‘And when they saw [the baby lying in a manger], they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.’ (Luke 2:17) Shepherds were held in such poor esteem by the wider society in Jesus’ day that they were barred from being witnesses in legal proceedings. Yet here, they are the first witnesses mentioned in the Gospel. They came in response to the ‘word’ told them by the angel (Luke 2:11-12), and when they saw the child, they repeated what they had been told about him; it was the Word that summoned them to give their testimony. St Luke began his Gospel: ‘Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.’ (Luke 1:1-2) These lowly shepherds were the first of these ‘eyewitnesses and servants of the word.’ There is nothing to stop even the least among us from being ‘servants of the word’ by giving their testimony to what has been made known to them concerning this Jesus.
‘When they saw [the baby lying in the manger], they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.’ (Luke 2:18) The shepherds gave their testimony, they in all their rustic reality and thereby highlighting the gulf between the glory of the heavenly splendour and the mundane reality of our world, a gulf which has been bridged in the birth of this little child who unites them both. They gave their testimony and all who heard it were amazed. We, too, must expect that when we give our testimony to be greeted with something less than the enthusiastic response of a full-blown acceptance. But while it may not be quite the response of faith, we must see in such marvelling perhaps a first step towards it. For what we put before them is more of a riddle to them, something they cannot immediately take in. Their reaction is probably more akin to what was said of the disciples in their response to the appearance of the Risen Jesus: ‘in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering,’ as one version has it. (Luke 24:41) Or another: ‘They still couldn't believe what they were seeing. It was too much; it seemed too good to be true.’ Or yet another: ‘The disciples were ecstatic yet dumbfounded, unable to fully comprehend it.’ Hopefully, our testimony will sit there with them like a seed that is planted just waiting for the time to be right. (Mark 4:26-28)
Then, here again in this little story, we are given yet another response to the shepherds’ testimony, a response we need to take note of for the growth of our own faith: ‘But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.’ (Luke 2:19) Mary ‘ponders.’ That is, she treasures what she hears, and aims to hold onto it in the face of all those other things that can and do clamour for attention; nor will she let doubts and the disbelief of others steal it from her (c.f.: Luke 8:12-14) — she treasures it, keeping what was said to her in mind in an ongoing sort of way, mulling it over from time to time, ruminating on it, wrestling with it and puzzling over it, always seeking a right understanding. (Genesis 37:11) In this, Mary models for us what it is to be ‘fertile soil’ for the Word of God that is sown in us, which Jesus spoke of in his Parable of the Sower: “These are those lovers of truth who hear the Word deep within their hearts. They respond by clinging to it, keeping it dear as they endure all things in faith. Seed sown there will one day bear much fruit in their lives.” (Luke 8:11) When another shares their faith journey with us, gives their testimony to what they have found to be the Truth (John 18:37. C.f.: 14:6), we need to hear it, honour it, and respect it for what it might have to say to us, that it might help us to understand and grow in faith. (C.f.: John 18:38) In our Gospel today, St Luke hold up Mary as the model of faith for us. if we follow her example, she will become for us our mother in the faith. (C.f.: John 19:26-27)
On this Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God, may the blessing of knowing her Son be your joy every day in this coming year. And may you share this blessing with all whom you encounter.