By Debbonnaire Kovacs, Dec 23, 2015
It was my first time out with the shepherds all night, and I was excited! Well, I was excited for the first few hours, that is. After a while, it got chilly and boring and I snuggled up to the bellwether, who was old, and friendlier than some of the other sheep.
Then some of the men started a fire, and somebody started a song. That was better. I knew some of the songs and could sing along. Simon played his pipes, and Yuseph beat a little skin drum. The boredom disappeared, and I sat up and sang and listened and watched the flames throw bits of themselves up toward the stars. They never got very far, those little bits. They disappeared instantly, as soon as they let go of the main fire. But it was fun to watch, and to imagine that they flew upwards and became new stars.
My eyes were starting to drift closed when Old Benaiah began a story. I liked listening to Old Benaiah, and I tried hard to stay awake and listen, but his cracked old voice was soothing as he quoted from the prophets.
“And the Wise One, Micah, said, ‘But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.’” Old Benaiah waved a hand in the direction of the sleeping town below us, and I looked, too. The town was full to overflowing with people here for the taxing, so there were more lights than you would expect to see at such a late hour.
I blurted out a question. “But how can it be? How can the Anointed One come from a place like this, instead of the Great City?”
Several voices spoke at once, some telling me to be quiet before my elders, others arguing that it was a good question. Old Benaiah looked at me and shook his gray head, and the other men quieted. “We do not know,” he said simply. “The Holy One, blessed be He, orders all things to his own liking.”
I frowned. Did the Holy One like having his people bowing to pagan Romans? But I didn’t dare ask. Anyway, maybe the Anointed One would chase the Romans out. Old Benaiah and the others continued to discuss and dispute, and my eyelids sank lower. I pillowed my head on the bellwether’s greasy wool and settled for sleep.
I really thought the light was part of my dream. I sat up, staring, while the others yelped in surprise or fear and flung arms over their faces. The light was blinding, but only for a minute. I looked up, still half asleep—and woke completely with a shock of terror.
There was a brilliant being staring right at me. Was it—it had to be—a malach—a messenger from the Holy One! I could hardly breathe, and my heart banged until I felt a little sick. But the malach had the most amazing gentle smile. He held out his hands and said, “Don’t be afraid.”
I took a breath, and my heart calmed a little.
“I’m bringing you good news to share with everybody—all people!” exclaimed the malach.
I looked around. Was it a dream? The others were beginning to lower their arms and straighten. It looked as if they, too, were less afraid. My gaze fell on Old Benaiah, and stopped there. He was glowing almost as much as the malach. His wrinkles were wreaths of pure joy around a face grown suddenly much younger. As the malach continued, Old Benaiah’s eyes filled with tears and overflowed.
“This very night, in the City of David (Oh, that’s right! I always thought of Jerusalem as the City of David, but he was a shepherd boy right here, just like me!) the Savior is born! He is both Anointed One and Lord (Adonai Mashiach). “
Wait! What?! The Anointed One is here?? Now?? My heart stopped again.
“And this will be the sign for you. You will find a baby wrapped up in newborn wrappings, and lying in a feed trough.”
I blinked. In a feed trough?!
And then, just when I thought my heart and lungs were about to recover, the light brightened by a millionfold, impossible though it seems, and a huge crowd of malachim popped into view above and around us, praising, shouting hallels, and making the very earth vibrate with heavenly joy.
“Glory to God in the heavenly heights,” they shouted.
“Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.” [Message]
For a few seconds, the hills around little Bethlehem were the glorious ramparts of heaven. Then darkness blinded us and silence assaulted our eardrums. I was just trying to breathe. And to figure out if I was awake or asleep.
For a minute, nobody moved or spoke. Then whispers began.
“Did you see that?”
“You heard it too?”
Little by little, voices became normal. “I’m not imagining…”
It was Old Benaiah, hardly able to talk for crying and praising the Holy One, who spoke for all of us. “Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s go and see!”
I am old now, but if I live to be as old as Father Methuselah, I will never, ever forget that surreal scene: a young mother, pale with weariness, a father with that stunned look I’ve seen on new fathers’ faces before and since, animals placidly chewing cuds and staring curiously at the rugged shepherds who have invaded their domain, and wrapped up, like any red, wrinkled newborn, like my little sisters and brothers on their first days of life, in—sure enough—a feed trough…
Old Benaiah is long dead now. But I’ve heard there is a man preaching near the Jordan. And like Old Benaiah, maybe even, in part, for Old Benaiah, I’m going to go and see.