Imagine with me what it was like for the simple shepherds on that holiest of nights, so many years ago.
The quiet hillside breathing silently under a clear, star filled sky; the sound of their flocks settling in, like they always did, with murmurs, rustlings and scrabblings; the occasional noisy bleat of lambs, fussing for a warm spot next to the fluffy ewes.
Shepherds, ever watchful and alert, yet calm and ready for a typical, peaceful night; perhaps they, too, scoot in close to the warm and fuzzy sheep, as the night air cools and chills.
Quiet conversations around a small fire and a simple meal, perhaps? Jokes and a recounting of the day wan and fade, as night falls deeper still.
It was just a night, until it wasn’t.
Imagine their quiet night, suddenly interrupted by the sky exploding in radiant, holy light and sound, like nothing ever seen before; certainly nothing ever seen by a group of tired shepherds, outside a sleepy village on a typical night. The terror and fear must have been palpable, washing over them like a terrible nightmare, until they heard the angel voice, saying, “Don’t be afraid! I bring you good news of great joy for everyone! The Savior – yes, the Messiah, the Lord – has been born tonight in Bethlehem, the City of David! And this is how you will recognize Him: You will find a baby lying in a manger, wrapped snugly in strips of cloth!” (Luke 2: 10-12)
Add to this amazing announcement, this supernatural display, the addition of a vast host of the armies of heaven, praising God and rejoicing at this beautiful, holy, saving gift, just given to all people, for all time. A gift that will never be fully understood; mocked and ridiculed and murdered, yet the only gift that will love, redeem and save your life and mine.
Imagine that first feeling of terror, turning to incredible joy, an unspeakable love and a supernatural peace, that in all its Divine power was quite possibly unbearable; wild and fierce. I can feel in my bones the uncontrollable need to fall to my knees in reverence, awe, fear and worship before such an announcement! A Savior, the Messiah, the Holy One come to save; a divine encounter with the King of Kings and the heavenly host. The atmosphere must have been sizzling with a supernatural, divine portent.
When the angels departed, did the shepherds stand around arguing about what they had just experienced? Did they try to explain away this divine encounter with the supernatural as indigestion? An atmospheric distortion, strange cloud formations, tainted wine? Did they try to explain away the best gift ever given to mankind; a gift of love so deep that human minds cannot fathom it? No, they didn’t. They believed. They wanted to seek out the Savior, to see him, to worship him, to accept the love gift freely given to them. They accepted the joy, excitement and love and shared it with others.
I don’t imagine they slept much that night. Returning to their now still and silent hillside, I wonder if they spoke. Did they attempt to recount to each other the events they just witnessed? I wonder if they fully understood the impact of what they beheld in that lowly stable. How can they explain the Divine? I wonder what changes took place silently in their hearts? What did they ponder? Mary quietly treasured up all she witnessed and went through that night in her heart and pondered it often. Did the shepherds do the same?
It was just a night on the hillside with their sheep, until it wasn’t.
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”