The Nativity of the Lord, December 25, 2019 (Mass at dawn)

Isaiah 62 :  11 - 12
Titus 3 : 4 - 7
Luke 2 : 15 - 20


With our own eyes we saw a gathering of beings up in the night sky. They sang and blew trumpets and lit the place up like the middle of the day. And yet the sheep were not disturbed. These sheep, who startle and like to stampede over the smallest thing – a toad hopping, a breeze ruffling the grass, a distant hawk calling – these sheep continued to graze quite peacefully. Some turned their heads up to look, then went back to the grass.

We weren’t so calm. In fact, we were just scared to death. Even some of the toughest guys were shaking and nobody was saying anything – not even a single curse word, which is kind of what we do when we don’t know what else to do. But then, just like that, we weren’t afraid anymore. No need to fear, somehow that was clear. They wanted us to just listen and look, and so we did. It was like we couldn’t get enough of that scene and those sounds, there in the dark-that-wasn’t-dark-anymore.

And then they told us what else to do: go into Bethlehem and find a newborn baby all swaddled up and lying in a manger. “This baby is the Savior,” they said, “so get going.” And then the place went dark again, though you could see that the dawn was beginning.

We got going, leaving our flocks – though we brought one lamb along, thinking maybe for a gift, like. We didn’t know what we were doing, really; it’s not normal to just walk away from your sheep in the night. Not if you expect to find them there in the morning, anyway. But that’s what we did. All of us, from the youngest kid to the oldest grandpa: we just headed into town, looking for a baby lying in a manger. Good thing it was real early, because the respectable folks of Bethlehem would have called the riot squad if they saw us coming. But they were still asleep.

And so, coming real quiet through the streets of that little town, and looking for someplace where animals would be kept, we found the child and his mother and father. They were in a barn, and there were some cows and donkeys around; the parents had used the feeding trough for a little cradle for the baby. We told the woman and her husband what those beings had told us just a little earlier. The woman especially seemed to understand such things, though they seemed pretty not-understandable to us. We gave the father the lamb, thinking it might come in handy, and he was grateful.

The newborn seemed like most newborns, kind of small and red and wrinkled, but when the mother showed him to us, he opened his eyes and looked at us. We looked back, and I’d guess that most of us smiled a little. It’s nice to see a young thing, a new thing, whether it’s a lamb or a child.

And then we left, heading back to our sheep. While we were in town, we kept it down, but as soon as we got out into the countryside, we just started belting it out: that song that the beings had sung to us a couple of hours – or maybe a lifetime -- ago was now being sung by a ragged bunch of men and women who smelled of sheep – and worse: “Glory to God in the Highest, and peace to his people on earth.” We couldn’t stop singing it. And you know why?

Because all of a sudden, when that little fellow had looked at us, we all knew right away what we were seeing. WHO we were seeing. So when you asked us: Tell us shepherds, what have you seen? Who has appeared on earth?

We knew how to reply: We have seen a newborn infant and a choir of angels praising the Lord, alleluia!


—Sr. Nuala Cotter, RA