The silence of the night was broken by the bleating of new lambs being born. It started out in the distance. One or two at first. The birthing of hundreds of new lambs was beginning. It was going to be a long night. Everyone knew it.
Nothing else seemed out of the ordinary. This was the biggest birthing season of the year. Everyone had to be alert and watchful as the ewes went into labor. These new lambs would serve as the sacrifices for the upcoming Passover feast. It really was an odd event. New life, born only to die. It was one of the oddities of the religion of Elohim. Even to speak the name of God was forbidden because it was so revered.
The full moon was just beginning to reach that point in the night’s sky where it appeared larger than was even possible. It was so close you could reach out and touch it on its journey through the sky. Keeping the sheep out without a lighted moon could prove hazardous to both sheep and shepherd. The light of the moon made the long nights more bearable. It kept the thieves and beasts at bay.
Except for the strange feeling that hung in the air, this was a night like every other . All of the shepherds felt it, but could not explain what it was or where it was coming from. The talk around the various fields had been of the strange sight in the heavens. One of the stars appeared to shine and sparkle just a little bit brighter than all of the others. There were even hushed comments regarding the strange way it seemed to hang over the town of Bethlehem. This was quickly dismissed as ridiculous.
Even the older men were saying that never in their lives had they seen such a sight.
“This is an omen!” exclaimed Elias after finishing his rounds around the flocks. Elias was the newest and youngest member of the shepherds. He did not know it, but the new guy was always made to make double the rounds until he figured out what was going on. The record was three fortnights. Elias had not been out in the fields very long but, he was confident without being arrogant and many of the older men liked him. Even if they weren’t going to tell him as much.
“Take hold of your senses,” said Caleb. “Don’t you know that if this was a sign people would be talking about it? It’s nothing to worry yourself about.” Caleb has been a shepherd for his family long enough to know when to cut a line of thought short. “Did you finish the rounds?”
Elias, ignoring the rebuke, still found himself thinking, “You’ll see. There is more to this than meets the eye!”
The thought had no sooner left his mind than an explosion of light, light like the sun at midday caused everything that had eyes to fall to the floor in absolute terror. The scramble had begun. Shepherds began grabbing cloaks, rods and staffs. The sheep were bumping into each other, some had not made it back to their feet and were being trampled by the other startled sheep. If they didn’t calm the flocks down they would be roaming the country side for hours looking for lost sheep. They all knew that would only mean more work with no more pay.
Caleb looked around, found his belongings and gathered his bearings. He began looking around. The other under-shepherds were quickly heading to their assigned areas. Caleb was looking for Elias.
“I like that boy, but sometimes…,” he muttered under his breath.
Caleb finally caught sight of him. “Elias. Elias! Go to the south field. Make sure that none of the ewes have wandered. If they are startled while they are in labor we are going to lose more than the ewes and lambs! This will be the end of us if we don’t get this under control.”
Caleb was the most respected shepherd in the company. When he spoke you obeyed. What no one knew at the time was that Caleb was scared beyond words. He had never experienced anything like that explosion in his life. He would tell the others, but he did believe that star was a sign…but for what. He did not want to find out.
Caleb gathered his thoughts and decided to worry about the oddly shaped clouds forming in the sky to the east. They were rolling in like a fast moving thunder storm. the clouds when up as far as the eye could see. They were voluminous, like cotton after its been picked. The lightning was made of odd colors. Colors that were not natural and only added to the disturbing sight. What really made the sight unnerving was that there was no sound. Nothing at all. It was as if all the sound had been sucked out of the world. Even the sound of new lambs and startled flocks had become nothing more than a whisper.
Elias walked up behind Caleb.
“Caleb.” He did move. Frozen in place like a statue.
Caleb jumped this time at the sound of his name. Elias new better than to laugh at the senior shepherd. He was curious at what had occupied the senior herdsman’s mind.
“I just checked the south field. Everything looks alright. A couple of the the ewes were flustered, but it seems to have passed.” Elias waited another moment before asking the question stuck in his head.
“Caleb, What was that explosion?”
“I don’t know, Elias. But, I think you may have been right. That star is an omen. I just don’t think I want to know for what.” They had both turned to the little town in the distance. The star really seemed to be hovering over it.
Bethlehem was abuzz with activity. The great and wise Roman emperor had called for a census and people from all over the world were coming in. Apparently you had to go to the home of your ancestors. If you wanted to count people, just count them where they are. Why make them move? It just didn’t make any sense.
The shadows of men, women and children moving around in the buildings danced like black ghosts against the walls made of earth and wood. There was something eerie about the whole seen.
Caleb felt a hand grabbing his shoulder, shaking him back from his silent reflection. It was Elias. As Caleb turned, he felt Elias’ hand fall from where it had been. Caleb turned just in time to see what looked like a hole in the sky starting so small it looked like another star in the sky. The edges where sharp, distinct and unmistakable. The problem was it kept growing larger. Light shone through as bright as the sun, but it didn’t hurt to look directly at it. Both men were mesmerized by the sight.
There was something moving in side the hole in the sky. It was moving toward them. As it approached it became easier to see that these things were men. Or at least they appeared like men. But, there was something different about the way they looked. They were tall and slender. Each had a white robe that shined white like a piece a metal the blacksmiths pound into a variety of tools after it had been heated. It was hard to see their faces, but their words were unmistakable.
Caleb and Elias took in the sight. It was a memory forever etched in their minds. Both men had the same thought running through their minds, but neither spoke them out loud, “We are going to die.”
To their surprise, seconds turned to minutes and still they stood beholding the heavenly sight. After what seemed like days a sound like a rolling surf crashing on the beach began.
At first as a whisper, barely audible, even pleasant to listen to. It continued to grow finally reaching its crescendo when one of the angelic figures proclaimed in a voice that sounded like a thousand roaring lions, “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 the 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.”
“Was this thing crazy!” thought Elias as he jumped to the ground. “What does he mean fear not?! I don’t think I could be any more afraid than I am right now.”
It took several moments for the words to be processed and the message understood.
The omen. The various words formed into thought and thought to clarity. The omen that Elias had believed was marked by the star in the sky was a sign. It was the sign of the arrival of the heir to the throne of the great King. Elias remembered the stories he had heard. His father had told them to him since he was old enough understand. His father’s father, and his father before that had all believed that this One would come.
“What did they call him?” Elias tried to remember.
Something was wrong. This was not the way he had heard the stories. This didn’t make any sense. Why would the king be born in Bethlehem? Why would this marvelous sight be seen by lowly shepherd who were tending sheep during birthing season? Elias remembered being so enraptured by the stories of The Great King to Come.
This was all wrong. This was not the way it was supposed to happen. And yet, here they were, simple and humble shepherds hearing this great news. Elias’s mind was racing. He could not wrap his mind around what he was seeing and what he had heard.
As he was mulling over what was happening in front of him, something began to stir within him. It was confirmation of what he had sensed earlier in the night. This was the beginning of something new, and he was going to be a part of it.
As soon as he had finished the thought all of the figures before him exclaimed at once, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
Both hearts lept at once. The both needed no convincing. The exulted song they had just heard was the greatest news they had ever heard.
In the blink of eye it was over. The sky was as dark and cold as before. Had they imagined the whole thing?
The only sight, the moon as it continued to rise. The only sound the shuffling of feet by thousands of sheep.
They looked around. Then at each other. The feelings of awkwardness and trepidation had lifted. The negative thoughts regarding the sign in the sky has shifted to thoughts of hope and peace. The angels message had brought comfort to their hearts. The question now was, “What will we do?”
As men who had trained to care and tend the flocks they turned toward Bethlehem and marched toward the star. The were determined to see the great sight.
They did what came instinctually. They were shepherds. Shepherds in search of a lamb.
- Advent Series 2012, Pt. 1 | Seeing Again For The First Time (thereformedwesleyan.com)
- Advent Series 2012, Pt. 2 | Who Doesn’t Like Baby Jesus? (thereformedwesleyan.com)
- Advent Series 2012, Pt. 3 | What The Incarnation Means For Me (thereformedwesleyan.com)
- Advent Series 2012, Pt. 4 | Mary: The Mother of God (thereformedwesleyan.com)
- Advent Series 2012, Pt. 5 | Who’s your Daddy? (thereformedwesleyan.com)