(Editor’s note: Father Edward Catich, a now-deceased priest of the Davenport Diocese, delivered this Christmas homily in 1966.)
When a child is born, parents are proud — they want all to know. They send out announcements — weight, height, eyes, hair, time of birth, etc. Even newspapers are happy to make announcements to those who have little interest.
When Christ was born God didn’t tell all. He sent only two announcements — one to shepherds watching in the fields, and the other to wisemen watching stars. It was almost a private affair. Of course Mary and Joseph knew, but they told no one — not even relatives. It is doubtful that the relatives knew that the Holy Family was in Bethlehem by the fact that they sought shelter in a hillside cave or stable.
There must have been others — besides shepherds and wisemen — who could have been told. What about the people who had been expecting the Messiah for centuries? Why were the shepherds and wisemen the only ones to hear the angels and to see the star? It is not difficult to understand. We make jokes about people not being able to see things under their nose. In the same manner, many people don’t want to see and hear the truth about it — not even in churches.
Only shepherds and wisemen hear it.
God chose two strangely different classes of people, these shepherds and wisemen, to send the announcement. And he did this for many reasons, the chief of which was to show that God’s coming was meant for all — to show that neither the world’s learning, nor possessions, nor high calling, nor power, nor fame — were needed to believe in God.
Let’s look at the shepherds for a moment — ignorant of political conditions, of history, learning, art and culture. Even their trade was the lowest of all, given over to the very young or the very old who were unable to do more complicated things. They were usually people who were either not strong enough, or had been weakened by old age — thus preventing them from doing a full day’s work in the field or farm. But they were the ones to whom the angels appeared on that night singing “Glory to God.” They didn’t question — they left their sheep and hurried to Bethlehem to worship God in a stable.
Look at the wisemen, who truly were wise. They were real scholars, searching for truth all their lives. They were so wise they dropped all when the star and its angel appeared to them, for they were able correctly to assess the true value of the star — the value of this life and eternity. They were able to see that God is the greatest possession of all; and they hastened to Bethlehem to adore the true God whom they had been searching for all their lives.
On the surface, shepherds and wisemen had nothing in common. They never met on the streets of Bethlehem; they came to the stable at different times, and chances are they did not even speak the same language. But, both came to the same place for the same reason — to adore God. There are many who never can find Bethlehem; never see God in a manger; they put things of this world ahead of things of the spirit.
There are even people now living who don’t want to hear the truth about Christmas. Perhaps some of these people are good souls who busy themselves with all the side dishes of Christmas so that they have little time left over for the main dish. They are either too proud to be shepherds, or too wise to be wisemen; too modern to listen to angels; too scientific to see the Christmas star. They won’t accept a God who smells of stable straw, whose parents are poor, and whose legal father is a lowly carpenter.
It is not necessary to be a lowly shepherd or a true wiseman to find God in Bethlehem. It is obvious that if you are at the top of a ladder of life or at the bottom you can have a real Christmas, too.
You only need to be small enough in humility to see the bigness of God in a manger.
God was born in a stable to save sinners like you and me. His manger is the first stop to the cross. He was born to die for us. Though God was rich, he became the poorest of men for our sakes, that through his poverty we might regain the riches which Adam lost for us in the Garden of Eden.
What does Christmas mean to you? Will you go to Bethlehem with the humility and faith of shepherds and wisemen; or as some others who, as you know, went there with a different purpose in mind — to kill Christ. Herod didn’t like the good news he heard. It was bad news to him; and the more he thought of it the more he wanted to be rid of this king. Innocents. Of course Herod is a case of extreme unbelief; but there are people who get rid of Christ just as effectively as if they had killed him, for they refuse to accept him as God. We must all go to Bethlehem, either as shepherds, wisemen or Herod.
He who is not with me is against me.