The night air must have been chilling; but then, the shepherds were not unaccustomed to the stiff joints and aching bones that accompanied their outdoors, midnight shift. Seldom did any event break the boredom. Sheep sleep; sheep graze; hours pass sluggishly. Occasionally a predator, who was hunting prey in the moonlight, attempted to sneak into the fold. Those extraordinary nights presented opportunity for daring acts of bravery and heroic feats of valor. Dangerous foes, skilled defenders, merited victories: the essentials that make a fantastic tale were told and retold around the campfire during all the other monotonous nights.
That night was quiet. The sky was clear and the stars shone brightly. The shepherds heard nothing but an occasional bleating from the fold. Then, suddenly, the sky was illuminated with a glistening brightness that overshadowed the stars and surpassed the moon. Light beams fell to the ground revealing the presence of an angel. The midnight warriors trembled with fear at the appearance of the heavenly visitor.
“Fear not,” the angel proclaimed. “I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
Immediately, upon the angel finishing his announcement, a great multitude of heavenly hosts became visible, suddenly filling the skies with splendor and song, with majesty and melody, with radiance and refrain. “Glory to God in the highest,” they sang, “Peace on earth and good will to men.”
The atmosphere reverberated with sound. The earth seemed to quiver beneath the feet of the shepherds – or maybe it was the trembling of their own legs as they stood in awe of heaven’s glory. And then it was over – the night quiet, serene. But the words of the angel, “find the child” echoed in their minds. They were accustomed to swiftly act at the appearance of a foe. This night they determined to promptly respond to the advent of the angels. They made haste to go to Bethlehem to find the one whom angels had worshiped and declared him to be Lord. He was there, just as the angel had said.
The night ended as it had begun – sheep, shepherds, and the chilling night air. Yet, nothing of the rest of their lives would ever be the same. They had a new story to tell. This one was not of the sort that made for campfire tales. This story, with its blinding lights from heaven, angelic hosts from beyond, and Savior sent from above, made an astonishing story fit to be told to the whole world. And told it was.
From that extraordinary night long ago until this now, over 2,000 years of time has passed; but the story lives on. Never had there been a night like that, nor has there ever been again. The tale of the shepherds is preached from pulpits around the world, read from the scriptures during the Christmas season, and embraced by believers who rejoice at the Savior’s birth.
What a wonderful time of the year for each of us to pass on the story! Someone we now might just need to hear that the night – in Bethlehem – was a night unlike any other night!