It was a cold night on the hillside, late into the fourth watch of the night, a couple of hours just before dawn. “It is always the coldest and darkest in the predawn hours” thought Amir. Amir and his young wife Celia, sat huddled together. Celia was dozing. A few feet away stood his cousins, Zack and his brother Thomas. It had been a long couple of days and nights as ewe’s were giving birth; a new crop of lambs for next year’s Passover.
Amir played softly on his reed flute, gazing down on the small village of Bethlehem. The Passover was in a week. He always looked forward to this particular festival. He loved the stories of how God had freed Israel from slavery of the Egyptians. Everything was on time. There was a full moon tonight and the barley was ripe. Spring had sprung. The sheep they were herding had no idea their looming fate. Each family would choose a lamb from the herd born last year, finding one that was not blemished. As a family they would leave early in the morning of the day of Passover and travel about a half day’s journey north to the Temple in Jerusalem where the priests would make the sacrifice. Before the end of the day they would roast and eat the lamb in celebration.
Amir thought back to what his father had told him as a young boy, just two years shy of becoming a man before elders. It was his first trip with his father taking the sheep into the hills for summer pasture. They were walking slowly through a valley up to higher pastures and his father turned to him and asked: “Son, do you know what your name stands for?”
“I chose Amir because the name means might and strength. That is what I want you to grow up to be. I pray that God will give you mighty wisdom and a strong character.”
“Well Father, I am improving in my sling aim. At ten paces I can hit a small stump almost every time.”
“Amir, that is great. Practice helps one acquire that skill. You come from a long tradition of shepherds. Abel, Rachael and David were all keepers of sheep too.”
“I know Father. I am going to be big and brave just like David when I grow up Father! I want to be like David who killed a giant with a stone. He must have had great skill in aiming to hit such a small target as Goliath’s forehead!”
“True but …”
“I have to get bigger I guess cause David had to be further than twenty paces of he would have been killed by a swing of the giant’s spear. It is as big as a weaver’s beam!”
“It is important to understand that the God of Israel was walking with David that day. He is the one that gave David the strength and deadly aim.”
“When I get to be big like you Father, I am going to go fight the Romans! I hate them. I …”
“Amir! That is dangerous talk even for a youngster like you. Stop!”
“But don’t you see? It wrong for the soldiers to go around and force us to give them money. They take our sheep. Neb has told me what his father told him about what they did to his sister. It’s wrong…”
“Someday Son. God will make it right. He promises us through the prophets of old.”
“Then Father, how come we have not seen or heard from God like in the old days?”
“I do not know Son … I just do not know. He knows and hears…”
That memory was only fifteen years old but it seems like an eternity. Celia stirred beside him. Amir put his arm around her and pulled her close. He was troubled by the fact that God had seemed to have abandoned them for these last four hundred some years. His cousin Abe and he had been talking in whispers with lowered heads at the well yesterday as they watered their flock, about the cursed Romans who ruled their lives. Hated even more was the Alpheus family who were traitors to the Jews as tax collectors for the Romans. They had talked about someday that God would fulfill His promise of providing a Messiah who would set them free. This Man would be a warrior king. They had been lucky. Out of the corner of Abe’s eye he had seen the pair of soldiers approaching. It was deadly business to one’s health talking about an insurrection.
Amir looked around at the sheep laying around them. At least they were safe to talk about! Suddenly a blazing light shone around them, brighter than the noonday sun. The whole country side could be seen clear as day. Celia woke with a start and in terror flung her arms around Amir. “What is that Amir.”
Suddenly an angel appeared standing in front of them. All thoughts of bravery evaporated. Both of them instinctively pulled their hoods over their heads, hiding their faces. Amir could feel Celia shaking violently against him. “This is the end. We are going to die. God is striking us down” thought Amir in panic.
“Don’t be afraid! No need to hide your faces. You are safe” said the angel. “I’m here to announce a great and joyful event. This message is meant for everybody, worldwide. You are the first to know.”
“We are just poor shepherds my lord. All that talk yesterday … me and Abe just want to be free.”
The angel nodded then continued. “God has sent me to you Amir, to you Celia, to you Zack and to you Thomas. You four have been chosen as messengers. Now get on your feet and pay attention! Listen up. Here is my message from the God of Israel. A Savior has just been born in David’s town, the very town where you live. He the Savior who is Messiah and Master.”
Amir looked up. A Savior? The angel motioned for them to get to their feet. “Come on Celia, get up! Zack and Thomas! Get up!”
The angle continued: “This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”
The four shepherds looked at each other and then back to the angel. At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing repeated choruses of God’s praises:
“Glory to God in the heavenly heights, Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.”
Just as suddenly as they appeared, the angelic choir and the angel in front of them, withdrew into heaven. Darkness surrounded them once again. The silence was deafening. Zack was the first to break the silence: “Amazing! Look around. The sheep have not moved a muscle. They did not run off!”
Looking at the sheep and then at the village below, the sheepherders talked it over.
“I think we need to do as the angel instructed” said Amir as he picked up his staff and slung his pack over his shoulder.
“Well who is going to watch the sheep” asked Thomas. “I certainly am not going to stay behind and miss this!”
“Guys! The sheep will be fine for a few hours!”
Thomas snickered. “Yeah right Celia. And are you going to pay for the sheep lost to some prowling wolf while we are out sightseeing?”
“I think that my wife might be right. I mean, that was an angel of the Lord that was just here and he did give us some specific instructions.”
“Zack, you are the oldest here, what do you think?”
Zack had stooped down and was sitting on his haunches staring at the village below them. Silence hung in the air. The three others began to get fidgety. Finally he said: “I think you are right Amir. We need to make haste and carry out the instructions of the Lord’s angel. However, we also need to do what is right and responsible by our families. We are taking the sheep back to the corral and then go look for this child.”
A few hours later, with the sheep safely in the corral, they set off searching the village to themselves what God revealed to them. Finally, they found Mary and Joseph in a hovel being used as a stable, and the baby lying in the manger, wrapped in a blanket, just like the angel said.
“Seeing is believing” whispered Thomas as they crowded around the baby and His parents. They told them all that the angels had told them. Mary was puzzled at the meaning of this but kept quiet and pondered over what they said in her heart.
Next, they told everyone they met in the village as well as strangers who were passing through or selling wares, what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed yet wondering at the meaning of this event. Most wondered secretly what God would even speak to lowly shepherds about His Messiah. Why not the priests. It did not make sense.
And the shepherds? They went back to their sheep. But they now were heard on the hillside glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.