Today’s readings:
Psalms 90; 149, Isaiah 35:1-10, Revelation 22:12-17, 21, Luke 1:67-80

Christmas Eve readings:
Isaiah 9:2-7, Psalm 96:1-13, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)

The shepherd realized he’d been holding his breath, and so inhaled deeply. The air was still strange, full of aromas unidentifiable but seemingly familiar. The usual smells of sheep and pasture had begun to reassert themselves but a subtle perfume would linger for a long time.

Angels. They had seen angels. He didn’t even believe in angels.

Moments ago the sky had been lit with a host of them. As they approached, he and his fellow shepherds began to wonder aloud if it was some new, terrifying trick of the Romans – perhaps a detail dispatched to enforce participation in this new census. But up close – angels! And not with words of punishment, but words of hope:

“Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

Why him? he wondered. Why them?

Someone tugged his sleeve. Was he coming? They were going into Bethlehem to discover if it was true. They moved quickly in the cold night. Even late, the streets of Bethlehem were crowded with people walking, talking, even sleeping. There were several stables in town. Would they have to search each –

A baby’s cry cut through the night. They stopped, shushed each other to listen for it again. They followed his voice, but by the time they reached the stable he was quiet. The father stood between the door and his young wife and newborn son lying in a manger.

The mother, so young, so tired-looking, nodded her head and the father stepped aside, though he did not drop his guard.

It was true. The angels had revealed the Messiah to common shepherds. Not to high priests. Not to the governor. To those who made a life protecting the defenseless. Was this to be His way then? A savior of the meek and ordinary? Then he would need a particular strength. A strength that would keep him vigilant while others slept, that kept the predators at bay without succumbing to their wiles, that would compel others to go places that were frightening but necessary.

He would need a shepherd’s strength.

The young mother patiently listened to their story long past the time they should have departed. As they left the stable, the child cried once more.

The shepherd held his breath, savored the sound. When it is time, he thought, I will know your voice.

Comfort: I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.

Challenge: To be Christ-like, me must build our own shepherding strengths.

Prayer: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace! Amen.

Discussion: Is there a part of the nativity story that particularly speaks to you?

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