12.24.2016

That Night in Bethlehem: A Firsthand Account


We were still reeling from what had just happened. Had it really happened? Was this a dream? None of us were saying much on the way to Bethlehem. Yes, they had reassured us, but we were still sore afraid. It was only way we could possibly feel after seeing what we had just seen.

Why us? We are humble men who tend sheep. Day after day, we feed them, guide them, and care for them in these fields of hot days and cold nights. I lead a solitary life and have very little means. There are men far important than I in the cities, far more learned and wealthy. And yet, we were the ones graced with this magnificent, holy visitation. We were the ones now hurrying to a town to see a newborn baby. A king. THE king. 

The one we have waited for. My heart pounded as we ran, wide-eyed, adrenaline boosting our limited natural abilities. It was as if the holy messengers had bestowed on us a gift of speed when they left us. Our feet pounded across the vast expanse of the familiar fields that we cross with sheep every day, but never like this. The night had never seemed more alive. The air was still echoing with heavenly declaration. The stars beckoned us onward, especially the one that was stunningly brighter than the rest. I knew I was running toward something - someone - who was going to change everything. Somehow.

And in that moment in time, we were the only ones in the whole world who were running to him.

When we reached the city, our running feet interrupted its deep and dreamless sleep. We couldn't even slow down. Up and down the streets we ran, panting, looking, hoping, wondering. We knew we were so close, but we didn't know how to find him there. We certainly could not pound on doors in the middle of the night. 

There, a man walked alone in the street, pulling his animal along behind him. "Do you know of a baby born this night?" we asked breathlessly. He waved us off and shook his head and kept walking.

We sat down there in the streets, chests heaving, scratching our heads. We didn't know what to do.The people inside the building across the road from where we were sitting seemed to be active inside, even in the middle of the night. The census had brought many travelers to town. And when we inquired there, the innkeeper replied, "I don't know if a baby has been born. But I do know that a man a woman who was great with child are staying in my stable tonight." He gestured to the side.

My friends and I looked at each other. This was it.

No more running. Our steps approaching the open door of the stable were soft and hesitant. No more panting. I could barely breathe.

Peering around the corner, we saw a woman resting on the hay. Quiet animals. A man kneeling beside a manger. A baby inside wrapped in strips of cloth. It was all just as they had said. 

When I knocked faintly on the wood frame, the man looked up, surprised, and came to the stable door."Sir, we don't mean to intrude," I stammered, embarrassed but pushing forward. "And this may sound unbelievable to you. But tonight we were visited by holy messengers who told us to come to this very place. They told us about the baby. They even told us he would be in a manger!"

The man smiled gently and ushered us inside. "Nothing is unbelievable to me anymore," he said. 

We stepped into the small area as the cattle lowed their greeting to us. And just as we reached the manger and knelt down close, the baby awoke. He did not cry, but his little soft eyes looked right at me with an expression of recognition. He was seeing me. I felt as if I could burst. The hopes and fears of all of history and all of the centuries to come were in this little baby's eyes.

I wept. I knew. I knew that besides the man and the woman here, I was the first to see his face. Me. A poor, lonely shepherd. And he came to me. He came for me. He came for all. I knew he was going to make things right. I didn't know how he was going to do it - but this was the one. The weight of the moment was almost more than I could bear. 

We stayed quietly, wordlessly, for a few more moments and then we left, nodding at the man and the woman on our way out. Our hearts were burning with joy inside of us. We were astonished at what we had just witnessed.

The silence had been broken. So we could no longer be silent, either. The time had come for us to tell. Everyone we knew, everyone we didn't know, it didn't matter. We could never in a million years keep something this good to ourselves.

He had come.

"But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of the world and the despised things - and the things that are not - to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him." 1 Corinthians 1:27-28
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