Shepherds aren’t who we associate with royalty. Lowly, smelly, and rough around the edges. Hardly the ones you want to greet the King. But that’s exactly who the angels spoke to first about the newborn Messiah.
“Little one! Where are you?” It was the third time that night the little fluff of wool had run off. Why were animals not blessed with more sense? Then again if they had more sense, me, my father, and grandfather would all be out of a job. And where would the herds be without their shepherds?
The faint sound of bleating breaks the still night air. Pushing into a thicket, I find her.
“There you are, naughty little girl. What have I told you about wandering away from me?”
Brushing the leaves from behind her ears, I sling her up across my shoulders. Her warm belly is full with hay and she happily licks the back of my ear as we start up the hill to the rest of the flock. Far below, the sleepy town of Bethlehem rests beneath a heavy blanket of stars. Handfuls and handfuls of them, twinkling far up in the sky like candles on the Sabbath. What a beautiful night the Creator has given us to shepherd beneath!
Father is waiting for me. “Did you find her?”
“She was tangled again. Looking for berries like last night.” Patting her soft head, I set the little beast down on the cool grass and she skips back to her mother. “Tomorrow I’ll make her a bell. That way I can catch her leaving.”
“A good stretch of the legs, Son.”
“I never notice you stretching your legs, Father.”
Father smiles, leaning heavily against his staff. “That’s because I have you to do it for me.”
Suddenly, all sound is hushed. The cool wind ceases and the chirping of crickets, rustling of birds, and bahing of sheep are silenced. The air itself seems to be standing still. Then, like mighty water rushing from a well, a roar rips the night sky in two to reveal a light brighter than the sun. The form of a man in glowing robes stands within it.
Throwing my hands over my eyes, I fall to my knees, scraping them against the hard earth. Beside me, I hear Father doing the same.
A voice like a cracking tree bellows in my ears. “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
The words seep into my heart, filling me with a warmth that I’ve never known.
A rising tide of voices join in with the first as the edges of the sky roll back like a scroll. A multitude of shining forms spread behind the first host. The light sears my eyes, and my bones tremble. More and more voices rise until the earth shakes with their magnitude.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.”
Like a flash of lightning, they are gone. The sky returns to darkness and the stars take their rightful place as the sheep turn their gazes back to the grass at their feet. Tears prick my eyes, the warmth of moments before filling my chest until it feels ready to burst.
Father grabs my hand, tears streaming down his cheeks as a smile breaks his leathery face. He throws his arms around my neck and pulls me close, the way he did when I sat upon his knee as a child. His heart is beating as fast as my own. “Do you believe the miracle we have witnessed?”
I jump to my feet and help him stand. “Let’s go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”
Laughing like children we fly down the hill and through the quiet, dusty streets of Bethlehem. Did no one else witness the miracle bursting in the sky? Did the heavenly choir not shake them from their slumber?
Bursting down a side street filled with starlight, we come upon an inn. Every window is dark except for a small one in a side building. Warm light glows from the open door.
Turning to father, I can’t hide my confusion. “Is that not where the animals are kept?”
Father glances back down the street. “Perhaps we took a wrong turn.”
The star overhead twinkles, reaching its long pale rays down to cover the small room. Peace once again floods my heart. “I think this is where we’re meant to be.”
Cows and goats raise their heads as we step inside. A startled man and woman look up, the woman drawing a swaddled baby closer to her breast.
“We have come to see the One the angels have proclaimed to us,” I say.
The babe’s mother smiles and motions us forward. Father and I step closer, but not too close lest our dirty clothes and stained fingers offend them. The babe yawns and nuzzles closer to His mother as the man gently grasps a tiny finger between his larger, calloused ones.
Father slips his arm around my shoulders, pulling me close as more tears stream down my face. The new family eagerly listens to the wondrous story of the angels and the guiding star, the mother smiling sweetly as she places a soft kiss on her son’s downy head.
“Wondrous indeed,” she agrees.
“Come.” Father pulls me to my feet, but my eyes refuse to leave the sight of the sleeping babe that promises to be our Savior. “Come, my son. We have much to do this night.”
My chest swells with thoughts and emotions I cannot fathom. “Yes. Everyone must know about the miracle that has been given to the world.”