I wrote this for a practice homily and thought others might like to read it:
Imagine you are with the shepherds in Bethlehem. It is winter, when the days are very short and the nights very long. The sun has been down a long time now, and the air is crisp and cool and clear, and you can see the stars. You are sleepy and would like to take a rest, but you know you must stay awake to tend the sheep. You never know what might be prowling about in the dark looking for a lamb supper. Everything is quiet. You and the other shepherds are the only souls awake at this time of night. But tonight there is a certain tension in the air. You assure yourself that there is no need for alarm, but it just feels a little bit different. You want to fall asleep, but you know you must stay alert to watch the sheep. Then all of a sudden, the cool night sky is filled with brilliant light. You see the figure of powerful shining creature- you have never seen anything like it. You wonder if you are seeing things. Then the creature begins talking to you. Now you are terrified. But he tells you not to fear, but instead to go to Bethlehem, for a savior has been born. You will know it is him when you find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. You don’t quite understand what he is talking about, but figure you had better do what he says. Then all of a sudden the entire sky erupts with other heavenly creatures – the light is dazzling, overwhelming, but beautiful. Music fills the sky and echoes off the hills. The sound of the angel’s rejoicing transforms your fear into anticipation. You must go and find this infant savior. You and your shepherd friends set off running for Bethlehem to see for yourself this wondrous happening.
When you get there you pass by a stable built into a cave. It doesn’t seem like it would be the place for an infant savior to be born, but you get a strong feeling that you need to go in a check it out. As you enter, you are met with the smell of hay and straw, and the scent of animals. To your nose it is not a bad smell, you are after all a shepherd. It’s the organic smell of life, of the creatures you care for every day. There is ever so slight a sense of trepidation, but you feel at ease entering the stable. The air is cold and damp, but you feel warm inside. Then you notice that there is a young woman and her husband here in the stable. The woman is very beautiful, but you can see fatigue in her face. You realize she has just given birth. She looks at you with warm, welcoming eyes. It is almost as though she expected you to be coming. You are struck by the depth of her gaze, and how very joyful it is. She shifts her gaze to the manger that is next to her and you follow with your eyes.
To your surprise, you see that there is a newborn baby lying in it. He is loosely wrapped in flowing cloth, but you can see his face. He is so new that his skin is still red and his eyes are tightly shut. You marvel at his tiny features. You watch as he breathes in and out on his own, he has only been doing so for a short time. You marvel at how delicate and fragile he is. For a moment it strikes you that this is not the place for a baby. A baby lamb, yes. But not a baby human. But he looks so peaceful that the thought quickly passes. You gaze upon him for a long time and your heart is filled love. You love him, but you feel even more powerfully that he loves you. After you have been there for awhile you realize you have forgotten all about the child’s parents. You’ve also forgotten about yourself- the fact that you are roughly dressed and arrived unannounced. Seeing the purity and innocence of this tiny child, you are reminded of your own imperfections. But you feel like you can be with him anyway. You wonder if his mother is getting uncomfortable having you here. So you look over at her: She is still smiling at you. Her look says that she is happy that you are there, and that she wants you to be with her baby.
You smile back at her. And you smile at her child. An inexpressibly peace descends upon you, and deep joy swells up in your heart. This is no ordinary child, this is no ordinary mother, and this is no ordinary night. Something has changed, and your life will never be the same again. You leave the stable that night brimming over with joy. You can’t hold it in, you have to share it with everyone. Jesus Christ, the Savior, has been born!