“How is the meat?” Samuel asked. During our meal, the other shepherds had shared their own experiences and feelings of that special night. I had a thousand questions. How many angels? Why announce to shepherds and magi, why not to the High Priest? Why is this baby special? You get the idea.
After they had all spoken, I told them about the magi’s visit and the mysterious way they had been led to the baby. The shepherds enjoyed the news and wondered about the star. When I told them about the young family’s hasty departure they became worried and quiet. Desiring to keep the conversation going I asked, “can you tell me about your visit to the stable that night?”
Samuel straightened, his thoughts shifting from worry to his remembrance of that night. “We all ran towards Bethlehem, it was foolish and irresponsible to leave the flock like that.”
“Your flock was watched while you were gone,” I interrupted. “The trader outside of Bethlehem sent a servant to discover what caused you run through his campsite. The servant found the flock unguarded and watched it until you returned.”
“Praise God,” Samuel rejoiced, “that is welcome news. Well, as you know, the younger ones of us ran ahead while I lagged behind. We were all excited and somewhat out of our heads with joy and wonder. But we managed to gather ourselves when we reached the outskirts of town. For a few moments we debated how to proceed. It made sense for us to try the inn’s stable first, it being the largest one in town. As we neared the stable we spotted Dan the stable hand. I ran up to him and asked about the newborn.
‘How do you know about…’ he stammered.
‘Where is he?’ I demanded.
‘In the rear stall,’ he said hurrying off.
Samuel looked at me and asked, “Do you go to the Temple?”
“Yes, of course,” I answered, surprised at the question’s sudden shift.
“I always wondered what the priests felt when they entered the holy place, now I know. The stable was still a stable. The sights and smells were exactly the same. But the feeling, it was completely different. There was a quiet awe in that moment. I don’t know how else to describe it.” The other shepherds murmured their agreement.
“For me it was like the deep watches of the night, when everything is still, and God seems so close,” added one shepherd.
“Thank you Asher,” nodded Samuel in agreement. “From the entrance we could see the glow of a lamp near the rear of the cave. We quietly walked toward the light. The baby was laying in a manger lined with fresh straw just like the angel had promised. The mother and father stood over the child, marveling at the new life before them. One of my shepherds knocked over a pot or something, alerting the mother and father to our presence. The father quickly positioned himself between us and the child.”
‘Why are you here?’ he demanded.
Stepping forward I meekly said, ‘I am Samuel, we are shepherds, an angel told us that the Savior, the Messiah, is born this night and how to find him.’ I knelt, and the others followed my lead. ‘We have come to worship the gift God has given this evening.’ The father glanced at the mother who nodded in approval.
Stepping aside the father said, ‘I am Joseph of Nazareth, and this is my beloved Mary, the babe is called Jesus.’
‘Please tell us more about the angel,’ Mary asked. I recounted their appearance to her and repeated the angel’s words. We continued to kneel before the babe, pondering the marvelous promises of God and worshipping Him. I didn’t notice it, but soon I was the only shepherd left.
Standing, I said, ‘the babe will need care like a young lamb. Keep watch over him, protect him, and keep him always close to his mother.’
‘Thank you for all you have said,’ Joseph responded.
‘We will cherish it always,’ Mary added.
With that, I bowed to each and slowly left them.” There was silence around the campfire as the shepherds pondered their experience.
“Samuel,” I said breaking the silence, “who is this child, what is he to become?”
“I’m only a shepherd, not a rabbi, scribe, or priest. But, I have studied the scrolls. All of these events; the angels, the magi, and the baby, have reminded me of a passage from the prophet Isaiah. ‘For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!’”*
Somewhere in the flock a lamb bleated for its mother. The fire crackled, a shepherd stirred, and a mama sheep softly replied. I slowly stood and wandered away from the shepherds, pondering all that I had heard. Staring into the night sky I searched for a glimpse of whatever had lead the magi or some residual trail of the angels. “You’re looking in the wrong place for the answers you seek.” A voice whispered. I turned, expecting, hoping that the voice was that of an angel. It was merely Samuel. “I too have pondered the stars, looking for some trace of God. Now I have seen angels. As marvelous and wonderful and frightening as that moment was they are simply messengers of God’s grace.”
“How do you know what I’m looking for?” I asked.
“Because it is common to all of us. We all seek some assurance that God is with us. I didn’t understand it myself until I saw the babe. For years I had searched nature, searched scriptures, even searched other religions, but I gave up looking and became a simple shepherd. That night in the stable I finally understood that I had only been seeking with my head. When I saw the babe my heart was opened, changed in some way. Now everywhere I look I see the hand of God. Did you see the sunset tonight? What did you think?”
“I thought it was beautiful.” I said, recalling the vivid purples and oranges.
“A few weeks ago I would have said the same thing. But tonight, as I stood on that rock taking it all in I saw the handiwork of God, the brushstrokes of a master painter, a reminder of God’s presence.”
“All because you saw a baby?” I asked incredulously.
Samuel shook his head, “No, because I started looking with my heart. There is a promise in the law of Moses, one I had long overlooked. It goes, ‘But from there you will search again for the Lord your God. And if you search for him with all your heart and soul, you will find him.’** That night in the stable I searched with my heart and found the Lord as the scripture promises. You too will find him, if you search with all your heart. And when you find Jesus you will find your answer.” Samuel turned and walked away, leaving me with the stars and the sounds of the night.
*(Isaiah 9:6–7, NLT) **(Deuteronomy 4:29, NTL)