Once upon a time, there was an old shepherd named Elias. He had been a shepherd for his whole life long, just like his father, and his father’s father. Being a shepherd was hard and lonely work. He took care of a large group of sheep and did his best to protect them from wolves and to keep them together. He would lead them by day from pasture to pasture, allowing them to graze, and bring them safely to market where they would give their wool for people to use.
Nights could be very lonely and sometimes scary. There was no one else to talk to, and he did his best to keep the sheep safe. Sometimes, if he listened hard enough, he could imagine the wind talking to him as it blew through the trees. That made him feel like he wasn’t so alone.
One night, as he was nearing the place where he and the sheep would spend the night, he saw a bright light up in the distance. He couldn’t help but wonder what was going on so he moved toward it. When he got close enough, he got the sheep settled down for the night and he went to check out the light and make sure there was nothing to worry about.
Other shepherds had done the same thing, and they all arrived to see the angel of the Lord, surrounded by the bright light of God’s glory. It was frightening to see, and Elias and the others just stood there, awe-struck, not knowing what to think.
Then the angel spoke to them. He said, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
Then the sky grew really bright as hundreds of angels joined in and began to sing: “Glory to God in the highest! And on earth, peace to those on whom his favor rests!”
When the angels left, Elias and the other shepherds decided to travel the short distance to Bethlehem, the city of David, and to search out the Savior that the angel talked about. Bethlehem was a pretty small village, and so it didn’t take much looking to find the baby.
He was in a manger – a feed-trough for animals. His parents looked like ordinary people, but Elias knew that this baby was special, and that the family was holy. The angel was right: there was joy and peace here, it was a special feeling that Elias knew could only come from God’s blessing.
Elias never forgot that night. He went about taking care of his sheep, but whenever he was in town, he would try to find out about the baby he saw that night. He found out the boy’s name was Jesus, and he would often hear of wonderful things that Jesus said and did. When he was very old, Elias heard that people had turned against Jesus and they nailed him to a cross. But he also heard that three days later, he rose from the dead, and all of his friends were now starting to go out and tell the Good News about him.
Elias knew that Jesus was special from that very first night he saw him. He knew that Jesus had come to change everything. And he was right. Got changed everything then, and he continues to change everything now, if we let him. Jesus didn’t just get born two thousand years ago; Jesus is born right here, right now for us, if we would just make a little space, a little manger for him in our hearts. Just as Elias didn’t know exactly what God had in store for Jesus, we don’t know what God has in store for any of us in the year ahead. But we do know this: God sent Jesus so that He could be here among us, and he is here among us now, leading us back to him, telling us that we are his special children, and loving us all with love beyond anything we can imagine.
Things were hard for Elias and the other shepherds, and for Jesus and his family, and sometimes things will be hard for us too. But all along the way, there are angels, guiding us to where God wants us, watching over us, shining the light, and helping us to find the Good News. Today, God brings us here to worship, so that like those shepherds, we can find Jesus again, and we can see Jesus in those who love us, and in our own hearts.