I pull my reed flute from my scrip, then settle at the gate of the sheepfold, propping my staff against my knees. None of the flock is missing, none in danger–and none will be, as long as Nathaniel and I stand guard. They rustle lazily behind me, bleating now and then in the clear dark night, but otherwise, comfortable and quiet.
Nathaniel is putting away the remains of our evening meal, the quietest he’s been since we supped together. Earlier, he’d snapped a wolf on the head with a well-slung rock and killed it with a single shot. All during the meal, he recounted spotting it as it eyed the flock and sneaking up on it close enough to smell its dusty gray fur. He told of the whirring sound the sling’s sinews made as it sliced the air, and how it felt when the rock flew and hit the sweet spot. He’s young, he wanted his praise. He’s young, I praised him. A good word, a pat on the head. What could it hurt?
In the distance, the lights of Bethlehem flicker. Candles brighten windows, cookfires mark camp sites. The town bulges with people who have traveled for days to register for the census the Roman, Augustus, has ordered. Too many travelers, too few rooms. Tents have been pitched on every available patch of land and surround every pool of water.
Nathaniel joins me at the gate to the fold, and I begin a soft tune on the flute before he can start talking again. Quiet is what we need now, we and the sheep. Quiet and rest. He leans back and looks heavenward. Stars too numerous to fathom pinprick the sky.
In an instant, one of those stars fell from the sky and landed before us. The whole countryside around us shimmers with vivid light, soft and bright and purer than the sun. Nathaniel gasps and twists toward it. My pipe and staff fall as I half-rise to meet it, but my legs tremble and threaten to fold beneath me. I fall to my knees.
What is it? What is happening?
How can I describe this? The air snaps and crackles with joy and excitement and anticipation. Like Nathaniel must’ve felt when stalking the wolf and killing it with one shot, only better, more victorious. Like I felt when I was waiting for the first cries of my newborn son, then finally hearing his wails pierce the heavens. Only the feeling is more intense. Far, far more intense.
This must be what Moses felt when the voice came to him from the burning bush.
An angel speaks from the midst of the light. “Do not be afraid,” he says. “Behold, I bring you tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, and this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
My mind couldn’t wrap itself around the words. A Savior? The Messiah? The Messiah has come? How long we have waited for Him! He has come?
Before I could find my tongue to ask, the world inflames with the light of thousands of angels. Thousands upon thousands.
“Glory to God in the highest!” they exclaim. The brilliant night sky sings with angels’ voices. “On earth, peace–goodwill toward men!”
My eyes fill with tears, my heart with wonderment. The Messiah has come! Oh, what a night! What a holy night, when Christ is born!
(Similar post: Being Mary, December 2011)