It began as an evening not unlike any other. The sky had turned crimson red as the sun descended into the distant horizon. In the valley below, oil lamps flickered in the windows of Bethlehem as families began their evening rituals.
The sheep were bedded down in the fold, which we had hewn out of rocks and topped with brush. We each had a shift throughout the night to keep watch over the flock. My shift was the first watch of the night.
The campfire was now a shrunken mound of red embers. The others had unpacked their bed rolls and settled in for the night. I had wedged myself across the opening of the fold where, as watchman, I could easily spot any predator that might try to invade the enclosure.
As I stared into the night sky saturated with stars, I thought about David, a shepherd like me, possibly sitting in this same place and gazing up at the same stars. I thought about the Psalms he composed as he kept watch over his sheep: “The Lord is my Shepherd. ...”
As I recalled the Psalms of the shepherd king, my eye suddenly caught something unusual — a glow of light in the distance. At first I did not give it much thought — maybe someone from the village bringing news.
But the light grew brighter as it inched closer to our camp. Fearing the worst, I jumped to my feet, grabbing my staff at the same time. My heart was now racing; I yelled to awaken the others, unsure of the threat that was approaching.
I could see the outline of a man, but a bright light encircled him, making it impossible to discern anything other than his face. As he neared the edge of our camp, we all stood frozen, terrified at what we were seeing. Then he spoke in a clear voice, “Do not be afraid.”
I raised my staff, ready to strike if he got within range.
He spoke again: “Do not be afraid, for I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”
The sheep were now milling about in the fold, sensing the danger from an unfamiliar voice.
He walked farther into our camp, speaking in a reassuring voice: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you.”
We could hardly believe what we were hearing — a Savior? Why would this stranger be telling us this news? We are just shepherds.
“He is the Messiah, the Lord.”
The Messiah, the promised deliverer of Israel? Born in Bethlehem? Could it be? No, surely not? We stood speechless, trying to comprehend what we were hearing.
Then the stranger invited us to go see for ourselves: “You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
As we stood staring at this messenger, others emerged out of the darkness, completely encircling our camp. I looked heavenward; the night sky was now aglow with hundreds of these beings. Then without any prompting, they began singing:
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men
on whom his favor rests.”
We stood for a long time, awestruck by the majestic sights and sounds.
Then just as discretely as they had come, the chorus of messengers slipped into the night sky, their voices fading into the stillness. For several moments we stood in silence, trying to decide if what we had seen was real. We finally looked at each other, not uttering a word; we knew that we had to go into the village to see for ourselves if what we were told was true.
One in our group remained behind to watch the sheep. I and the others, however, hurried down the hillside and into the night. As we arrived inside the village, all was still. Only an occasional lamp flickered faintly in the night as we walked by opened windows.
But then in the distance, near the edge of the village, we could see a lantern glowing near the opening to a stable. As we approached, I called out to a young man standing near the entrance. A woman was lying nearby, asleep on a makeshift bed of straw. A camel and a donkey stood as sentries.
Then we saw the manger, and I asked the young father if we could look inside. He nodded approvingly.
There in the manger, just as we had been told, a newborn baby slept.
Now I knew for certain: The nighttime visitor was an angel, and the lights in the sky were an angelic chorus sent by God to herald the arrival of the Messiah.
We had come on faith to see if the angelic message was true. We left as the first witnesses to God’s miraculous re-entry into this world. Indeed, the Lord had come.
As the angel invited us to see for ourselves, so, too, are all people everywhere invited today to look into the manger to see for themselves that a Savior has been born.
BOB BLAND is a resident of Denton.