“Don’t be afraid!” he said.
“I bring you good news that will bring great
joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the
Messiah, the Lord—has been born…”
— Luke 2:10-11
The cold winter rains made shepherding that much more miserable. Open fields afforded little shelter for sheep or shepherds. The sheep crowded next to each other sharing some warmth between them. But the shepherds only shivered, their damp, dirty clothing releasing an odor of the weeks-old sweat. Blending with it was the hanging smell of sheep manure, all mixing together in a medley of stench. There was the fire, but finding a place where one could be close enough to be warmed but not too close to be burned was an art in itself. Then whatever side of the body was not facing the fire felt the chill heightened by wet clothing hanging heavy on their thin frames. Just over yonder was the village of Bethlehem, its lights beckoning to warmer, dryer places. But not for them.
No one wanted to talk in this mess. Not that anyone had anything new to say. Somehow, they talked about the same things, told the same stories, heard the same stale jokes. It was remarkably boring. One night looked like another night like another night like another night.
Why be a shepherd anyway? Musing that question led back to the reality that there weren’t a lot of choices. In this economy a person was fortunate to have any work. And a man did what his father, grandfather, great-grandfather did. “We’re a family of shepherds,” was the rationale heard while growing up. It was expected.
Was there a group more unlikely than this for something
WONDERFUL, INCREDIBLE, UNBELIEVABLE TO HAPPEN?
Being trapped in shepherding was bad enough, but the treatment they were given didn’t help. The religious leaders looked down on them because they didn’t observe the Sabbath, but how could they? What would happen to the sheep? Predators don’t take the day off. Those same religious leaders wanted these sheep for sacrifice. You’d think they’d keep that in mind before turning their noses up at the shepherds.
Admittedly, shepherds were not the best table company. Their hands had ingrained dirt made blacker by the years. Their fingernails were packed with enough grime to raise a small garden. Their manners—like manners mattered on hillsides—were not the thing for polite company. And they smelled. Bad. The sheep didn’t mind but other humans sure did.
Was there a group more unlikely than this for something wonderful, incredible, unbelievable to happen?
But there on that countryside the previously wretched skies blazed with light, the bleating of sheep replaced in a flash by their terrified cries as they scattered to who knows where. The shepherds hardly cared because in that moment, that unforgettable, indescribable moment their eyes were fixed heavenward. Running was impossible with fear freezing their feet to the ground. Falling to their knees was all they could do. They were shaking now, not from the chilly rain but from sheer terror.
The sky boasted not one angel but thousands upon thousands. They sang a song whose melody was too beautiful to be written, words too glorious to record. In the years to come they would try to remember it but found that their little brains were still too overwhelmed to comprehend it. But they remembered the most important words:
“Don’t be afraid! I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize Him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12).
Next, the sky split open, for the vast host of heaven now filled each space and crevasse as Heaven’s army sang: “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased” (vs. 14). The shepherds wanted to sing but it was all too much. Their lips moved but they could only hear themselves croaking.
With instructions to go into the village to find the Savior, they hurriedly charged into the streets hardly knowing where they were going or how they knew they were in the right place. Was it then that they heard a newborn cry? Or did their feet take them unmistakably to the feeding trough that was His bed? However it happened, in the moment they saw, they knew it was Him. What could they do but worship Him? What could they do but let tears trace streaks down their sun–blistered faces?
It hardly mattered that the shepherds had been scorned because on this night they were accepted. Ten thousand empty nights were worth getting to this one supreme night in history. Though unschooled and crude, on this night they were the most privileged people on earth. Succeeding generations would try to picture what happened to them, would speak of them, would yearn to have been in their place.
But wait! He comes now to the most unpromising one who has been pushed to the margins. His song is sounded in the heart that looks toward Him. His coming makes ten thousanddays of emptiness and misery worthwhile to get to the great moment of salvation.
Listen! The moment is yours now. He has come for you.
Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee is Editor–in–Chief and National Literary Secretary.