In memory of Bob Wyllie.
What a night that was! I was there! It had begun like most every other night, clear, but slightly chilly. We had been in this section of the hill country now for about a week, and the sheep were just getting acclimated to their new surroundings.
Sheep are strange animals. In a way, they’re just like people. It takes them forever to adjust to a new situation, or a new location, but once they get settled, you’d think they’d been there for a thousand years, and nothing’s gonna move ’em.
Anyway, we were just getting settled down for the evening; Nicky and Abdul were on watch that night, and the rest of us were doing the usual bed-time ministrations. We were getting our wraps adjusted, digging the small stones out of the ground that would feel like boulders by morning, when all of a sudden the night sky just broke open over our heads, and the whole area where we were bunking down was filled with a light so bright that we had to cover our eyes.
And I can tell you right now, that I have never been more terrified in my whole life. Not before, and not since. And I certainly wasn’t alone, because you never saw 12 supposedly macho guys covering in fear on the ground like we were that night. If we had had a mommy to run to, we would have.
Jeremy screamed and pointed at the sky. “Look! An angel!” “Don’t be stupid”, Raul countered, “that’s a sky devil come to kill us and take our souls!” But Jeremy stood his ground, and said he knew what an angel looked like, and that was an angel if he ever saw one.
After what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only a moment, the angel spoke. And as soon as the angel started speaking, an incredible hush came over us. It was suddenly as if we weren’t terrified anymore. The angel’s voice was like a thousand people speaking all at the same time. It was a low voice like a man’s, and it was also a high voice like a woman’s. But it also had a comforting, childlike quality to it, too. But mostly, it was the most beautiful voice I have ever heard. On the way back from Bethlehem, we talked some about this voice, and everyone of us said it was a voice that penetrated not just our ears, but our hearts as well.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. After commanding us to stop being afraid, the angel told us that a Savior had been born to us. Ha! We couldn’t believe it! Nothing good ever happened to shepherds! Nobody cared about us! Why do you think we’re out here in the boondocks shoving sheep around the wilderness? We’re low-lifes and everyone who ever encounters us takes great pleasure in reminding us about it. You’ve heard all of the jokes, I’m sure!
But a Savior, born to us! A Savior, born to shepherds! That’s something!
The angel told us that we could find this Savior in Bethlehem, in a manger, of all things. But before we could think much about all of that, a thousand other angels filled the whole night sky around us, and they were singing God’s praises. Now up until that moment, I hadn’t been much of a religious person at all. Oh, I believed in God; everybody does. But the synagogue never held much attraction for me. I probably wouldn’t have been welcome there anyway, being just a shepherd and all. So I stayed away. But that night, hearing all of the angels singing the most beautiful music I’d ever heard, something stirred in my heart. That music was the fullest, sweetest, most unimaginable music ever. It was the music of heaven.
About 30 years later, I heard about a man named Jesus. People were calling him the long awaited Messiah. But what intrigued me most was that he called himself the Good Shepherd. And so I looked him up. Yup, you guessed it, same little Savior that we visited in Bethlehem. He changed my life. And while I don’t have time to tell you that story this evening, I can tell you that you need to meet Jesus too. It’s the most important thing that you will ever do in your whole life.
Just as I was losing myself in that beautiful angelic music, the skies darkened again, and the angels were gone. Well, we collected our wits about us, and we headed off to Bethlehem. I’m not even sure how we knew how to get to where the baby was. It was like we just went there, and there he was.
It was a bit odd, though, when we got there. The baby looked like every other newborn baby that anyone has ever seen. I guess I expected something a little different. But there he was, all red in the face from a recent crying jag, all wrapped up in swaddling cloths to keep him warm and comfortable.
But as we watched, we slowly began to realize that this was a very special baby. You could see it in his parents. It was in their faces and in the way that they reacted. The mother seemed to be pleased that we had come to visit the baby, but she wasn’t the least bit surprised when we arrived. It was almost as if she had expected us to come. And she didn’t bat an eyelash when we told her our fantastic tale. She just smiled sweetly and had a wise look about her.
Illustrations by Marjorie Cooper. Learn more at Marjorie Cooper: Artist & Illustrator.