We never quite lose our need for affirmation. This can be a destructive need or a healthy need. A destructive need for affirmation, for example, might present itself as seeking inordinate approval, or manipulating others for undeserving compliments, or finagling to be the center of attention. A healthy need for affirmation might present itself as seeking the counsel of another as to how we’re making good choices for everyday living, or reflecting on how we can interact with others, or by recognizing our contributions to family, work, church, or neighborhood. Both the shepherds and Mary show a need for affirmation in this weekend’s, this Solemnity’s Gospel. A healthy need, to be sure. A need that shows their encounter with the “infant lying in the manger” makes them who they are and calls them to hear and see beyond their expectations to embracing the newness of Life.
The shepherds came to the manger, encountered the newborn infant, left the stable to make “known the message,” then “returned, glorifying and praising God.” The passage is unclear about to where they “returned.” Probably, they returned to their flocks and fields, the same shepherds, yet different for all they had “heard and seen.” Possibly, however, they returned to the stable seeking further affirmation for “all they had heard and seen,” once again encountering this “infant lying in the manger,” who surprised them, affirmed them, and called them to proclaim to all they met a most astounding message. The shepherds show us how to be affirmed in our own encounters with Jesus the Christ and how we are to reflect on this mystery of Jesus’ birth and life. It becomes clear ... before we can “make known the message,” we must encounter Jesus. To affirm that it is His message we make known to others, we must keep coming back to Him to encounter Him anew.
Mary’s need for healthy affirmation is evidenced by her taking the events surrounding the birth of her firstborn Son into her heart and reflecting upon / pondering them. This mother evidences contemplative love flowing from her heart. Mary was present to her Son and present when the shepherds encountered Him. Likewise, Mary is present when we encounter her Son, reflect on the Gospel, on the Good News, in our hearts, and make known the message of Life to all we meet. Mary is not only the Mother of God. She is the mother of the shepherds. She is also our mother, who mothers us into contemplative love, who mothers us into the affirmation that we too can make “known the message” that the Savior of the world has come.
Mary faced a great mystery she could not understand, reflected on God’s will for her, and was affirmed in her yes to become the mother of the Savior. We face many challenges during life, must ponder God’s will for us, and be affirmed in our yes when we encounter the One who comes to save. The name Jesus (=Savior) already points to a life of self-giving and suffering that Mary as Jesus’ mother will experience. The surprise suggested by the first two readings is that we who are God’s children (Second Reading) also participate in this experience of self-giving and suffering. This is how we receive blessing (First Reading). The yes all of us must make to do God’s will necessarily means that we cannot escape without dying to ourselves. We are affirmed by this festival’s readings, however, in that we are given the grace to place ourselves in God’s hands and to do God’s will. Like both the shepherds and Mary, we seek healthy affirmation by returning over and over again to encounter the divine Son.
May Saint Michael the Archangel defend, guide, protect, and intercede for us always! May you and your families continue to have a Blessed Christmas Season!
~ Fr. Larry