Silent Night, Holy Night: A Shepherds Tale
It was a silent, and peaceful, night as the shepherds gathered their flocks in the hills surrounding the small town of Bethlehem, a very long time ago. The stars shone brightly, high above the land, with one star, in particular, shining brighter than all the rest. This star seemed to have a life of its own, as it had an unusual light to it that made it appear strange, and even eerie.
Ethan, the youngest of the shepherds, had been walking among his flock, as they bedded down in lush, green grass for the night, and had noticed that his flock seemed restless on this night. He, and the other shepherds, had taken great care to ensure that no predators were nearby before bedding down their flocks, so he couldn’t understand their restlessness. Then Ethan noticed the star on this night. He had been watching it for several evenings, and it appeared to move closer, and closer, to where they were, each night, until it seemed to rest over the town of Bethlehem. Tonight, it acted like it was about to explode, and he wondered if the star had anything to do with his sheep being restless.
As Ethan walked along, he came upon Ira, the oldest and wisest of the shepherds, and he mentioned the condition of his sheep to Ira.
“I too, have noticed that my flock is uneasy, this night”, said Ira. “I have considered the star, and I believe that it may be the cause of the problem with our flocks. I also feel that this night has a strangeness to it, as if something important is about to come to pass.”
“What do you think it is?” asked Ethan.
“This I cannot say”, said Ira, “The important thing, right now, is to keep our flocks calm until whatever happens, happens.”
Ira and Ethan parted ways, and went to tend to the calmness of their flocks. Ethan continued to stare at the star, and wondered what was about to happen, or if Ira was just trying to make him feel better.
As Ethan returned to his flock, he encountered other shepherds who were just as puzzled as he was. They all expressed the same concerns that Ira had mentioned, for they all had been watching the star for many nights, as well. They all had become fearful of the star, and one shepherd even said that it was a sign from God that the world was about to end. Ethan didn’t believe that, because he doubted that God would send a star to announce the end of the world, but would just do it as he did with the floods, many centuries before. But Ethan did start to wonder if some miracle was about to take place, and the star must have something to do with it.
It was nearly midnight when Ethan next came upon Ira. Ira was standing with several other shepherds, many of whom Ethan had spoken to earlier, standing at the fire, watching the star, which had become increasingly brighter. The shepherds were becoming more, and more, fearful of the star, because they didn’t know what it meant. The one shepherd, who claimed that it was a sign of the end of the world, was even more confident that he was correct about the meaning of the star. Ethan asked Ira what was happening, and Ira replied that he didn’t know, but the star was acting as though it was about to explode. None of the shepherds could remember any of their elders teaching about a sign of things to come, or of a star, and it made them even more afraid of it.
Ethan was about to ask Ira another question, when they noticed that all of the sheep calmly got to their feet, and turned to face the town of Bethlehem. At that same instant, the star burst forth with a powerful light that shined like the sun at noon, illuminating everything around, and the Heavens opened up in all of the glory and splendor imaginable. The hills were also filled with angels singing praises to God.
All of the shepherds trembled with great fear, for they still didn’t understand what was happening and still thought the world was coming to an end. But an angel, who identified himself as Gabriel, came and spoke comfort to them.
“Shepherds of the hills, do not be afraid, because I bring you peace, and great news! Today, in the City of David, a child has just been born, and he is the Son of God! The things that you now witness, were prophesied to your ancestors many years ago, and have now been fulfilled! Oh, how your forefathers longed to see this day that you now witness for yourselves! This is what you must do; go into the city and find a stable. In the stable, you will find the Son of God wrapped in blankets, and lying in a manger in a livestock stall. When you have found him, worship him, for he is the Son of God! Go now, leave your flocks, and go worship this child, your King, and savior of mankind.”
As Gabriel joined the angels in singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and glory to the newborn King”, they were suddenly gone. The shepherds were alone again, and they stood in confusion, and amazement, at what had just happened to them. The star had returned to its earlier physical state, and was not as bright as when the angels appeared to them.
Ethan was the first to recover from his state of shock, and asked;
“Was that a dream, or did it really happen?”
“That was real”, said Ira, “and we need to do as the angel instructed. I do remember hearing of this Messiah to be born here, and I praise God for allowing me to live long enough to see it happen!”
Many of the shepherds objected to leaving their flocks, which had now gone to sleep following the angels departure, for fear of wild animals to freely kill many of them, while still other shepherds were still too frightened by the events of the evening, let alone go into town to possibly be frightened by unearthly visitors again. Finally, it was decided that Ethan, Ira, and a couple of other shepherds, would go into Bethlehem to find the child, and worship him.
As the group entered the town, they noticed that the star appeared to be guiding them to the stable the angel told them about. They walked through the town, noticing that it seemed very quiet all around them, and came to the stable the angel told them to find the child in. Once there, they looked up and saw that the star was directly above them, as though God, himself, was watching over the newborn baby. The light of the star made everything seem unreal, but very warm, safe, and secure. It was not the place a King should be born, but the place seemed to be perfect for the event, though they couldn’t explain why.
The shepherds entered the stable and found the child exactly as Gabriel had told them. The manger was in the middle of the stall, and a very lovely young mother sat dutifully next to the manger, looking at her newborn son, while her strong, kind husband stood behind them, also looking proudly at the infant. The child was wrapped in blankets, and was lying on a bed of straw meant for the feeding of animals. There were cattle, donkeys, and some sheep standing around the manger, all looking at the newborn child as though in worship.
The shepherds asked permission to approach the manger so that they may worship their King, and the father said to come forward. They approached the manger and fell to their knees in worship. Ira said that he hoped that he would live to see this day, and wept at the sight of the child he was worshipping. The baby looked at them all, and appeared to be giving his blessing to them. The child also looked happy that they had come to him. The star gave an unusual warmth to the scene in the stable that was as if God was pleased with the worship of his son.
After a while, Ira, and the other shepherds, returned to the hills to tend to their flocks, but Ethan stayed behind to continue his worship of the child. He found that he could not pull himself away from this child, as though he were meant to be here this night. He knew that he should return to his flock, but he felt that they were being watched by angels while he worshipped the baby, so he decided to stay longer.
Ethan finally introduced himself to the parents, and they do the same in return. Ethan told them the story of what happened in the hills, and how he came to them. He thought that Joseph and Mary would think he was crazy when he told them of speaking to Gabriel, but Joseph told him that he and Mary too, had been visited by angels recently, and that they believed everything he told them. Mary explained how the birth of Jesus came about, and Ethan once again praised God, and worshipped the child even more. Mary explained why the name Jesus, or Emmanuel, would be given to her son, and Ethan decided that there was power in the names, but felt that there was much more to the names than he could explain. Ethan stayed a while longer, talking with Mary and Joseph, and playing with baby Jesus, before returning to his flock.
Ira was waiting for him, as Ethan returned from town, and asked him questions as he welcomed Ethan back. Ethan told him all about his visit with Mary and Joseph, and playing with baby Jesus, after the others had left to return to the hills. Ira listened attentively as Ethan told him about the visits of the angels to May and Joseph, and how the name Jesus meant that he would save the people from their sins. Ira told Ethan that he remembered this child, and everything they witnessed that night, had been prophesied to their people centuries before, but had long been forgotten. He also remembered the stories of what this child will do in the future. Ira seemed very happy with all that had happened this night, and he went back to his flock to reflect on the events of the evening.
Ethan could never forget what happened that night, and was able to maintain contact with Mary and Joseph, until Joseph’s death, as he was also from Nazareth, and even witnessed the teachings of Jesus as the years went by. He knew of the miracles that Jesus had performed, and knew of the hatred of the rulers against Jesus because of them. He also knew how much the rulers hated that Jesus taught a religion based on love instead of rules. Ethan had become a believer in what Jesus was teaching, because he remembered that night in the stable, when he fell and worshipped this King.
Ethan was in Jerusalem, for Passover, when Jesus was handed over to be crucified, and even witnessed the crucifixion. He remembered listening to Ira, the night following the birth of Jesus, telling how Jesus would live, die, and raise again, according to prophesy, so it was no surprise when he heard that Jesus had risen from the dead three days later. As he pondered on all of the events he had witnessed, he came to conclusion that this truly was the Son of God, because he was there at the birth of Jesus, had witnessed his teachings, his death, and heard of his resurrection. However, he couldn’t understand why God allowed him the blessing of witnessing all of these things, but felt that he was truly blessed to have been there for them. He praised God for it all, then, returned to his flock.