by David Albert
An amazing thing happened tonight. I was on watch in the dark part of the night, listening and looking for signs of trouble with my sheep. I remember being startled by a voice coming from the center of a very, very bright light that appeared not far from us. The words “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy …“ still ring in my ear and fill my mind. Even though I was awake I still had to adjust to the speed and strength of the sudden appearance of the angel and to grasp that the words in my ears were real, not part of a dream. When the single angel finished, the whole sky seemed to open with light coming from everywhere, and more angels than I could count appeared, all singing more forcefully and beautifully than I can describe. Their words, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men to whom his favor rests“ filled the air with excitement and energy. I and those near me were motionless, seemingly frozen in time. The sheep remained calm; we shepherds were the ones afraid.
It ended as fast as it began and the night became an eerie quiet again. I quickly looked around and several of my fellow shepherds were also staring into the heavens where the angels were last seen and seemed to be as surprised as I by the quickness, brilliance, and power in what we saw and heard. We quickly concluded that we needed to tell those in Bethlehem what had just happened and to see the child of which the angels spoke. Some stayed behind to watch the sheep. I and the others walked to Bethlehem as fast as we could, quickly telling everyone we met what had happened. Those we encountered were amazed at what we described. None mentioned that they had seen the light of the angels or heard their words or noticed anything unusual in the heavens, a point I noted then but did not take time to further consider.
We found the babe in the manger and the baby’s mother at its side. Those in the stable also marveled at what we told them but did not mention seeing the angels or hearing their singing. The baby’s mother wore a memorable, gentle smile. She acknowledged with a nod what we said and appeared to add what we said about our angelic encounter to all that was happening in the stable.
Returning, in the dark of night, to the pasture where my sheep are resting, I began to think about the events of this night. With each step of the long walk back, my mind raced between memories of the events, and ideas about what this could mean. I am amazed by the events that happened, and amazed that I was a part of them – and I know that my story is but a small part of a bigger story that eludes my ability to grasp.
Before returning to our flocks, I began to think about several aspects of our experiences this night, and I am still mulling over them. First, from our pasture vantage point I can see the town of Bethlehem and a little further away, Jerusalem. Did others, besides us mere shepherds, see or hear the amazing and majestic angel visitation? Do the priests and rabbis that keep our heritage and knowledge alive understand all these events? Could this be part of Isaiah’s prophecy about our king? I was surprised when the angels appeared, but not afraid – maybe it was because, as in the 23rd Psalm, I had my shepherds crook with me to give a feeling of protection.
Regardless of what others may have seen or heard, I am thankful beyond description or expression, for being a part of this move of heaven. I know I will never be the same because, for a moment, I looked into the heavens and heard heavenly sounds unlike anything on earth and caught just a glimpse of the majesty of the God-