By now, you have probably set out your Christmas crèche—Mary and Joseph and the infant Jesus in a stable, a couple of shepherds with a sheep or two standing near, and, hovering above, an angel with outstretched arms, representing a “host of heavenly visitors.” A few inches away (or a few feet, depending on the size of your mantel), the Magi and their camel approach.
As we gaze on this beloved scene, we can hear the song of the angels: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom God’s favor rests” (Luke 2:14) The story never grows old; the song never fails to lift our hearts. God has chosen ordinary people, humble shepherds, to receive good news of great joy for all the people: “Today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.” (Luke 2:11)
If I try to make a parallel between the time when the song was first sung and today, two things come to mind. First, the world into which Jesus was born was tragically divided—religiously, politically, economically. Among the Jews, competing sectors scorned one another. Roman rule over the Jews was often cruel and autocratic. And the gap between rich and poor seemed unbreachable. Today, our peoples and nations, despite enormous scientific progress, experience the same divisions, often exacerbated by the ability to insult and threaten one another using social media. And standing at the ready are weapons and armies that could destroy the planet as we know it.
But the second observation overwhelms the first: the “good news of great joy is for all the people.” God wishes “peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:10) God’s favor is without limit, encompassing saints and sinners (and ourselves, wherever we stand on that spectrum!). God’s favor embraces:
- The infant born with terrible fetal anomalies, destined to live only a few minutes
- The murderer on death row
- Your favorite NFL quarterback
- Your best friend
- The current occupant of the White House
- The clerk who waited on you in the supermarket
- And everyone else on Earth, whatever their ethnicity, nationality, religion or political views
In short, this is the source and bedrock of the Church’s social teaching: human dignity. God sent his Son as Messiah and Lord, as savior, for each and every human being. As we navigate our daily routines, however challenging they may be, we need to remind ourselves that God’s favor rests on every person we encounter. Today, as on the first Christmas, it is to ordinary people that God has chosen to make his message known.
Over the two millennia since that holy night, the Church has been singing the angel’s song in the Gloria of the Mass. As we celebrate Christmas this year, let’s open our hearts even wider to the angelic message: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom God’s favor rests.