Part 1: One Peaceful Night
If I’m not mistaken I think the carol goes like this:
Angels we have heard on high, Sweetly singing ‘or the plains.
But to be honest… that’s not how I remember it. That night when I skies opened and angels came down to sing. Not at all how I remember it. But who are you going to trust? A hippy song writer from the nineteenth century? Or me. A shepherd. Who was actually there that night.
It’s been a few years since that night. About 30 some years, in fact. And now, I’m an old man for my era. So what else have I to do but share a story with good folks like you around this campfire. I’ll let the younger shepherds take care of the evening watch.
… You know, I was no more than a boy myself when I first meet the Christ child. He was such a squirmy little thing wiggling about in his swaddling clothes.
… But, I suppose I should start the story from the beginning, shouldn’t I? It all began right here in the field we are sitting in right now… I liked to bring the sheep here. The grass is plentiful and there aren’t many caves or ravines in which my sheep could wonder into and find themselves in trouble. Sheep are such stupid and curious little things! If there is trouble to find, well… they will certainly find it.
As night was falling, the other shepherds and I were taking shifts keeping an eye on the sheep in case a wolf snuck up on them looking for a late night snake. But, I was busy gazing up at the stars.
We have a great view of the night sky from right here in this field. Just miles of wide-open navy in every direction. I had been noticing a star off in the distance for the past few nights that seemed to be growing brighter and brighter. But that night, I remember, the star had become a noticeable fixture in the sky. It seemed to have a gravity to it, even when I tried to turn away… I just felt myself drawn back in… While I studied the star that night… it sort of rushed towards me! It looked like it was falling out of the sky right towards me!
But the star stopped just above the green grass where we had made out camp. Then the edges of the light started to pull into itself and take shape. Slowly the silhouette of a man appeared. The other shepherds had certainly noticed, and they were gathering around me and staring into this… this fierce star-y light man thing.
One of the shepherds behind me cried, “It’s a ghost!” and ran to cower behind a near-by tree.
And, another shepherd raise his staff in front of him like we would if a wolf or a lion threatened our sheep. He was in a fighting stance!
The shepherd that was closest to me dropped his staff and simply stood shaking in his sandals.
We were, beyond terrified. This was beyond anything that any of us had ever seen…
But as the second ticks by, the brightness of the light began to tame… and what was the silhouette of a man, became… an actual man. A bright man… He stepped down out of the sky and came towards us. I looked into his face, which seemed ancient. And he spoke words that began to soften my heart.
He said, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”
I heard the breath return to the shepherd at my side. So I slowly lowered my staff.
The bright man, look at each of us individually as if urging our ears to hear and our hearts to trust. And he said, “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.”
Can it be? The Messiah! This is what the prophets foretold! This is what my people have been waiting for since the time of Isaiah!
I looked around at my follow shepherds. They looked as stunned as I. But I knew from somewhere deep inside that these were the truest words that I could ever hear. Our Savior has come for us!
Then another bright light in the sky drew our attention.
We watched other stars fall from their navy bed and come straight at us.
They gathered around the bright man, and their light pulled inward just as his had, and they became a host of heavenly beings. And they all began to sings.
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
They sang these words over in over in the more beautiful and foreign tone that I had ever heard! Over and over they sang out, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” We drew closer to the host, and joined them!
We sang on through the dark hours of the night! But their voices began to fade, their forms began to glow brighter and brighter. And their light gathered into one, and it rose in the sky and settled off in the distance above the City of David: Bethlehem.
We all looked at each other with equally stunned faces. And then we laughed and smiled! And I cried out, “Glory to God! Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing for ourselves! For the Lord has told us great news!”
And we wasted no time! We broke camp in a flash, we rounded up our sheep and we lead them off to Bethlehem. There was a Savior to meet!
Part 2: At the Feet of the Manger
I myself had never put much stock into the words of priests or their prophets. What was to come was going to come. Be that as it may. That was my life motto, my philosophy. Until that night, years ago, when our God saw fit to make me a witness and a part of God’s grand plan!
It stills boggles my mind why God would appear to a faithless, sinner like me. Who knows? But you know what I think about it- God has a heart for the sinners and the broken of the world… Always has.
But, like I was telling you before. The Shepherds broke camp as quick as we could and took off for Bethlehem, the City of David.
But the closer we got to the city of David the more nervous I became. The immediate peace and excitement of hearing the news for the angels, was starting to wear off. And questions were being brought to mind.
I looked around at the other shepherd’s faces, and I could see that they were beginning to question “why”, and “how”, and the “what are we to do in this situation?” just as I was…
But surely the angels knew whom they were announcing this miracle to. There must be a reason…
Shepherds have always had such a bad reputation. We live off the land. We smell of dirt, and sheep, and sweat from a long days in the sun. Many shepherd are notorious vagrants. Moving from one employer to the next. Some shepherds are thieves and bullies. I’ve walked through towns before where fathers have pulled their daughters close when I’ve walked by. Shop keeps turn away and refuse my business. We are a notoriously seedy and unpredictable bunch! Yet we are being called to enter the city, and be the first to worship the Savior of mankind.
Now, I don’t know what Our Lord is up to here. We are to find a baby in a manger. Why is the king of eternity being placed in a manger? Why are shepherd being called to his side?
There is nothing regal, dignified, or grand about any of this! And shouldn’t there be?
Yet, as I look in the sky… I see the bright like of the heavenly hosts hovering above the city of David. So, no matter my questions… I can tell that Our Lord is up to something here. Something big!
As we passed through the entry way of the city gates… we began to wind our way through the city streets, all while trying to look straight up and see where and what house the star lined up with. Until we came to a spacious house located near the edge of town with a hill right behind it. I could tell that it had been transformed into an inn because of all the people milling around and all the tents that had been set up in the courtyard.
I went up and called out for the keeper of the house. And out rushed a frazzled looking woman from the kitchens.
I asked her if there was a new born baby here, because I’d like to visit the family.
She looked at me really irritated like and told me all about, how just that morning, and scared young husband had woken her from her sleep saying that the baby was on his way and they needed a mid-wife! He was screaming about getting hot water and linens. I let her vent as we walked.
She led us out back and pointed to a ramshackle stable carved into the side of the hill in her back yard. I looked at the other shepherds thinking this can’t be it! A dirty stable like that, the house of our Messiah?
We thanked her and went closer to investigate.
I ducked under the beam at the entry way and saw a tired looking young girl gazing at a squirming bundle of linens in the feed manger. I peered around at the scene in front of me and there were donkeys, horses, cows, sheep… it was a full stable. You could tell that all the Inn’s visitors had parked their animals back here.
Her husband stepped towards us with a knowing look and welcomed us in. He introduced himself as Joseph, and his wife Mary… and their newborn son Jesus.
Mary looked up at us and said, “So, what’s your story?”
We told them all about how the stars in the sky become angels and how they told us of the Messiah’s birth… So we came as quickly as we could.
She beckoned us to come forward and look at the child.
So there we were, standing above a manger looking down at a tiny newborn baby with cheeks that were pink for crying. We stayed that way for a long time, just taking in the wonder of the moment. A Messiah… God made flesh… looking up at us from a manger. The fact that we were all weary from travel and the events of the day… The fact that we smelled like sheep and were cramped together in a dilapidated old stable… The fact that I was a humble, poor, sinner… did not matter. Because all were welcome at the feet of Jesus. In front of me was the beginning of God’s greatest plan.
Wow! A baby, not even conscious of himself, yet already he was already turning this world on its head.
Part 3: The Great Shepherd
I’ve been keeping an ear to the ground all these years… I knew that one day that baby boy would grow up and make himself known as the Messiah… So, I’ve kept an ear to the ground. Awaiting that day.
And you know what I’ve been hearing. Some thirty plus years latter. He became a shepherd! Oh, not like me… he has far more important things to do than sit in a field… but he became The Good Shepherd.
I caught some of his teachings during his short but profound life. One day, summers ago, I sat on a hillside and I listened to that boy… now a man, say to us:
…I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand… sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because he does not care for the sheep. But, I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep…
And he was right, you know. I – the hired hand, have run from many wolves… Run from the darkness, dangers and the brokenness in this world.
But that baby boy, that I so clearly remember laying in that manger bed, grew into the Savior of this world. He did not run when the wolves came to his door. He did not run when they took him, imprisoned him, mocked him and torn at his flesh… He did not run, when the wolves hung him on a tree.
That infant child, born in a stable… born of parents so small and humble… loved his sheep so much that he did not run when the wolves came to extinguish his great light.
But have you heard!? There was no tomb deep enough, no darkness black enough to overcome The Great Shepherd! He rose from the den of the wolves. His body still bearing the scars and he rose into the sky. To become a light so bright. A beacon so clear. To become an invitation heard loud and wide… that our Salvation awaits!
His star shines tonight! The Lord of Lord, the Prince of Peace, the infant child that grew to become a man and the Messiah for all the world. That is what we now celebrate. The birth of God’s great plan.
Let us raise our voices together tonight!
For the Lord has come to make his blessings flow!