Once upon a time as Joseph and Mary made their way to Bethlehem an angel called a meeting with all the animals of the earth to choose which of them would attend the birth and be allowed in the cave with the newborn child. The animals were all excited and wanted to be there, of course. First, the lion roared and said, "I am the king of all the animals. It is only right that I am allowed to be there. I will defend the child and tear to pieces anyone who tries to harm him." The angel cringed and said, "Too loud and scary for the baby."This is the night that we remember and tell the story of Jesus who is born, poor, humble, and lowly, to a world weary and battle-worn. Tonight, shepherds will leave their flocks to find the Good News in the manger, angels will sing And nearby two animals will stand their watch with this new baby, a baby born for all of us.
Then the fox came forward. "I will stand guard over the child, and I'll make sure the baby has good food every day In fact, I will steal a chicken every day for the family. The angel looked hard at the fox and said, "We don’t need a thief."
The peacock strutted forward and said, "Let me. I'll spread my feathers, and I'll decorate the cave in a style fit truly for a king. It will rival Solomon's own temple." The angel sighed and said, "Too proud."
One by one the animals came forward with their reasons why they should be the ones allowed inside. Birds swooped about, darting in and out, making a loud noise. The angel said, "Too loud and disruptive for the baby."
The poor angel was getting frustrated and thought, "Why are these animals so much like humans?" The angel looked to see if anyone had been missed and noticed some animals in the field. They were rather old and slow moving, and they had said nothing and were not even in the group. The ox and the donkey were summoned to the meeting, and the angel asked what they would do for the child and his mother on that night.
They looked at each other and neither said anything. They both looked down at the ground and at last the ox said, "We learned a long time ago not to do anything out of line; to be humble and patient and long suffering. Anything else we ever did got us less food and more whippings." They hung their heads and swished their tails. Then the donkey said quietly, "Well, we could keep the flies away by swinging our tails and keep the air moving in the cave."
The angel smiled delightedly, "Exactly! You'll both do perfectly. Come, we must move quickly. Tonight is the night." (story by Willi Hoffsuemmer)
So tonight when you head off to bed, remember the baby Jesus born humbly in a manger, with those animals nearby helping him and his parents. Let us end with a prayer, a prayer I use from a verse in Away in a Manger. Repeat after me:
Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray;
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care,
And fit us for Heaven to live with Thee there. Amen.
May all of us gathered here tonight, with the awe of the shepherds, the voice of the angels and the humility of those animals, remember in our hearts that tonight there is good news of great joy for us all: born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. Amen.