Written for the 2016 Christmas Eve Service at my Church (Barbara Moulton)
You sit up suddenly. What roused you from your slumber? Gazing around the room you find your eyes gradually make out the familiar objects of the room. It is silent, other than the sounds of family members breathing quietly in their sleep.
But was there some slight echo of music still in the air? A melody so beautiful that your heart is stirred with a longing that it has never experienced before?
You move slowly, not wishing to disturb your spouse and children in your little house. You had guests in your roof top room as well, family members who had returned for the census. Almost everyone you knew had people staying with them. Bethlehem was crowded. The inns were full.
Crossing to the door, you look out and see in the distance the hills which surround your town. It was the time of year when shepherds had brought their flocks a little closer to town and, to your surprise, you can actually see shepherds moving down the hill, lit by a gradually fading light in the sky that, like the music was unlike anything you had ever known.
Your mother always said you were curious and that was definitely at work right now. Shepherds shouldn’t be leaving their sheep. Where were they going? Slipping on your outer robe and sandals, you leave the house and begin to walk.
The shepherds are getting closer now and you hear them speaking to each other in low murmurs. What are they saying?
“We need to see for ourselves. “
“Remember the sign. We need to find a manger.”
A manger? Why would shepherds be looking for a manger? Sheep graze in the fields.
Y ou decide to follow them. They approach the first cave where you know animals are kept. One of them goes in and comes out with a disappointed look on his face
“Not this one,” he says. The shepherds move on.
You have to ask. You approach them and inquire. What is happening?
And they tell you a story that seems unbelievable.
Angels from heaven!
An incredible message that the long awaited Messiah has come.
The sign they spoke of? A baby lying in a manger. A feeding trough!
THAT seems unlikely.
SUDDENLY THERE IS A DISTRUBANCE AT THE FRONT OF THE GROUP. A young shepherd boy comes running excitedly towards the group.
“I found it,” he exclaims, “just as the angel said.”
With anticipation you join the shepherds and move towards another cave and there indeed, you see a small infant…wrapped up snugly and lying in a manger.
You shake your head. What kind of place is this for a baby? The young mother looks exhausted and overwhelmed as the shepherd crowd into the tiny space. They tell her husband what brought them to this place and he asks for details and exclaims in wonder.
But she sits quietly, with a small smile on her face. She seems to be pondering the shepherds’ tale as she gazes at her son.
He stirs and she picks him up and holds him close. Kissing his forehead, she places her finger in his hand and he grasps it tightly as little ones do.
It is just a baby and a poor couple with no place to stay. You turn to leave.
BUT SUDDENLY your heart remembers the music that woke you up. You turn back to the child and gaze at him again. You recall the words that stirred you from your slumber.
“Glory to God”
That is what you had heard.
And something told you that there was more here than what your eyes could see. There was glory…a promise of something more.
In this moment, the words of the prophet Isaiah came to you. Words you had learned as a child.
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”
“A Sign”…the same phrase the angels had used, according to the shepherds.
The mother tell the shepherds, “His name is Yeshua.” You know this means “God Saves.”
Could this baby truly be the one promised by the prophet? Could this mean that God had not abandoned His people? That God was with us?
You reach out with your hand, rough from many years of labour, and touch his hair, still matted and clotted from birth. Just a baby. How could this be? There is no glory in this birth but…but…
More words from Isaiah come to your mind.
For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Was this the beginning of something new? Would this tiny child play a role in liberating Israel? That was why the Messiah would come was it not?
Dawn was breaking over the hills. The shepherds got up from their knees. It was time to return to work but you heard them sharing the news with the waking town…telling the story over and over.
Did you have a story to tell as well?
You would go home and share the events with your family. But just before you leave you turn and look once more at the child. And somehow, you feel peace.
A stirring of hope that you thought was long dead.
It doesn’t make sense. You don’t understand how. But you know that God is at work. A promise has been fulfilled in an unexpected way. You walk home with joy to tell you family all that has come to pass.