Thoughts on Christmas

Do you ever wonder what it was like to be a shepherd that night? Sitting out there in a field keeping watch over the sheep entrusted to your care, doing the thing you’ve done every night of your life with no idea that the world is about to change. And not only is the world about to change, you are about to become one of the first people to learn the amazing news. You are about to be one of God’s confidantes. Can you even imagine such a moment?

photo – Raimund Andree

Because I sure can’t, at least not completely, but I love to try. I love to put myself there in that field the night God entered His world, entered our world. Maybe it went a little bit like this.

Overhead stars fill a dark sky and the sheep are down for the night in whatever fold I have available for them. Keeping watch for predators in order to keep my flock safe through the night, I stare out into the night, weaving stories in my mind. And then.

Suddenly the darkness around me is overwhelmed by light, the light of angels and God’s glory making this night as bright as day. My heart beats with the fury of a flock of birds winging into the air all at once. I search for my fellow shepherds, wanting someone else close enough to comfort me. And then.

Shock infused with fear courses through my mind and my muscles as I behold this dazzling, indescribable sight. I’ve heard stories in the Torah of angels appearing to Abraham, to Hagar (Sarah’s maid), to Lot, to Jacob, but to be in the presence of angels myself? How can this be and how can I be anything but afraid? And then.

photo – TheDigitalArtist/Pete Linforth

An angel speaks. First, assuring all of us it’s okay, we don’t need to be afraid; as I take a deep breath hoping to feel less afraid, the angel makes an incredible proclamation — the long-awaited Savior is finally here, born this night in Bethlehem. I feel too many things all at once, trying to understand these words. The savior we have longed for is here. How can this be? And then.

In a manger in Bethlehem we will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths, proclaims the angel. A baby, born in the town not far from where we are. A baby lying in a manger is our savior. How can this be? How can a baby be the Savior for which we have yearned? Surely this is a miracle beyond my understanding. And then.

The angel is suddenly surrounded by an assembly of other angels; it is impossible to count them. Their voices join together in a song of loudest praise: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” My breath catches as for this single moment I feel as if I am in heaven surrounded by these heavenly host and their voices raised in praise. Glorious does not even begin to capture what I experience. Together, they are too brilliant to behold; their radiance makes me squint so that I can try to take it all in. And then.

When the angels depart, there is the loudest silence in their wake as the night settles into its usual quiet darkness. But there is nothing usual about this night now. As the shock of the angels’ presence and proclamation subsides, my fellow shepherds and I barely need to say anything aloud – I mean how can we not go and see this baby the angel just told us was born tonight? We leave our sheep, our feet picking up speed as we race toward the town of Bethlehem. And then.

Just as the angel said, there he is. Just as the angel said, we find the baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and in the love of his mother, Mary, and his father, Joseph. Just as the angel said, we find the baby lying in a manger. Tripping over our words, we tell them what happened – the angels, the proclamation, the celebration and praise, the baby. Their baby. Our savior. And then.

Like the heavenly host, we shepherds move through the town proclaiming this good news and praising God. Like the angel, we are messengers glorifying God as we share the joy of this night. A savior, we announce. Can you believe it? Can you even imagine? There’s a baby and he’s the savior. It’s amazing! And then.

And then, the world, this world, was changed forever. And a group of shepherds got to be witness to it all. Oh, what a glorious night!

photo – Gerd Altmann

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