Two Christmas Devotional Readings

The first evangelists were shepherds. It was a task for which they had no skill, no special gift. No theological teaching or individual training. They had no organization to go before them and no literature to leave behind them.

What they had, and all they had, was a divine encounter.

The shepherds live in a gypsy encampment outside Bethlehem. They are a shunned minority. Because of their profession, they are unable to observe the orthodox ritual of washings. Consequently, they are considered unclean. Because they are untutored in the law, they are considered ignorant because they are without roots in the community, they are considered suspect.

This knot of shepherds on the fringe of Jewish society spends the night atop a stone tower, a couple of them watching the flocks while the others huddle around a fire, catching what sleep they can. Eusebius writes that this watchtower stood about 1,000 paces from Bethlehem. Jewish tradition adds that the tower overlooked a special flock of sheep:

Sheep set aside for sacrifices.

To qualify as temple sacrifices, the animals had to be perfect, without spot or blemish. They could have no broken bones and no scarred skin. … To ensure a profit, the sheep had to be protected. That meant watching them day and night.

The fire is almost out when suddenly the curtain of night is parted by an Angel, spilling the glory of heaven everywhere. The incandescent light wakens the men who are on their faces, trembling, covering themselves with their coats.

Though the appearance of the angels terrifying, the utterance of his words is not. “Don’t be afraid,” he assures them. “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. … Today in the town of David a savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”

Prophets had foretold of this savior. King this had looked forward to his rule. And the birth of each baby boy had kept the cope hope of his coming alive period from peasants to patriarchs, all Israel awaited him. At last, could the time be now? Could the place be here? Could it be him? At last, could it be him? …

The curtain of heaven opens wider, revealing a company of angels, their voices joining together in a chorus of praise. …

Do you see what has happened? On these earthiest of men, the favor of heaven has come to rest to them. The glory of the Lord has been revealed—glory that has not been witnessed in Israel for hundreds of years.

To them, the good news, hidden since the foundation of the world, has been proclaimed. …

So fitting that news of the lamb of God’s birth would come to shepherds. And that the reception would be hosted in a stable … where the look of their clothes and the smell of their flocks blended in. A dimly lit place, where out-of-place people would feel most welcome.

By Ken Gire, from “Moments with the Savior”

About the book:

Moments with the Savior
By Ken Gire / Zondervan

With great detail and gentle passion, Ken Gire delicately weaves Biblical events, emotions, and thoughts into a moving depiction of the life of Christ. Join Jesus as He travels with His disciples through the Galilean countryside. Press through the throngs at the temple in Jerusalem. Marvel at the Savior’s challenging words, miraculous authority, and tender compassion. With moving depictions of Jesus’ humanity and divinity, Moments with the Savior invites readers into a more intimate relationship with Jesus.

This Christmas narrative can be found in Frederick Buechner’s book Secrets in the Dark.

I speak to you as men of the world, not as idealists, but as realists. Do you know what it is like to run an inn—to run a business, a family, to run anything in this world for that matter, even your own life? It is like being lost in a forest of a million trees and each tree is a thing to be done.

Is there fresh linen on all the beds? Did the children put on their coats before they went out? Has the letter been written, the book read? Is there money enough left in the bank?

Today we have food in our bellies and clothes on our backs, but what can we do to make sure that we will have them still tomorrow?

A million trees. A million things.

Until finally we have eyes for nothing else, and whatever we see turns into a thing.

The sparrow lying in the dust at your feet—just a thing to be kicked out of the way, not the mystery of death.

The calling of children outside your window—just a distraction, an irrelevance, not life, not the wildest miracle of them all.

That whispering in the air that comes sudden and soft from nowhere—only the wind, the wind…

Of course, I remember very well the evening they arrived. I was working on my accounts and looked up just in time to see the woman coming through the door.

She walked in that slow, heavy-footed way that women have in the last months, as though they are walking in a dream or at the bottom of the sea. Her husband stood a little behind her—a tongue-tied, helpless kind of man, I thought.

I cannot remember either of them saying anything, although I suppose some words must have passed. But at least it was mostly silence. The clumsy silence of the poor. You know what I mean. It was clear enough what they wanted.

The stars had come out. I remember the stars perfectly though I don’t know why I should, sitting inside as I was. And my cat jumped up onto the table where I was sitting. I had not stood up, of course.

There was mainly just silence. Then it happened much in the way that you have heard. I did not lie about there being no room left—there really was none—though perhaps if there had been a room, I might have lied. As much for their sakes as for the sake of the inn. Their kind would have felt more at home in a stable, that’s all, and I do not mean that unkindly either. God knows.

Later that night, when the baby came, I was not there.

I was lost in the forest somewhere, the unenchanted forest of a million trees. Fifteen steps to the cellar, and watch out for your head going down. Firewood to the left. If the fire goes out, the heart freezes. Only the wind, the wind.

I speak to you as men of the world. So when the baby came, I was not around, and I saw none of it. As for what I heard—just at that moment itself of birth when nobody turns into somebody—I do not rightly know what I heard.

But this I do know. My own true love. All your life long, you wait for your own true love to come—we all of us do—our destiny, our joy, our heart’s desire. So how am I to say it? When he came, I missed him.

Pray for me, brothers and sisters. Pray for the Innkeeper. Pray for me, and for us all, my own true love.

Frederick Buechner

About the book:

Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons
By Frederick Buechner / HarperCollins

Frederick Buechner has long been a kindred spirit to those who find elements of doubt as constant companions on their journey of faith. He is a passionate writer and preacher who can alter lives with a simple phrase.

Buechner’s words, both written and spoken, have the power to revolutionize and revitalize belief and faith. He reveals the presence of God in the midst of daily life. He faces and embraces difficult questions and doubt as essential components of our lives, rather than as enemies that destroy us. “Listen to your life!” is his clarion call. This theme pervades this definitive collection of 37 sermons, delivered throughout Buechner’s lifetime. Presented chronologically, they provide a clear picture of the development of his theology and thinking. Reflecting Buechner’s exquisite gift for storytelling and his compassionate pastor’s heart, Secrets in the Dark will inspire laughter, hope, and bring great solace. Turn the pages and rediscover what it means to be thoughtful about faith. See why this renowned writer has been quoted in countless pulpits and beloved by Americans for generations.