Weekly Bible Reflection
Mark's Alternative Economy
First Sunday of Christmas
Luke 2 v 15 - 21 : "Discerning Deep Mysteries "
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Sharing Together "The Continuation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our community":
Has there been a recent event in your life that moved you deeply, and yet where few words were spoken? What was it about the experience that left you feeling so affected by it?
The Text viewed from the 'Underside"
Today’s verses conclude part of the familiar story we associate with the birth of Christ as recorded by Luke. Much importance is placed on the presence of angels and the shepherds in attendance.
The shepherds seem to show great concern for the infant Christ. We see a clear connection between their traditional role, looking after those for whom they are responsible, and that same pastoral care being shown to the newborn baby and his parents. They go to visit, they search out.
Luke is at pains to tell it like it is even when the witnesses are held in low regard within society: shepherds were among the shunned and ostracised because they dealt with blood and guts and animal skins. As witnesses to the events they are able to share with others what the angels and Joseph and Mary have told them.
A familiar and important response to the Christmas story is that of reflection, deeper thinking, as well as more public praise and these verses point us in that direction.
Mary, for example, finds herself having to remember these things, and she thought deeply about them (v19). She says very little, but rather reflects on the way in which God had led her to this point, and that she would trust God for the future.
For the Shepherds, their visit to the manger had a profound effect on them. It must have been an extraordinary feeling, given the low regard in which they were held, to be recipients of such extraordinary news. Naturally, it is something they want to share with others; they can’t contain themselves. They return to the fields praising God for all they have seen and heard (v20).
In the same way, the Christmas story needs to bring us to meditation, reflection and prayer, combined with deep gratitude and spontaneous witness to all that God has done and is doing.
Responding as a community
Considering the care shown baby Jesus by Mary and Joseph and thinking of the NT images we have of good shepherds caring for their sheep, what skills and qualities are needed to fulfil a caring role effectively?
- Mary shows herself in these verses to be someone who perhaps felt overwhelmed by all that she had gone through. Yet she shows a quiet confidence and deep trust in God despite the great weight of responsibility placed upon her.
- How might we develop such trust and confidence within ourselves as individuals and the Christian community?In what ways might the Christmas story be offered so that it draws people into a more reflective way of being? How might we make more of the 12 days of Christmas?
Pray for those we know who have the gift of pastoral care and support; who are always there at times of need; who seem to know how to respond to situations and what to say; and for those who through word and action show the love and peace of Christ.
Pray for those who find themselves having to think through new responsibilities or commitments, to discern where God is leading them and what impact that may have on their life.
Pray for all those who witness to the Good News in Jesus at some considerable cost to their lives.
More Background Information
- It is important not to lose sight of the imperial and military overtones in this passage – all part of the declaration that this child Jesus is the new Emperor. The army of angels has just sung a song of victory (v14). These solider angels appear to ordinary shepherds who had strong nationalistic expectations. They were a rich recruiting ground for revolutionary groups who drew them into terrorist (freedom fighting) activity. Remember also that Gabriel, who appeared to Mary and Zechariah, is a war angel.
- Those most ostracised in Palestinian society in Jesus’ day included gamblers, usurers, pigeon trainers, herdsmen, tax and toll collectors and publicans; trades that were reputed to be based on dishonesty and deceit. They were hated and despised and excluded from all civic and religious rights and privileges. The next most shunned group included goldsmiths, flax-combers, hand mill cleaners, pedlars, weavers, barbers, launderers, blood-letters, bath attendants and tanners. Then dung collectors, copper smelters. Finally, there were the ass and camel drivers, sailors, carters, shopkeepers, physicians and butchers.
(See J. Massyngbaerde Ford, 1984, My Enemy is my Guest: Jesus and Violence in Luke, Orbis, Maryknoll, New York, pages 72-3. Ford draws on the work of Jeremias, 1969, Jerusalem in the time of Jesus, London, page 307.)
- The people who hear the news ‘wonder’ but Mary ‘ponders’ (v 19). ‘Ponder’ is a word used in relation to the discernment of deep mysteries (see Genesis 37 v 11 and Daniel 7 v 28).
- For information on the purification rite see Leviticus 12.
- The story of the angelic host and of the visit of the shepherds to the manger is one of the best known of all the nativity stories.
- The rich familiar imagery appeals to some of our most profound feelings in the human heart. The shepherds, men of the countryside who care for their sheep, who will go off in search of the one that is lost, respond with that same openness of heart to visit the infant Christ and his mother and father. Here is pastoral care in action.
- Similarly we find the mother and father caring for their newborn baby in a simple and vulnerable setting. The love that binds the three of them together moves something within us, particularly bringing into stark contrast recent stories in the media of child neglect and abuse shown by parents towards their children.
Mark's Alternative Economy - Discussion