As Christians, we are very familiar with Advent as a season of waiting, but really, our whole life is, essentially, a long season of waiting. Particularly, we wait for the last Advent—the last coming of Christ at the end of time. Every Advent gives us the opportunity to pause, and very intentionally focus on what we should be doing every day of our lives—preparing for the coming of Jesus Christ. How are we spending our time in waiting?
Let’s talk about the characters of the nativity, since there is really a lifetime’s worth of study and beauty that we can glean from diving deeper into the mystery of the great Christmas narrative through the experiences of the dynamic characters in play – Joseph and Mary, the Infant Jesus, the shepherds, the angels, the magi, and, as a whole, the Holy Family. The characters of the nativity can each teach us lessons for living our own lives in preparation for Christ’s coming this December, as well as for our own death and Christ’s coming at the end of time.
In this article, originally featured in the IntegratedCatholicLife.org, I will explore some of the lessons for living from the shepherds and the angels.
The Shepherds’ Lessons For Living: ‘Come as You Are’ and Wonder
In Jesus’ day, shepherds were viewed as the low people of the earth. Shepherds were viewed as a poor, filthy group of people whom most others disliked. And yet the angel came to them, a band of lowly shepherds whom the world preferred to ignore and consider “unsaved”. They are the ones to receive the Good News that Christ the King has been born.
Even from the moment of His birth, Jesus shows us how he comes among the lowest people of the earth—the poor, the sinners, those whom people like Caesar and others would never give a second thought to.
And so we come to the first lesson for living of these characters of the nativity, the shepherds: come as you are.
How often do feel totally inadequate to be a follower of Jesus’ Christ, to receive the immense amount of love he pours out for you, knowing how little you sometimes return to Him? At least for me, I feel this quite often.
So often I’m prideful in the face of a perfectly humble Savior, ungenerous in the face of an all-giving Lord, lazy and un-prayerful in the face of an ardent and pious Christ-child, unloving in the face of an unconditionally loving God. And yet, Jesus looks on me—on you—as he looked on the shepherds, with acceptance and embrace, telling us to come as we are into His presence, knowing we are sinful, but loving us too much to keep us that way.
All who encounter Christ—as they are—can’t help but come away transformed, both the shepherds in Jesus’ day and us today. It’s the encounter with the presence of Jesus Christ that changes us. This Advent, make a commitment to come as you are into Jesus presence so that He can be afforded the chance to transform you, to make you a more humble, a more generous, a more prayerful, loving, and all-around more virtuous person than you are. Think of one habit or vice or sin that you have right now, as you are, that you desire God’s grace to help you improve. This Advent, come into His Presence—in the Sacrament of Confession, in receiving the Holy Eucharist, or in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, and allow this encounter to set in motion a transformation in you, readying yourself to come to Him as you are—which hopefully is a better person than you are right now—this Christmas.
Now, the second lesson for living from the shepherds: wonder.
Imagine being approached and sung to by a literal host of angels. This is what the shepherds experienced! A herd of heavenly beings come to tell the shepherds, the colleagues of the great shepherd David from the Old Testament, that the Good Shepherd who has been foreshadowed throughout the Scriptures has come, and so the shepherds stand in wonder of this news, before turning that wonder into action—acting upon and sharing the Good News they have been told.
Has Christmas lost its wonder on you? When the Church sings the song the angels sang to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest,” listen to the words. Sing the words and wonder at their meaning. Then, share that wonder and the Good News of Christ’s birth with others. Don’t allow a discussion about Christ’s birth to go un-had in your family gatherings this Advent and Christmas season. That’s the whole reason that brings us together in celebration, in wonder.
The Angels: Praise and Evangelization
Angels make appearances all throughout the story of the infancy of Christ. Have you ever thought about why you put an angel on the top of your Christmas tree? As Dr. Scott Hahn has pointed out, many of us put angels on top of our Christmas trees because “Christmas would be inconceivable without angels.”
Angels have much to rejoice about at the birth of Jesus Christ. On that great day when the world saw the incarnation with its very eyes, the angels in heaven rejoiced at the victory of God who came into the world and would open the gates of heaven.
So, the angels did as we ought to do. Their first lesson for living is that of praise.
Worship is ingrained in the angels. Regardless of what else they may be “doing”—visiting Mary to announce that God has chosen her to carry Jesus, coming to Joseph in a dream, watching over us and protecting us as our guardian angels—they are always, always praising God at the same time. Worship is the chief mode of being for the angels, and these heavenly creatures, when they worshipped the God of the universe in the form of a little baby, modeled for us from the moment of Christ’s birth how we, too, should be perpetually praising God.
Do you praise God in all things, at all moments? Do you praise God when things are going well, thanking him and worshipping him for even small blessings of your ordinary day? Do you praise God when you are in the midst of suffering, worshipping Him who never abandons you, even in moments of trial, pain, loneliness, and fear? Angels are always surrounding you, and ready to have you join them in praise and worship of God. This Advent, make a commitment to join the angels in praising God each day for the day’s joys and sufferings.
Angels are messengers of God. That’s what the name “angel” or “angelos” means—messenger. The angels’ ministry is one of evangelization, which should also be a lesson for us in living and in ministry today.
We, as members of the Church, the communion of saints, like the angels, are called to share the Good News. As the Pope Paul VI famously said in his encyclical Evangelli Nuntiandi, evangelization is part of the Church’s deepest identity. How can you better evangelize this Advent? And, like the angels, how can you share this Good News with joy?
Think of someone in your life who may be far from God or have wandered from the Church. Be a loving friend to them, and share the Good News that God loves them and came for them, too. A gentle way to do this may be through sharing the moving and gentle Catholics Come Home Keep Christ in Christmas evangomercial that we have on our CatholicsComeHome.org website. You also may want to consider getting a copy of my book, Head & Heart: Becoming Spiritual Leaders of Your Family for yourself or for one of your children, or for a neighbor or other relative as an Advent or Christmas gift this year, as a way of sharing the Good News of what God designed family life to be at home.
So, this Advent, like the angels, praise God everyday, and share the Good News with at least one other person in your life.
To read other articles in this series, visit the IntegratedCatholicLife.org.