And there were shepherds … (and) an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them … “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people …” Luke 2:8-10
Today, as we await the events of tomorrow we take a break from the Psalms. Today you are invited to sit in the fields with the shepherds.
It is cold. A bright, frosty, clear night when the stars seem to sparkle with the clarity of the air. Look at them. They seem to be pulsating in exaltation. And that big star, over the town of Bethlehem. You have seen it for many nights, and don’t understand it. But you have stood in awe, gazing at it, for it is a sight that you have never seen before. It almost seems to be a sign – somehow. The sheep bleat on the hillside, content, calling their lambs; there is a night bird crying behind you; and the youngest shepherd is lying under his blanket gently snoring, exhausted from his day with the sheep.
But then suddenly, shockingly, the stars dim and fade away in a bright, golden light that melts the darkness. And the gentle sounds of the sheep bleating are drowned out, and the young shepherd is startled awake. You all are, instantly, on your feet, awed by the singing that reverberates off the hills and pierces your heart.
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favour rests.“
You fall to your knees, overawed by the beauty of the light and the sound of angelic voices. Afraid, and yet not afraid. One angel tells you not to be afraid and your initial fear melts away. He speaks of a child – the Messiah – the Messiah – born in the town below you. He gives you directions how to find this child.
There is no need for discussion. Not even any concern for the sheep. Somehow you understand that they will be protected on this one night without human care. As one you wrap yourselves in blankets and make your way down the hill. Even the old ones have a spring in their step. The young ones are dancing. Chattering, laughing, as if there is not a care in the world.
The single star, the one you have watched for months, seems to hang low over the town. Like a beacon. Somehow you know you have reached the place. The place where the child lies. Your voices fall quiet. The youngest, perhaps emboldened by all that has happened tonight, pushes the door open.
Not surprisingly there are cows. A goat. A donkey. And, at the back of the stable a man and a woman. They do not hear you at first. They are engrossed with something lying in a manger between them. The light of the star pours through the open door and seems to focus on that manger.
Quietly, so as not to disturb the scene in front of you, you tiptoe forward. The man sees you. He looks surprised, yet for all that he smiles and beckons you forward. Making as little sound as possible you gather around the manger.
And there, just as the angel said, is the Child. Just a child. Wrapped in a blanket. Lying on scratchy straw. Yet each one of you knows, as you told one another later, back in the fields with the sheep. This is no ordinary child. This is the Child. You are not educated men but between you, you know some of the prophecies. This is the Child the prophets speak about Isaiah, Micah, Hosea.
Yes, this is the Child. And each one of you around that manger, these rough tough companions of yours who never show emotion, each one of you kneels and worships as the angels once again sing and the Child opens his eyes and loves.
As you read this, how do you feel as you see yourself kneel at the manger tonight? Tell God what the birth of His son means to you. And worship Him.
May God bless you this Christmas.