s Gospel to hear the first announcement of Jesus’ birth.

God had exalted these often shunned and discriminated individuals. God had honored their honest and humble work as He sent His Son into the world in such an extraordinarily ordinary circumstance.

This Solemnity was meant to encourage the predominantly immigrant, working class, and poor Church members of that day.

Those hard working and under-appreciated first parishioners were spiritually strengthened to maintain the good fight for a democratic, people’s Catholic church by remembering the example of the Humble Shepherds. They fully understood the humble shepherds who, when prompted by God, went to meet the newborn savior: “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” Then having seen the fulfillment they took action and made the good news known: And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child.

This Solemnity reminds us to maintain our focus. We must listen to God’s word and then we must take action. We must continue to fight against meaningless parades of pomp for the sake of glorifying clergy in carrying out our faith life. Ours is a humble Church, built by the humble, and led by humble shepherds who love Jesus and their people. This is a model of Christian faith, practiced in the PNCC for over 100 years, which other Churches are beginning to find.

On this Solemnity we also particularly remember and pray for our shepherds – the priests and bishops who lead us with love and humility. They listened to the prompting of God and took action – standing before us to make God’s word known so that we might take action. Let us ask God to bless our clergy and to call forth to Sacred Vocations those called by Christ to be the humble shepherds of our congregations. May they hear, listen, and take action.