Jesus said to his disciples, “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the 99 in the hills and go in search of the stray? And if he finds it…he rejoices more over it than over the 99 that did not stray. In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.
Luke’s version of this parable is better known because it is read on a Sunday. It’s called the “parable of the lost sheep.”
But Matthew uses the word “stray” instead of “lost” (“stray” appears three times in this passage). Getting “lost” often means accidentally losing the way. To “stray” can imply deliberately roving from the course I know is right.
When I sin, I probably see myself more in the “stray” category – deliberately leaving the right path. I can identify with the words attributed to St. Paul: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost. But for that reason I was mercifully treated, so that in me, as the foremost, Christ Jesus might display all his patience.” (1 Tim 1:15-16)
I have to be sure to take in the whole first sentence of that quote: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” The first thing the Lord says to a sinner isn’t, “Why did you stray?” The first thing he says is simply, “I came into this world for you.”
The celebration of Christmas isn’t simply that Christ came into the world. It’s that into the world…for sinners.