The Christmas story is not news until it touches our hearts. In our church, we celebrate the Feast of the Three Kings on the first Sunday after the start of the New Year. Sometimes we call this the Epiphany, or “The Little Christmas.”
There is urgency to this celebration. The word epiphany from the Greek means “striking appearance,” sudden realization, a manifestation! In case we haven’t yet felt that message about this year’s Christmas, I’d like to share a story.
There is an old legend, a parable really, of the singing shepherd. After the birth of Jesus, the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them by the angels. In time, the shepherds forgot the melody and soon were unable to sing the song they had heard at Christ’s birth.
One night, they heard the bleating of a lamb in the dark. A young shepherd said, “I will go and save that lamb.”
Experienced shepherds warned, “No, no! There are briars out there, rocks, cliffs and wild beasts! You could die out there in dark.”
The lad persisted, “If I do not go, the lamb will surely be lost or eaten.”
So, with a promise to return soon, the shepherd boy disappeared into night.
After some time, the bleating ceased. Was the lamb killed or saved? Soon after the young shepherd returned, bruised and bleeding, but he held the lamb in his arms.
“You know what?” he said, “I remembered the melody—when I picked up the lamb, it came back to me.” And he sang out in ecstasy, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom God favours.”
Many years passed, and one day one of Jesus’ disciples said, “Master, there is a blind beggar at the gate who sings a most beautiful song! Will you come and listen to him?” When Jesus came, the beggar began to sing.
Jesus listened to the beautiful song and asked, “How do you know this song?”
The beggar explained how he had first heard it over Bethlehem, how he had forgotten the tune, and how he remembered the melody when he rescued a little lamb.
Then Jesus said, “It is a song of my Father’s choir. They sang it the day I was born upon this earth. And because you have kept it alive upon the earth with your kindness, I give you back your eyesight.” And the old shepherd was able to see again!
In the same way we are called to remember and sing that song, mindful of the poor, lest we forget the melody.
Oblate Father Wendelin Rolheiser shares this New Year homily from his mission parish of Saint John the Baptist in Île-à-la-Crosse, Saskatchewan, in the Archdiocese of Keewatin-Le Pas.
(Reprinted with permission from Catholic Missions In Canada Magazine, Winter 2012)