Part four of an advent series…
Was there anything different about that day, that would have given them cause to think the evening would bring such amazing events? The shepherds must have started that day off like any other. Must have followed their flocks, chased away potential predators, nudged straying lambs back into place like they did every other day. Perhaps that evening, they sat down around the fire to cook their evening meal. Talked of home, life, nothing special in particular. The sun begin to set, they sat and eased their cold and weary hands by fire’s warm glow, quietly gazed at the horizon. The sheep settled, folding down one by one in the gathering dusk.
The dark fell, closed in around them. One by one, pinprick starts winked their way into the darkening sky. Embers rose from the fire, danced up into the night, waning and expiring the higher they rose. A stillness surrounded these shepherds, velvet like the night sky, a soft and heavy mantle of growing stillness.
And then, on the horizon, a light.
Like no other light the shepherds had seen, these men who knew only the sun, the moon, the evening fire and the soft glow of an oil lamp. This light was otherworldly, a piercing glow on the horizon that spread outward from a white-gold sunburst, stretching across the blue-black vault of the heavens and ripping the night sky in twain…like cloth rent in two. Out of the tear poured forth the most glorious celebration of light, so awe-inspiring that at first the shepherds wondered if they could see at all. Was this real? What was happening?
Men stood, awestruck and terrified. Nothing like this existed in their sense of the possible, nothing this bright, nothing this sudden. What disaster, what act of Yahweh himself could this blinding light signify? They trembled, fell to their knees. Their eyes were locked on the sky, the terrible and beautiful and overwhelming light that poured forth, intensifying with each passing moment until the felt that they could bear it no more.
Then…suddenly there before them stood the most glorious being. An angle, a creature more real and terrifying, more beautiful and breathtaking than any they had ever imagined. They heard…not with just their ears but with their whole being as well, the angle speak. They heard it with their ears, with their hearts, they heard the voice around them and within them and from the depths of the earth itself. “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
These words echoed around them, through them, bouncing like peals of thunder from mountain range to mountain range. And before they faded, their echoes were joined by a chorus of voices…so heavenly and beautiful that the shepherds felt their hearts were breaking, felt they could inhale and keep inhaling and never be full, felt they could take no more and yet could not bear the thought of the sound ever stopping. A chorus of angles, praising God. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
And then, after who knows how long, they found themselves there. Standing together, faces raised to heaven, the dark sky restored above them. All was quiet. The velvet night wrapped around them once again.
What was left, then, but to pack their meager belongings, gather their sheep, turn towards Bethlehem. What thoughts went through their minds, as they made their way? Did they speak among themselves of what they had just seen, just heard? Could they put it into words? In their hearts, they must have felt so awake on that journey. The veil had been lifted, for a moment a glory had been reveled that they could only previously have imagined.
This was real. This was true. The messiah, God’s son, come at last! Their eyes were opened, their minds awake. Each step took them closer…
Prepare the way for the Lord! Make straight the path. Allow this glory to touch you for a moment and then fold it up, tuck it close to your heart. Take the promise of it down the road with you, the road that leads to Bethlehem.