From Fact to Meaning – A Christmas Day Sermon on Luke 2:8-20

Adoration of the Shepherds, Luke 2:8-20, Sermon, Christmas Day, Nativity of Jesus, Incarnation, James Tissot
The Adoration of the Shepherds by James Tissot
Adoration of the Shepherds, Luke 2:8-20, Sermon, Christmas Day, Nativity of Jesus, Incarnation, James Tissot
The Adoration of the Shepherds by James Tissot

So what’s next? The crowds have dispersed, the hymns have been sung, and Christmas Eve has given way to the dawn of a new day. This morning’s light has overcome the night’s darkness. The waiting is over. The child has been born and the angel has announced the good news of great joy. So now what? What comes after the birth announcement? What do we do now that we have been told that the child has been born, wrapped in bands of cloth, and is lying in a manger?

There’s only one thing to do. Go and see. It’s something we’ve all done. We’ve all received a call, a text, an e-mail telling us that the baby has arrived and we got up to go and see. It’s one thing to hear about the birth. It’s another to see it, experience it, take it in, and make it a part of ourselves. That’s what this morning is about. That’s what today’s gospel (Luke 2:8-20) is about. “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place,” the shepherds say to one another.

Good news of great joy always demands a response. It asks us to go and see. That’s what the shepherds did and that’s what we must do. Today we go to Bethlehem. Bethlehem, however, is not just a physical place. Today Bethlehem is more than a geographical location in Israel. Today Bethlehem is within us. It is a spiritual reality in the heart of every human being. Bethlehem is situated amidst hope and joy, sorrow and loss, conflict and chaos, healing and reconciliation, cruelty and violence, peace and justice. It is a real place, in Israel and in us.

If we don’t go to Bethlehem and see “the child lying in the manger” of our lives the “good news of great joy” announced by the angel is just information and Jesus’ birth is just another historical fact. We don’t need more facts and information. We need meaning. We need to make meaning of “the child lying in the manger” and allow him to give meaning to our lives.

In the tradition of the Church there are three Christmas liturgies. These three liturgies celebrate and focus on what the Church understands to be and describes as the three births of Jesus. The first liturgy, the Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, celebrates and focuses on the human birth of God from the Virgin Mary. It is the physical birth of Jesus. The second liturgy is traditionally celebrated very early on Christmas Day. It’s focus is the birth of Jesus in our own lives. The final Christmas liturgy is held later in the day on Christmas Day and focuses on the eternal giving of God’s self in and to humanity. The Word is always being made flesh and dwelling among us.

If last night, Christmas Eve, celebrated the physical birth of Jesus into the world, today is about his spiritual birth in our souls. Christmas Day asks us to move from the fact of Jesus’ birth to the meaning of his birth. What does his birth mean for your life and my life? What do our lives look like now in light of this birth? How does this birth change our lives?

I can’t answer those questions for you. We must each do that for ourselves. Jesus’ birth in each of our lives is as unique and particular as is each of our lives. Today’s gospel doesn’t tell us what that meaning is or will be for us. It does, however, gives us a couple of clues about how to discover and make meaning of Jesus’ birth in our lives. The shepherds and Mary are our guides.

First, the shepherds. The angel’s announcement of Jesus’ birth interrupted their lives. It called them away from their field and watching their flock. They went to Bethlehem to find “the child lying in a manger.” The “good news of great joy” is announced in the ordinary everyday circumstances of our lives. It happens in our fields while we are watching our flocks. What are your particular fields and flocks? Family and friends, the ups and downs of life, frustrations and celebrations, joys and sorrows, illness and health,… That’s where we will make and experience the meaning of Jesus’ birth in our lives.

Christmas, however, is not an escape from our field and flock. What did the shepherds do after they saw “the child lying in the manger?” They returned. The birth that interrupted and called the shepherds away from their field and flock is also the birth that returned them to their field and flock. They returned to the same field and the same flock. Their field and flock were not different but they were. They carried the birth of Jesus within them back to their field and flock.

What about the Blessed Virgin Mary? She has much to teach us here. Notice what she says in today’s gospel. Nothing. She says nothing. Instead, St. Luke tells us she “treasured” and “pondered.” Perhaps that’s how we begin to make meaning of Jesus’ birth. Making meaning is not so much about explaining, understanding, or analyzing. It’s about wondering, musing, discovering. It’s not about finding the answer. There is no one answer or meaning of Jesus’ birth. There are as many meanings as there are fields and flocks, the circumstances of our lives.

Silent treasuring and pondering seem to be the way of St. Mary. Might they also be our way? What do you treasure about Jesus’ birth? What treasure does his birth hold for you? What does your pondering reveal about him, you, and your life together? How would your life look, be different, and be changed if you carried Jesus’ birth within you back to your fields and flocks?

The child has been born, wrapped in bands of cloth, and is lying in a manger. Leave your fields and flocks. Treasure and ponder. Return to your fields and flocks. This is our Christmas work. It will reveal the meaning of Jesus’ birth in our lives and make meaning of our lives.

So tell me, what’s next for you? What comes after the birth announcement? What will you do now?


  1. Fr. Michael,
    Thank you for that Christmas Day message! A good one, indeed. Would love to be present for one of your sermons. Maybe one of these days.


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