A friend of mine, Kevin Shooshan, always seemed to know and respect the little guys. He helped out as a high school mentor with our leadership training program for middle-school boys, and I continued to stay in touch with him over the years.
I remember walking around town with him during his Georgetown University days in Washington, D.C. He seemed to know the first names of several homeless men on the street, the waiters and waitresses at several restaurants — and he had a kind word for everyone.
“Man looks at appearances. God looks at the heart.”
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So it did not surprise me when I visited his workplace — and the security guard at the desk had a big smile on his face when I told him I was there to see Kevin. Their construction company had just opened a high-end restaurant underneath a series of new condominiums in Arlington, Virginia. Each employee was given a ticket to invite one guest to the grand opening and Kevin had chosen this security guard as his guest.
He was not “VIP,” he was not cultivating an “important client,” and there was no agenda. My friend had just felt that this gentleman deserved to be his “invited guest.”
When it comes to the Nativity Story, let’s start with the shepherds. Christ himself took the title of “Good Shepherd” — so clearly, he had a preference for this particular profession.
Shepherds love their sheep and would be willing to die for their sheep. Day and night, cold or rain, summer or winter, they are focused 24/7 on the good of their sheep, always looking for green pastures, always looking for warm caves, always looking out for wolves and thieves — and often putting their lives on the line. Sounds like all the things God the Father does for us every day!
Scripture reminds us, “Man looks at appearances. God looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
They were often out in the hills, so they did not have the resources to shower or take care of their physical appearance. They were poor and simple and hidden from the public eye. Yet they were among the chosen few invited to the most incredible miracle of the world: the birth of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
The Magi followed the star. “After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary His mother. They prostrated themselves and did Him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2: 9-11).
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We know little about the three Magi other than that they “came from the East” and had followed a star that led them to the cave where Jesus was born. It sounds so simple — but if you really think about it, they left everything to follow a star in the sky, not knowing how long or where the journey would lead them. They came bearing gifts, not looking for anything — yet finding everything, God himself.
God always rewards fidelity and faith — fidelity to the small things that nobody sees, things done behind the scenes but done with great love. And faith to an inner conviction, an inspiration from within that pushes people in a particular direction and often costly to their human nature.
The shepherds and the Magi were the “VIP” guests of the birth of Jesus. All of us can accompany Jesus in the special time of Christmas where He comes again — not to Bethlehem, but to the hearts and minds of every person ready and willing to receive Him. Why? You, too, are a “VIP” for Jesus.
Fr. Michael Sliney, LC, is a Catholic priest who is the New York chaplain of the Lumen Institute, an association of business and cultural leaders.