Many years ago, I met an elderly priest in North Augusta, South Carolina, who dedicated years of his Priesthood working with Irish Travelers. If you have never heard of Irish Travelers, they are a nomadic group of people from Ireland, and many of them immigrated to the US during the Potato Famine in the 1850s. They remained nomadic in the US until the 1950 when Father Murphy, the Pastor of Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church in North Augusta, SC, purchased land for them to build a village. The travelers now keep homes at Murphy Village and the adult males travel the country most of the year looking for employment. The current priest now travels too, visiting the men all over the country as they do mostly construction work.
The Parish church at Murphy Village highlights the announcement of the birth of Christ to the shepherds on the Field. Father Peter Clark did this intentionally. He said to me, “when Jesus was born, God sent his angels to shepherds, men who were nomadic, never stayed long in one place, and were seen as living in the margins of society. Likewise, the Irish Travelers, they are today’s shepherds – nomadic, misunderstood, and living in the fringes of society. We have something to learn from them.”
Tonight, we recognize that our God not only has taken on a human nature like ours, but that he did so in the most humble and unassuming way:
Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, was born in the small town of Bethlehem, to parents who were struggling to find a place to sleep, born in a cave and placed on a manger because there was no room for them at the inn. He was welcomed by common folks, the shepherds who were struck with great fear, but obeyed the command of the angel. Whatever the stable or cave looked like, I know it was not as pleasant as generations of artists and Church decorators have made it seem. It was earthy, smelly, dark and difficult. Yet into that darkness, God broke through, and brought great light. Into the darkness, God brought light.
At Christmas, we rejoice that God is not distant, but rather, He is near to us.
We rejoice that our God speaks to the lowly, to those who feel beat down by life, those who are in greatest need.
We rejoice that God the Father has sent Jesus into the world not as a trophy for those who have been good, but rather as a remedy for our weakness and sin. He comes into the world to bring redemption and healing. By taking on human flesh, God knows what it’s like to be a creature, and gives us hope, hope that we have been make good, and that we can look to the future with confidence.
Whenever we go astray, and we wonder far away like nomads, like men and women without a home, God speaks into our hearts even with greater insistence. He proclaims the Good News so that we may recognize ourselves as true sons and daughters of His. He invites us to turn our hearts to Him, because Jesus is near, and He comes to help us.
In a world today with so much darkness, so much negativity, animosity and division, how strongly does the light of Christ shine in your own life?
When we look into our own past, and consider those times when we have felt like nomads, when we have wondered in darkness, do we find hope because Jesus is there to help us heal and find redemption?
Today, the whole Church proclaims the message of the angels to a world that desperately needs Good News, that needs a reason to look to the future with hope. Do not be fooled by this current age, do not let it bog you down or distract you from what truly matters in life. We need to listen over and over again to the message of the angels: “I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today, in the city of David, a Savior has been born for you who is Christ the Lord.”
Pope Francis has stated many times that the Church is not a museum piece, but rather a field hospital where the injured enter to be healed.
We are here today because we recognize our need for God, our need for Redemption. We come vulnerable just as a baby on a manger, and we identify with Our God who has become one of us.
What do you bring to him today? What pains and aches? What joys? How can He transform your life not just tonight, but every day?
We are the shepherds; we are the Irish Travelers. While on earth, we are outcasts and nomads looking for wholeness, for a place to fit, for a place where we are loved.
Look no further: the answer is here, and we celebrate His Birth Tonight.