“Tell me again great grandfather why it is that you come here at this time every year!”
The old man shifted slightly, wrapping his robe around him and settling down more comfortably on the boulder. His eyes glazed over, as they always did when he was remembering. A smile touched his lips and his face softened into a gentleness not often seen these days. Old age and pain were taking their toll and it was all he could manage to get to the end of each day. Even the sheep were quiet, as if they too were waiting to hear the shepherds story. The old man’s lips moved slightly and his aged sun dried face took on a youthfulness that defied his great age. He sighed and the boy held his breath, somehow knowing that this would be the last time he would hear the story from one who had been there.
“It was a night just like this,” the old man said, his eyes gazing longingly up at a sky heavy with stars. “Except there was something special, something none of us could fathom.” The boy wondered if he was wishing he could see it all again. He wanted to ask questions, but the silent stillness of anticipation held him back. The old shepherd went on, “Oh what a strange night it was! I’ve never known a night like it before or since.” He leaned over and kicked the dying embers of the fire into flame and threw on some more wood. For a moment the boy thought that this year he wasn’t going to hear the rest of the story. But the old man sighed again, the enigmatic smile returning to his lips.
“There was a stillness in the air that night. Usually we spent the night talking, joking, laughing. Now and again we would wander away, keeping an eye on the sheep and young lambs. But not that night. It was as if we had nothing to say. It was like we were suspended, waiting for something to happen. There was no breeze like there usually was, no clouds blotted out the light from the stars. Oh it was a strange night! We were restless, excited, but without reason. It was so still, so unnervingly still, like the calm before a storm. Even the sheep hardly moved, just gazed around, grazing where they were. And the fire, it just seemed to glow, not a flame or a flicker. It just went on glowing.
The boy could feel the excitement mounting, even though he had heard the story countless times before. It was cold and he wanted to move closer to the fire, but he stayed still, afraid to lose the moment. Great grandfather continued, seemingly unaware of even the boy. He spoke now as if to himself. “A greater silence descended upon us, a reverent silence and stillness. I don’t remember how, but suddenly we were aware of an angel and the glory of the Lord was shining all around him. We were terrified! None of us dared even move. It was an awesome sight. Then the angel spoke. He said, ‘Do not be afraid, I bring you Good News of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David, “That’s Bethlehem you know”, ‘A Saviour has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you. You will find the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’
The old man’s voice quietened in awe as he told of a great company of Heavenly angels singing and praising God. “The sound was like no song we had ever heard before; they sang ‘Glory to God in the Highest and peace on earth to all men’”
The shepherd was quiet for a while, pensive, his face shining. “Then what did you do great grandfather?” the boy asked, impatient to get to his favourite part of the story. The old man said nothing, but stretched out his arms to reach upwards, the joy and awe etched in the lines of his weather beaten old face. The boy waited, knowing that at this point in the story the old man always wept. “We left the sheep and went down to the town to find the child. Don’t ask me how we knew where to find Him; we just knew! There they were, His mother, Mary, so young, so tired yet so serene. And he, Joseph. How must he have felt, knowing that God had placed the responsibility of being the earthly father to His only Son on him, a carpenter!. Such a great responsibility! Then we saw the child lying in a manger, sleeping just like any other baby. Yet we knew; we knew that this child, who was to be called Jesus, was the Christ that the angels had told about. That was the night of a miracle! Just as the prophet Isaiah had foretold. That night the son of God had come to earth, born of a virgin to be the Saviour of the world!”
The old man sat silent and still for a while, the light now gone from his eyes and the pain of his aching joints showing clearly in his face again. “Come closer boy”, he said. And the boy moved closer to his old great grandfather, somehow knowing for certain that this night had been the last time he would hear the story from the old man’s lips. Then he looked up into the sky at the majestic bright glittering star that always appeared at this time of the year; and he held the truth in his heart as his great grandfather and the other shepherds had since that first Christmas night - the night of the miracle.