"Come. That's it. A little further now. Follow me," I say, as we reach the fields of Bethlehem. The animals protest the steep climb. My sheep follow my voice and separate from the flock of my brother as we part at hill's crest. When the flocks are apart, I say, "Stay, rest, eat and I will watch over you." Circling, I count heads and meet my brother between our herds. I see that he is happy. I am happy, too. We have come far and lost little. Tonight we will watch, and tomorrow our flocks will feed off the land of our ancestors.
As the sun sets, our bellies warm with food and drink, we prepare for the chill that will come with night. I lay rod on the backs of the sheep for a final count. A scan of the valley yields no sign of wild beast. My brother lies down behind a large boulder to sleep. I sit, wrapped in sheepskin, atop the rock for first watch.
I try to focus on the valley, but my mind wanders to the rejoicing that will accompany our arrival. The children will see first and run to meet us. Once news reaches father, a feast will be prepared. My wife! I close my eyes and my mind is filled with her beauty. Soon I will feel the warmth of her embrace and taste the honey of her lips. One more watch. I open my eyes to a man standing not an arms length from my perch.
Terrified, I stumble backward off the rock onto the ground. Regaining my balance, I put my back to the boulder and shake my brother awake. Suddenly the dark of night is replaced with a brilliant light. My brother sits up and looks to me, his face glowing. I look down at my hands. They also glow. The rocks, grass, mountains and even the sheep are alive with light. With fear and trembling, my brother asks, "Where does it come from?"
"I do not know. There is a man in front of the rock. He has eyes like stars." I am filled with warmth and hear a faint song from the hills and rocks themselves. It is as if they remember the light and have been expecting its triumphant return. From the days of my youth, ancient scriptures float in an out of my conscience and I know what stands in front of the boulder. It is an angel of the Lord.
"Do not be afraid!" the voice surprisingly gentle.
My brother looks at me. He too, must have heard the soothing tone of the angel's voice. I nod and motion him to rise. Together, we stand and turn. The angel is clothed in white and wears a breatplate of gold. Save his eyes, which glisten and twinkle like sunlight off still water, he has all of the features of man.
"Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people. Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you. You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger."
As the angel's mouth closes, the valley is filled with an army of angels. Their voices, like a thunderous waterfall, rise to the heavens singing, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom he is pleased!"
Then they are gone. Replaced by the returning darkness of night.
As we stand in silence, a cool wind rises from the valley below. For several minutes, we stare into the darkness of the hills in search of evidence. As my eyes adjust to the shadows, I see the lights of Bethlehem in the distance. I turn to my brother and say, "To Bethlehem."