Whatever time of year it was, it was cold. Desert nights, after the heat of the day call for an extra cloak. The ambient temperature of the day is a stark contrast to the night’s, after the sun sets and moves on to warm other places.
The sheep wisely gathered together, sharing the warmth of one another, and we shepherds, except for the sentries, stayed near their warmth as well. The huddled sheep put off more heat than the largest campfire.
I was the only sentry that night. Lions had not been reported in our area recently, so we all felt relatively safe, and confident there was no imminent danger to our charges. But it never hurts to have at least one lookout, just to be sure. More than one flock had been decimated by a couple of hungry lions on the prowl. We drew lots among us to determine who would be the one to keep watch, walking the perimeter of the green pasture where the sheep had fed themselves all day. It was a rather nice little area, and their was a nice stream that flowed right through it, so there was a water source for all of us – especially nice in the heat of the day. Our master had told us that we could camp out in this pasture for a while – as long as the grass was plentiful, so we had spent our first couple of days here dragging thorn-bush branches and stacking them around the area. Such fences didn’t keep all the predators out, but it did offer a bit of security. Tonight it was my turn to walk along our thorn fence, checking for holes, and making sure nothing had made its way in, and just as importantly, insuring that none of our sheep had nibbled themselves outside of our protection.
It was sort of late in the lambing season, and some of our older lambs ventured father from their mothers, exercising their independence, proving to the flock that they were almost ready to take their place with the flock, and search for a mate of their own. I was keeping a brisk pace around the enclosure, trying to stay warm when I heard a high-pitched bleating sound – the sure sign that one of those lambs had gotten himself into trouble. I turned toward the sound and hurried off to the rescue.
Sheep are not the smartest creatures, being much better followers than leaders, but if one of the single-minded yearlings had somehow managed to entangle himself in the thorns, far from the rest of the flock. I set about the painful job of trying to free him, and take him back to the rest of the fold.
It was a dark and moonless night. Stupidly, I had dropped my torch into the stream at the moment I heard the noisome bleating, and was making my way, almost blindly, along the thorny bushes toward the sound of the distressed sheep. There was some light that guided my way, odd when there was no moon, but I remembered that an unusual star had been brightening the heavens for some days now. It must have been that star that gave me enough light to see, and get to the pitiful, complaining, stupid sheep that had firmly lodged himself among the thorns. This job would not be a picnic for me. There was little hope I would complete the task without some wounds from the thorns myself.
I was busy at my prolonged task and heard and saw nothing of the events I was told about later. Just as I had finally freed the sheep, and was pulling out the thorns from the sheep’s woolly coat, as well as a few from myself, I heard another ruckus coming from the far side of the pasture. It was a sound I had never heard before, and curious to discover what it was, I quickly rubbed some lanolin salve into our wounds, and hurried off, carrying the sheep with me, to the source of all the noise.
I had not gotten very far when I was surprised by the rest of the shepherds rushing toward me, some elbowing me out of the way in their haste to get where they were going. Most of them had already moved away from me, but setting the sheep back on the ground, I managed to grab one of the older members of our group to ask him what was wrong. Had some lions managed to break their way through, scattering the sheep and scaring the shepherds themselves to leave the flock and run away. “What’s wrong? What has happened? Where are you going? Is anyone watching the flock?” The old man pulled himself free of my grip and stopped long enough to stare at me in wonder, shouting at me, “You mean you didn’t see them? You didn’t hear the Word from the heavens, the band of angels singing? We’re headed to Bethlehem. The angels told us we would find him there, lying in a manger!” He then took off following the others. He didn’t hear me shout back to him, that I had already found the stupid sheep, and it wasn’t in any manger, either. Sighing, I made my way back to the flock – which the rest of the shepherds had abandoned as they rushed toward the village just over the hill. I found a place to sit and rest near the warmth of the flock, figuring they would soon be back after realizing that the stray was no longer in any danger. So I bided my time, and after a while, fell asleep.
When I awoke, it was just as the sun was rising. Except for the sheep, which had already roused themselves and begun their daily search for fresh grass on which to feed, there was nobody else with me. None of the other shepherds had returned. Fear was seeping into my heart when I saw the same old man, named Nathanael, I had managed to stop momentarily as the rest of them had run off. Normally a rather gruff and crotchety man, he was sunning toward me, shouting out my name, beaming from ear to ear. I was certain my eyes deceived me when I noticed that he was fairly leaping as he ran up to me. “Glory to God! Glory to God! It is all true! We saw it, we saw them, we saw Him, lying in a manger. Just like the angels told us! Glory to God! Come with me! Hurry! You must come see for yourself. You won’t believe it, until you see it! He has come! Now, you come too!”
I was immediately concerned for this raving lunatic, who was pulling at me, all the while shouting , “Come and see! Glory to our Almighty God! Come and see!” With a strength far greater than his years and ever-stiff legs would warrant, he managed to yank me away from the flock, pushing and dragging me along, toward Bethlehem. I tried to interrupt him over and over, “What have you heard? Who did you see? How is it you are praising the God who abandoned us years ago?”
He either chose not to answer, or had not heard my questions, and by the joy in his voice, I realized that my eyes had not deceived me, the old man was skipping, no, leaping as he ran, He had moved ahead of me, then turned back to shout to me again, “Hurry! Come and see! Come and see!” “What about the flock? Who will guard them? They should not be left alone! What is so important that we risk losing the flock and our job? The old man grinned even wider (which up until that moment I would have sworn was impossible), so I decided that I had better catch up to him and see if I could find someone else who could answer my questions.
I’ll give you some time to head off and read some other blogs, or write your own posts. Then check in later today for the conclusion. For now, this is enough. . .