The holidays are drawing to a close. This weekend we will be ringing in 2017. We may bask in the holiday spirit a day or two longer but soon it will be time to head back to school, back to work, back to our ordinary routines.
After the shepherds found Jesus in the manger, after the magi followed the star to Bethlehem, they went back to their ordinary routines, back to their flocks, back to their own country. It wasn’t until thirty years later that the implications of that night in Bethlehem begin to take shape in the words and deeds of an itinerant carpenter from Nazareth.
Scripture doesn’t tell us what happened to the shepherds and the wise men after that first Christmas. We don’t know if any of them ever saw Jesus again or knew what became of him. We do know, however, that their encounter with the Christ Child moved them deeply. Matthew tells us that when the star stopped over the place where Jesus was, the wise men were “overwhelmed with joy.” Luke tells us that the shepherds returned to their flocks “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.”
The source of their joy was not the round of holiday parties in 4 B.C.E. but their encounter with a mystery, to borrow a phrase from C.S. Lewis, “deeper magic from before the dawn of time.” This encounter did not change the realities of their existence; they went back to their ordinary routines. Rather, their encounter with Jesus changed them. They came face to face with the glory of God in the infant Jesus and having had this encounter with the divine they became sensitive to the mystery of God in the world around them. This is the source of joy, the experience of God’s presence, the experience of God-with-us.
My prayer for us all is that we may encounter Jesus in many and perhaps surprising ways in 2017 and that like the wise men and the shepherds, we will grow ever more sensitive to the mystery of God in our lives. Let us go into the new year singing alleluias for all that we have heard and seen!