Christmas–7. The Shepherds

Posted: 2013 年 12 月 12 日 in Christmas
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The Shepherds

  1. In the valley below Bethlehem and the cave where Mary was delivered of Jesus, sheep huddled against the chill. The shepherds sat on little eminences, dozing. The herds wandered by day, up an down the grasslands of Judea, always edging closer to Jerusalem, the big market for sheep. Those without blemish brought a good price as sacrificial animals for the temple. The others were sold for shearing and for food. Some of the shepherds were dozing, a few were watching, when the deep night sky was split with light. It was brighter than day, more like staring at a noon sun, and the sleeping shepherds awakened and, in fear, hid their eyes in the folds of their garments. After a moment, the intense light faded, and an angel appeared in bodily form, standing in air over the valley. The herders were terrified and their sheep began to run in tight circles. “Do not fear,” the angel said slowly. Some of the men took heart and looked up. Some did not. “Listen,” the angel said, “I bring you good news of great joy which is in store for the whole nation.”

  1. The shepherds looked up hopefully and the angel spoke again. The voice seemed to permeate the valley. “A savior,” the angel said, “who is the Lord Messias, was born to you today in David’s town. And this will serve you as a token: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and cradled in a manger.” The shepherds repeated the words. “A savior…Lord Messias…David’s town…infant in a manger.” There was nothing frightening in that news. The angel had spoken correctly. It was good news. It was better than good news. It was the thing which had been promised by God a long time ago. It was the advent of him who would save the people of the world. They were still dwelling on the wonders of God and his works when the angel was joined by hundreds of others, who appeared brightly in the night sky, and began to sing in a heavenly chorus: “Glory to God in the heavens above, and on earth peace to men of good will.”

  1. Slowly, the angels floated across the sky and disappeared. The shepherds approached each other in the darkness and asked: “What did you see?” “Did you hear as I heard?” “Is it true that the Son of God has come to save the twelve tribes of Israel?” They babbled awhile, and one said: “Let us go over to Bethlehem and find out the truth about this thing the Lord has made known to us.” The older shepherds were certain that this was not a hoax. All Jews were good scriptural students and, because there were no common books, they memorized all their teachings about God. He had promised a savior, and the great one would come of the House of David. This would be Bethlehem. The aspect which mystified all the shepherds was that the birth of the messiah was undignified. One could not imagine the Son of God being born in a stable. The shepherds reached the top of the eminence and walked among the dozing pilgrims of Bethlehem, asking where the messiah might be found. Most men turned away from them in silence. A few asked what messiah; the shepherds asked if anyone had seen the angels. What angels?

  1. Patiently, they continued their rounds, asking: Where can we find a newborn baby in this town? Someone told them to try the inn. The innkeeper, exhausted with his labors, remembered the young man and pregnant young lady going to the cave beneath the inn. The shepherds appraoched timidly. As they nared the lighted aperture, they crouched and coughed. Joseph came out. He studied them solemnly, without rancor, and the leaders told him that they had seen angels in the valley, and one angel had said tht a messiah had been born this night in the town of David. They had—well, if it wasn’t too soon—they had come to worship him. Mary heard, and told Joseph to permit the men to come in. the shepherds came in, the cowls down off their heards. In the flickering yellow light of the oil lamp, they saw the child-mother, seated on straw. She was looking over the side of an old manger. The men lifted themselves a little on their toes to peer over the sides. Inside was an abundance of white swaddling clothes. An aura of light seemed to radiate from it. The men looked, with mouths open, and fell to their knees. They adored the baby, and thanked him for coming to save the nation. They recited some of the formal prayers. Joseph, standing aside, was amazed tht so many strangers now knew the secret.

  1. The shepherds were torn between wonderment and happiness. This little baby was God and the Son of God, but he was also a helpless, lovable infant. Their hearts welled with joy and the stern, deeply bronzed faces kept melting into big grins, which were quickly erased as the sheep men recalled that they were in the presence of the King of All Kings. They remained kneeling, clasping and unclasping their hands, and staring at the face of the infant, as though trying to etch on their memories the peaceful scene, the tiny ruddy face, the serenity of the mother, who, by the grace of God, had had her baby without pain. They were men of such poverty and humility that their colored threadbare cloaks spoke more eloquently than their tongues. Their adoration came from full hearts. If there was any wonderment in Mary’s heart, she did not show it. After a while, the shepherds stood and, in the manner of the Jews, apologized for intruding. They addressed their remarks to Joseph because to speak to Mary would have been immodest. They asked Joseph if he had seen the angels and he said no. they related all that had happened to them in the valley. Joseph shook his head. Mary nodded toward the sleeping baby, as though she and he alone understood that this was only the first of many great world events. The shepherds left, praising God, and in their joy awakening people to tell them that the promised messiah had come. If one can say that the place of birth was small, humble, a place of animals and odors, then one can also say that the first apostles were the most humble and scorned of men.

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