I pulled my cloak tightly around my shoulders. The unusually cool spring wind tugged at my thin clothes. I looked upwards at the clear night sky. It was a night like the thousands before. Sounds of the breeze rustling through the grass, distant howls of threatening beasts, shimmering stars and the so very present bleat of dumb sheep.
Had it really been so many years ago that I sat in my family's warm home along with all of my older brothers? Decades ago. I, being the second to youngest of seven boys was too old to sit under the watch of caregivers, but not old enough to be given honors and responsibilities of prestige like my elder brothers. Therefore, I had become the family's shepherd. I had never been given an opportunity to make anything of my life. Months of shepherding as a small boy had turned into years as a young man and eventually decades as an old man. The words of my brothers from years past flittered through my mind like the burning embers of the flames before me flittered towards the heavens.
Ah, poor brother, nothing more than a shepherd. Never to make anything of his life. It seems that he may have lost his mind up there in the hills alone all these years with only dumb sheep for company.
Were they right? Was my life never meant to be anything more than this? No wife, no children, no money... no purpose. An aching swelled in my heart.
It was no matter now, life was nearly over. I was reminded each time my back ached and joints groaned. I quoted psalms of King David to bring peace to my weary heart.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, You are with me. Your rod and staff comfort me.
The words of another shepherd made me smile. King David was a shepherd, after all. God had made him into a great king. I wondered if God might have any plans for me. Was it too late?
I stood and smacked a sheep's rump away from a small hole in the ground. He lazily moved away into the darkness. I looked to the dark sky. Could God care about a man as small as I? As old as I?
Have you any purpose for me, Almighty One? Why do I feel You so close tonight? Why do I so ache for You? Please come to Your people. Come to me.
As I had many times before, I imagined the Messiah. The Holy One. He would be a king of power and might. He would overthrow Rome and build up this nation. He would be born in a palace far from Bethlehem, dressed in flowing purple and surrounded in gold.
For to us a child is born... to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Ever.....
I choked on the familiar words of Isaiah. Then I said the words that I had said too many times. They were foolish and ignorant of such an old man. Yet, my heart spoke them anyways.
If it be Your will, I ask to catch just a glimpse of the Messiah before I die.
I chastised myself. God should not answer such a selfish prayer. Tears poured down my weathered cheeks.
Then perhaps my nephews? If it be Your will, may my family see the Chosen One before they die?
Glory.... glory.... glory.
What was that noise? Glory? Maybe I was losing my mind.
I sensed light behind me and I turned quickly to catch a glimpse of the shooting star.
There was no shooting star, but there was light. I blinked, trying to wake myself. The light hovered the hills beyond. It took the shape of a human. The light was so white and so pure that it burned my eyes with its brilliance. I shook with fear. What was happening? Was God ending my life? Was this death?
"Do not be afraid."
It spoke! The mouth and eyes of a man appeared in the lightness. What could this be? A messenger from God. He spoke again.
"Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
My mind fought to process what he said. The Messiah. The Messiah! He will be in a manger?
The light grew and shook the ground as many more men in whiteness joined the voice of the first. Their voices rose in perfect unison as they spoke:
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests!”
Peace to those on whom His favor rests.... Did His favor rest on me? These messengers spoke to someone as lowly as me. I left my sheep for the first time in my life. My cranky bones ran like that of a small boy. The shepherds of the neighboring fields must have heard, as they too ran to one another. I could hear their voices.
"Let's go together and find Him! The Messiah! Can you believe it?"
There were five of us. Three young men, one a few years younger than me and then me... the oldest. We ran towards the caves. There were many nooks and crevices in the rocks behind the inns in Bethlehem. Only in the caves where the animals fed would there be a manger. The thought of the Messiah lying in a manger was startling.
Was God so quickly answering my prayer to see the Messiah? After hundreds of years of waiting, was this how it would come? Only after seeing would I believe.
We separated so we could find the cave quicker. I tried to hurry, but I wasn’t as spry as the other young ones.
The voice was carried on the wind and it swept my ears with its calmness. I stopped in the darkness. I closed my eyes and strained for the sound of a crying baby.
There was no crying, but there was singing. A woman's voice sung so softly.
“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name."
It was so pure and innocent... the voice of a young, virgin woman. But why would she be singing out here?
I stepped around the edge of the rock and there in the deep mouth of the cave lay a woman in the hay. Her damp hair fell around her shoulders. A thin blanket lay over her. She leaned against a manger, her eyes staring into the face of the infant that lay there.
"Can I help you?"
I was started by the man who spoke to me. He came from the shadows behind the woman and baby.
"I... I am a shepherd in a field nearby... I was keeping watch over my flocks.... Well, I was told that I would find a baby lying in a manger... he is... Is he?" I swallowed. "Is he the Messiah?
The woman looked up and her eyes danced with joy. "He is. His name is Jesus."
"May I?" I asked as I stepped forward. The miracle of the moment pulsed through my veins.
This was the moment I had prayed for. Oh Holy One! As I stepped closer, the baby began to whimper.
"Shh, wee one," said his mother. "We have a visitor. Your first visitor."
He quieted as I reached down and caressed his smooth head. It felt like that of any other infant. Yet when I looked into his small face, my whole body shook with awe.
He is the One.
I cried softly over him. My tears hit the hay around him. How could it be?
You have let me not only see the Messiah, but I was the first to see him! I touched him!
I fell to my knees. The other shepherds filled in around me. Their soft gasps echoing through the cave.
What a Messiah he must be. How odd that he would come in such a small, quiet way. How strange that I should be the first to see his wonderful face. Perhaps the Messiah was going to be very different than what we ever dreamed. How merciful that the very lowest would be the very first to welcome him.
For the first time in my life, I felt purpose. The brightest star shined on my path as I walked back to my sheep.