Summary: A story sermon designed to present the meaning of Christmas in a fresh way.
The sun was beginning to peer over the mountains near Bethlehem. Soon, its warmth would overcome the chill of the night. Still, it was too early for breakfast. No one wanted to stumble around in the dark. When Nathan began to sing, they would know it was safe to begin eating. For now, everyone was still asleep or, at least, trying to sleep.
Jake was groaning and his legs were kicking the air. Mostly, they were kicking the air. Occasionally, he would kick Eli who was sleeping next to him.
“Jake, Jake,” Eli whispered, “wake up. You’re having a bad dream.”
Trembling, Jake muttered something about “Dogs” and Eli said, “There are no dogs. We’re all safe. Nathan is with us.” Jake settled down and went back to a quiet sleep.
As sheep go, Jake was not especially brave, which is to say he was not brave at all.
But he was the oldest sheep in the flock and was much loved by all the other sheep, particularly by his friends Eli, Zeb, Faith, and Hope. They all understood why his eyes grew wide and his knees began to shake when he heard the distant sound of dogs barking.
They would remind him that he was not alone and that they had a good shepherd, Nathan, who would protect them. Of course, Jake knew this but he could remember when Nathan was not so good a shepherd.
Jake had been born into a very special flock. He was part of the flock of sheep that provided sacrifices for the temple in Jerusalem, which was only four miles from Bethlehem. There were many sheep on the hills of Judea but only a few perfect enough to be offered in worship to God. It was a great honor to be among those taken to the temple. Of course, Jake didn’t really know what that meant but he knew it must mean he was very special.
While Jake was still a lamb, a new shepherd began to help take care of the flock. His name was Nathan and he was the young nephew of the chief shepherd. He had finally reached the age when he was expected to help with the sheep. Nathan’s father had his own flock and Nathan’s older brother helped watch them. Nathan’s uncle, who cared for the temple sheep, had no sons so Nathan’s father sent him to help his uncle.
Nathan didn’t want to help with his uncle’s sheep, or anyone’s sheep for that matter. His other friends were still young enough to stay in Bethlehem and play during the day. They didn’t have to sit on the rocky hillside and watch sheep eat grass. They didn’t have to listen to the old men tell stories of Israel’s glory days before the Romans came. Of course, none of them could remember what life was like before the Romans but they just knew it had to be better. It was boring.
Then, one day, Nathan’s uncle twisted his ankle while he was looking for a lamb that had strayed. He needed to stay home and rest for a couple days. So, he told Nathan he would have to work alone for those two days. The first day went by slowly. Not a single sheep strayed. Nothing happened to break the monotony. The next day started out just the same.
About mid-morning, Nathan heard his name being called. He looked down the hill toward a nearby stream and saw his friends. They had come out from Bethlehem to see him. He was so happy. They asked how he liked being a shepherd. He told them his uncle was very strict, which they believed. He told them he and his uncle had had chased several bands of thieves, which they did not believe. Then someone suggested they play a game of “David and Goliath.” In this game, each boy tried to see how far he could hurl a stone with his sling. Nathan was always very good at this game so he quickly agreed it was a good idea.
After playing several games, they began to wade in the stream to find more stones. Nathan completely forgot about the sheep.
Jake saw Nathan wander away but didn’t worry. He was young and knew nothing of the dangers sheep could face. He just continued to munch away at the sweet grass. After a long while, he heard the other sheep begin to bleat loudly. They were all running toward him and before he could move they had bowled him over, leaving him by himself. As he got back onto his feet, he looked up to see a pack of wild dogs bearing down on him.
Almost instinctively, Jake knew he couldn’t outrun them so he looked for a place to hide. Several rocks were piled up next to a large boulder, forming a kind of shelter. Just ahead of the dogs, Jake squeezed between two of the rocks out of harms’ way.