DISCLAIMER: Yes, we know there was no such thing as e-mail back then. It’s unlikely that Mary called Elizabeth “Girl,” and who even knows the name of Herod’s guard? Certain aspects of this wonderful and beautiful story have been “tweaked” for dramatic purposes. Our goal is to look deeper into the story, to wonder what these people may have been thinking. We want to help your youth group see the birth of the Christ child as if it were happening for the first time. We’d like you and them to experience the joy and awe as they did so long ago on the first Christmas.
FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT
To: Malachi, The Shepherd
From: Bethlehem Life and Casualty Insurance Company
Dear Mr. Malachi:
We have had the chance to review your claim of lost sheep last month and are sending you this letter to inform you that your claim has been denied.
While we at Bethlehem Life and Casualty have always prided ourselves on being a friend to sheep herders and all those in the animal husbandry field, I’m afraid that this is the first time we have heard a claim of this sort.
To review: In your claim, you stated that you were watching your flocks by night with several other sheep herders when a “multitude of the heavenly host appeared in the sky and began singing glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace, good will toward men.” You further claim that while you were distracted by hallucination, several of your animals were frightened and ran off unbeknownst to you or your fellow sheep herders.
We cannot compensate you for your loss of animals based on the following reasons:
1. Safety regulations in your coverage manual clearly state that shepherding is done primarily during the day. If you were watching over your flocks by night, you were outside of the covered time period.
2. To pay out on this claim would be to recognize one religion over another, and Bethlehem Life and Casualty has a long history of ecumenical work and does not put one faith above another.
3. If you refer to form 174-A, which you filled out with your application, among the tools of your trade section you listed “wineskin.” We can only assume the wineskin was for the carrying of wine and, therefore, calls into question any angelic presence or multitude of the heavenly host. In addition, no one here in our office has heard of the Halleluiah Chorus.
4. In further consideration, we determined that if we were to recognize your claim of a divine presence as the reason for the loss of your livestock, we could only write it off to an act of God in which case you would not be covered anyway.
We wish you the best of luck in your future shepherding endeavors. If you have any question regarding this claim, feel free to contact us during normal business hours.
Bethlehem Life and Casualty
The fourth Advent candle is lighted during the reading of the Scripture.
Jeremiah 33:12-16 (NIV)
12 “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In this place, desolate and without men or animals–in all its towns there will again be pastures for shepherds to rest their flocks.
13 In the towns of the hill country, of the western foothills and of the Negev, in the territory of Benjamin, in the villages around Jerusalem and in the towns of Judah, flocks will again pass under the hand of the one who counts them,’ says the Lord.
14 “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah.
15 “‘In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land.
16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness.’
God, You are here. There are those who would stand on the mountain and scream otherwise, but Your presence is felt. We see it in the stars and we feel it in the air when we gather together to praise Your name. Let the screamers shut the door. We will stand in the open air and wait for the miracle. Amen.