This is traditionally the day when we make resolutions and size up the year to come.
This is when we decide…
To quit smoking…again.
To lose weight…again.
To stop drinking…again.
To spend less money…again.
I typically spend this day going through all the junk piled up on my desk and sorting through old papers in my office – figuring out what to keep and what to pitch. A friend of mine every year rearranges the books on his shelves. I know people who re-organize their closets.
All this can give us a sense of control over our lives –- lives which we all know are, by nature, uncontrollable. But it feels good to try.
But this day, I’d like to suggest one resolution that may not have occurred to you. Taking a cue from this day’s gospel, I’d like to suggest something, in fact, that may be the last thing you would have thought of.
I’d like to suggest that each of us resolves to be…a shepherd.
I’m not saying we should go out and invest in a flock and a sheepdog. (My building doesn’t allow pets, anyway.)
No. I’m saying we should do as the shepherds did in Luke’s gospel.
“They went in haste to Bethlehem…” and when they saw what they sought, “they made known the message.” They glorified and praised God.
And all who heard were amazed.
During this sacred time of year we, too, have gone in haste to Bethlehem. We have marveled at the beauty and the wonder of God coming into our world. We have sung carols and sent cards and exchanged gifts and admired the lights and consumed vast quantities of egg nog and candy and cookies and pie.
But what do we do now?
What do we do with what we have seen, and experienced?
If we just wrap up the lights and put the ornaments back in tissue paper, it has been for nothing.
We need to do more. We need to be more.
We need to be shepherds.
We need to tell the world what we know, what we believe, what we hold in our hearts.
The shepherds couldn’t keep it to themselves. And neither should we. Those anonymous figures went out into the fields to tell the story and share the good news – they became the first evangelists.
And so it needs to be with all of us.
We need to be shepherds.
This day is dedicated in a special way to Mary, the Mother of God – the first person mentioned by name in this gospel reading, and the one who presumably showed the newborn Jesus to the shepherds. It’s fitting that we mark a new year, a new beginning, with the one who was herself the embodiment of a new beginning. Mary, the New Eve, is the one who enabled God to make His presence known to us, in the flesh.
She is the one who brought Christ into the world.
And now it is up to us to bring Christ into the world.
Resolve, then, this year to do something more challenging, more daunting, more difficult than just giving up desert or spending time on the treadmill.
Resolve to do what Mary did, what the shepherds did.
Resolve to bring Christ into the world.
Resolve to make his presence known.
Resolve to love those who seem unlovable.
Resolve to remember those who are forgotten.
Resolve to accept those whom others reject.
Resolve to forgive slights that seem unforgivable, and to pray for those whom you’d rather condemn.
In these ways and more, we can be the shepherds to our world, proclaiming in our way what we have seen and experienced in Bethlehem.
And maybe, in doing all that, we can do our part to bring about what this holy season represents.
We can indeed bring tidings of comfort and joy.
We can bring the good news out into the fields, and into the world.
And who knows?
We might even manage to bring to at least one small corner of the world, the corner each of us inhabits, something we all hope for and pray for.
We might bring to those we meet, and those we love, a measure of peace.
Happy New Year.