Merry Christmas! Our Christmas program at Cameron Presbyterian this year was called “Once Upon a Time…A Storybook Christmas.” I wrote the story and thought it was a fitting thing to share today. So, get yourself another cup of coffee and cozy up with those you love and enjoy the story of God becoming one of us.
Once upon a time, in a very far-off land of dusty deserts and shining stars, there was a little boy who herded sheep, like his father before him, and his father before him. His father woke him for the evening shift, watching the sheep from sundown to sunup to keep them safe from the sort of creatures that sought them in the darkness of the night. This was a rare treat, you see, to get to stay up in the middle of the night and watch the stars. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, the little shepherd boy picked up his favorite old, worn shepherd’s crook and went to where the sheep were lazily wandering together.
It was a night just like any other – except this night, something was going to happen.
You see, at the same time the shepherd boy was awakened to watch over the sheep, there were travelers roaming from Nazareth to Bethlehem. There was a young woman, riding on a donkey, and her husband walking beside her. Her name was Mary; his was Joseph. Oh, yes, and there was a baby. You see, Mary was very pregnant, and the bumpy donkey ride wasn’t helping matters. She was going to have her baby very, very soon.
So soon, in fact, that she told Joseph to stop at the nearest sheltered place, and as they entered the outskirts of Bethlehem, he sighed with relief. Surely someone would take them in this night. But each place they went, they had no luck. Finally, they had to settle for a simple shelter at the edge of the town, one where animals often stayed. And that is where they sat, and waited.
Meanwhile our little shepherd boy was sitting on his favorite rock, that gave him a bit of height to watch over the sheep. He also liked this particular rock because it made him feel closer to the stars. Every night the stars shone like diamonds glittering through a velvety dark sky. It was a night just like any other – except this night, something was going to happen.
A miracle was going to happen. Just at the very moment that brave Mary gave birth to her child – a son – our little shepherd boy was looking up at the stars. And something changed. One star became bigger and brighter than all the rest! As if that wasn’t enough, an angel appeared! A real angel! This angel saw how pale the little shepherd boy had become, and how his companions were also quaking in their sandals, and so he said,
“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.”
And then, that one angel was surrounded by lots of angels, all singing with joy and delight about this very special baby that had been born that night. The little shepherd boy went and woke his dad, and along with the other shepherds they hurried to Bethlehem to see this amazing miracle child.
And so it happened, that when that angel appeared to the little shepherd boy, Mary gave birth to a little boy. For Mary, that moment first holding her baby didn’t need angels singing or brilliant stars shining to be a miracle. Just like any mother holding her baby for the first time, it was already a miracle. But, you see, there had been an angel: that same angel had visited Mary, too. Nine months earlier, the angel Gabriel had come to tell her that she would have a son and that he was the son of God, and she should name him Jesus.
“A big name for a little baby,” she thought, as he curled his hand around her finger. “Jesus,” she whispered, “you are going to be so very special.” And as his dark eyes became sleepy, she wrapped him up tightly and set him in a manger that was usually used as a trough for feeding animals. He didn’t seem to mind as he drifted off to sleep.
As the shepherds made their way to Bethlehem, they noticed other people along the road staring up at the brilliant star. “Something’s happened!” they all said. “What could cause such a star, right over Bethlehem??” The little shepherd boy spoke up, telling them all the angel had told him of this special child who was born, who would save the whole world. And so the group of those traveling to Bethlehem grew with the story of this great child.
Others were watching the skies that night, too. Wise people, who studied the stars, saw the change and, even though angels didn’t appear to them, they figured out that such a bright star was a roadmap to Bethlehem to meet a child they had heard of through ancient prophesies. So they too set out for Bethlehem, bringing the very best gifts they could offer: gold, frankincense and myrrh.
As luck would have it (or more than that), everyone found their way to the tiny cave in Bethlehem, a place as ordinary as any other, but where something extraordinary happened. Mary and Joseph were overwhelmed as the wise people came offering extravagant gifts. Travelers along the road came and knelt down before the manger, saying with joy “This is the Messiah – the Son of God!” Angels sang and stars shone and, through it all, that very special baby just watched with wonder and delight, taking it all in. And then finally, very shyly, the little shepherd boy came.
“I…I don’t have anything special to offer your baby,” he said, as he stared at his sandals. “But this, this is my favorite thing in the world,” and he held up his weathered, worn shepherd’s crook. “They say your son will be the best shepherd there ever was, that he will lead people wherever he goes and bring them healing and hope,” he said, with a little more confidence. “And so I think he will need this.” He handed Joseph his shepherd’s crook and Joseph smiled warmly and patted him on the head. Mary wiped tears from her eyes and said, “Thank you, child, this gift is priceless.”
And so it happened that a little shepherd boy blessed a tiny baby in Bethlehem with a shepherd’s crook, and that tiny baby went on to become the greatest shepherd there ever was, tending to those who felt alone and lost, bringing hope like a shining star in the night and joy like a mother holding her baby for the first time.
We call this story Christmas. But the most amazing thing is, it’s not just a fairy tale from long ago. This once-upon-a-time-story actually happened, and happens still when Jesus, God’s son, comes to a world in need of good news. And we don’t just tell this story. We live it! Like that little shepherd boy, we offer the very best we have to give to the baby Jesus, and the story goes on: the story of hope, of peace, of joy and of love. The story of Christmas. And so it begins again…in you, in me, in all of us.
(© Rev. Whitney Wilkinson, please use only with permission)