"Adoration of the Shepherds" (detail) by Murillo

“Adoration of the Shepherds” (detail) by Murillo

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, I will explore some of the lessons for living from the shepherds.

The Characters of the Nativity and Their Lessons for Living—The Shepherds: 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.

This article is the first in a series.

Check out Katie Warner’s exciting new book, Head and Heart: Becoming Spiritual Leaders for Your Family (Emmaus Road Publishing, August 2015).

Here’s what some other Catholic authors and leaders are saying about Head & Heart: Becoming Spiritual Leaders for Your Family, foreword by Bishop James Conley (Emmaus Road Publishing):

“Read this book now and your children will thank you later.” (Steve Ray)

“Warner has drawn up a map we can read and follow, so that we all arrive at the goal [heaven], together with our families.” Dr. Scott Hahn)

Head & Heart will help you take small steps toward building a vibrant Catholic identity in your home.” (Dr. Edward Sri)

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