The First Christmas Day on a hill near Bethlehem

I was asleep when it started. This is only my second year of being old enough to join the men when we move the sheep further out of town during the colder months. For about eight months of the year, it is really hot and dry. Those months, we need to have easy access to the well in Bethlehem, at least for part of the day. Once it starts getting wet and colder, we can range further away from town. In those months, there are more seasonal springs and streams for the sheep. Until last year, when the men went further out, I stayed at home with my mom, aunts, and grandpa Phineas.

This year, I am old enough to go out with them, but I can’t seem to stay awake the whole night like they do. My dad, Melki, and my uncles seem to only need one or two hours of sleep each night. So, when the first angel showed up, I was lost in the world of dreams. The older men were all still up talking religion and politics deep into the night. Wherever their conversation took them, it must have come to a sudden stop when that angel appeared. I mean, it isn’t every day when one of heaven’s warriors shows up on the scene and says he has an announcement just for us. Maybe the kings and the rabbis get treatment like that. OK, probably not this current king. But who ever heard of a bunch of shepherds getting such a visit?

When the rest of the angels showed up, I wasn’t sleeping no more. I went straight from laying on my back to jumping to my feet, then falling on my face quicker than your heart can beat twice. Who can sleep when a hundred billion angels light up the sky and shout out their celebration like an eruption of thunder? The whole earth shook as they shouted out together: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace, and goodwill for all men.” I can’t describe what those angels looked like. I only saw them for the briefest of moments before I had fallen to my face in fear and awe. I used my blanket as my tallit, my prayer shawl, and I held my eyes shut tight with my forehead against the ground. Even still, there was a radiance everywhere as if I were facing the noonday sun. And the sound… imagine the man with the deepest and richest voice you have ever heard crying out at the top of his voice in excitement. Now imagine duplicating that shout more times than there are numbers to count. Each one of those voices is shouting out the exact same thing in perfect unison. I will never again use the word awesome for anything else. People use the word awesome for everything. But this was really, really awesome. Nothing can come close to the holy terror I felt at that moment.

Then, just as suddenly as the angels had appeared, they were gone. Normally there is a sound to the night. A hillside might seem peaceful, but with a dozen or so men and a few hundred sheep, it isn’t silent. There is often rain pattering or wind blowing. The sheep are never all asleep at once, and if any of the alpha rams are moving about, you can hear their ringing bells. There are always two or three men awake at every watch of the night. If I were to wake up, I can for certain hear their quiet conversation. It is peaceful, but never is it truly silent. In those few seconds that seemed to stretch into eternity after those angels left, it was truly, fully silent. Not an animal moved, and even the wind was still. The only thing I could hear was my own breath and the speedy thumping of my racing heart. The time seemed much longer, but it was probably only a minute or less before I heard the rustling of the first shepherd getting up off his knees and face. Then I could hear another doing the same. Finally, I dared to peek my own head out of the blanket I was hiding under. Just like that, the silence ended as everybody started talking at once. Everybody was for going down into town at once to see this baby the angels were celebrating. Leaving everything behind, we were all halfway down the hill before we realized all the sheep were faithfully following behind us. Some cruel soul said we should assign a guard to stay with the sheep. Of course, Daniel and I got stuck with the job. Daniel is two and a half years older than I am. There is no one else even close to being as young. Of course, not one of the adults was willing to wait.