It had been a long hard day most like any other. The sun had set over an hour earlier, and I could hear the wind whipping through the grass at my feet. It tickled my toes that were bare beneath my tanned sandal straps. I could see the small dim light of my shepherd friends’ lanterns as they walked on nearby hillsides. The life of a shepherd was often lonely, but those little lights gave a sense of community to my heart, and I smiled.
The silence of the night seemed endless. The staff in my right hand moved along with me as I slowly wandered among my sheep. I could hear their breathing as if it were my own. Every now and again, I would hear the munching of a sheep who was enjoying a nighttime snack.
I bent my knees and stooped down to look at one. I had named her Natsal. It means ‘the rescued one.’ Several months back, she was eating on a nearby hill when a wild animal came quickly to attack. Without a second thought, I leapt into action and my feet were flying. I darted between sheep and lamb alike to reach the farthest one. The animal was upon her, and I was too far still. I stopped and pulled my sling from my side, and placing a stone inside, I began to spin it quickly with my arm. I let the stone loose, and it hit the animal square in the jaw. I heard it yelp, and I began to run yet again. When I reached the sheep, the poor thing had blood covering a good deal of its wool. The animal had run off, and I picked little Natsal up and carried her back to the flock. Ever since that day, she keeps close to me, and I don’t mind. I patted her soft little head and felt a deep tug of fatherly love for her. My little Natsal.
My mind was deeply engrossed in thinking of her when a far-off light in the sky appeared. It was getting brighter by the second and was coming right for me. The sheep were startled, as was I. What in the world was happening? I fell to the ground unsure of what else to do. The light was unbearably bright now, and I had no time or place to run for cover.
I began looking around me because looking up was nearly impossible. I could see that the shepherds from the nearby fields had run to see what was happening. I stood to join them.
I cannot properly describe what we were seeing. Hovering above the ground was what could only be an angel. We could barely look at him and I was shaking from head to foot. He could obviously tell we were frightened because he began to speak and said, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all people. Today, in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Before we could fully comprehend what was being said, an enormous multitude of angels filled the sky. They were repeating a phrase over and over. It was, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
I managed to glance at the friend by my side. He was weeping and in absolute awe. The angels continued to glorify God as they filled the sky. This continued for several minutes. And then just as fast as they came, they left.
As darkness once again filled the hills, we were dumbfounded. The Messiah? Born this very night? And so near to us, in the city of David!
“We must go!” I said. The others agreed, and we left the sheep on the hills. Nothing could stop us from finding that child.
The streets of Bethlehem were mostly empty. Every now and again, we would pass a wandering person, and even people huddled in the streets sleeping. The city was absolutely full to the brim with those who had come for the census. The angel had said the baby would be in a manger. It sounded odd, but we continued searching for the stable with confidence in his words. We had passed two by now and had found nothing but animals.
We were approaching a large inn ahead and noticed it had a stable out back. We walked past the building and approached it. The lanterns we brought from the field gave a soft glow to what lay before us. A man and a woman were sleeping, and a small baby lay swaddled in the manger. The scene was so peaceful, and we just stood there amazed. It was exactly as the angel had said.
A donkey that was tied up noticed our presence and started huffing and stamping his feet. We didn’t want to startle the sleeping parents or the child, so I said, “Excuse me.” At the sound of my voice, the mother and father woke. They were startled but seemed happy to see friendly faces.
“We are shepherds from the nearby hills. A host of angels appeared to us telling us the Savior had been born this day and that we would find him lying in a manger.”
The mother looked at the father. Her eyes were wide in amazement.
“Come in, please. I am Mary, and this is my husband, Joseph.” She leaned forward and touched the manger gently. “And this, this is Jesus.” Her eyes filled with tears as she looked at us watching her son.
We stepped forward and fell to our knees. Silent tears were streaming down our faces as we looked at the little baby come to save the world. So tiny. So helpless. So mighty. The King of Kings had come into the world. The Savior of all mankind was here in this manger, and I was looking at him. An admiration like I had never known flooded me.
We stayed for mere minutes. The holiness of the moment was strong.
“I do not have much to give, but I want you to have this.” I extended my lantern and my shepherd’s scrip containing the next day’s food. The shepherds each gave from what they had, and we turned to leave.
We stood just outside the stable absolutely enamored with what had happened this evening. I took a moment to glance back. I saw Mary and Joseph smiling and talking. The baby stirred, and she picked him up. She nestled him in her arms, and Joseph held them close.
I sighed and turned back around. With each step I took away from that stable, I was equally saddened and elated. Saddened that I was no longer with him but elated that he had finally come! As we walked through the streets on our way back to the fields, we couldn’t help but tell any and everyone who would listen. We even woke up a few sleeping in the streets.
As we approached our flocks on the hills, we were rejoicing and praising God for the great things we had seen and heard. This night would forever change our lives and the lives of all that were to follow.
The shepherds said their goodbyes to me, and as I wrapped my tunic around me, I lay down in the grass next to my sheep. Little Natsal came to lay beside me and with one arm around her I gazed up into the night sky. The stars were brighter tonight and the air more crisp, and as my eyes began to close, I knew deep in my heart that I would never be the same.
The story is loosely based on Luke 2:8-20.
Featured Image by Robert Wiedemann