The Shepherd’s Tale

An imaginary testimony for Christmas morning.

People don’t always realise just how good we shepherds get at counting. You see, “give or take a sheep or two” in our line of business just doesn’t cut the mustard (or should I say, the mint sauce?)

So last night as I was sitting out on the hill under the stars (too many even for a shepherd to count), I spent a while  totting up the years - I made it 34 - since that night when I sat in just the same spot. It was a night that seemed like day, with a star right over Bethlehem, so bright it cast shadows around us. There was a strange glow in the sky too, and the air itself seemed to be singing - it was like angels, and you could practically make out the words - peace… goodwill to men… a king… a baby… laid in a manger. And the strange thing was, we all heard it, every one of us. But we really couldn’t agree about the manger - that just sounded crazy.

Anyway, the wolves seemed to have moved off to the North so we secured the pens and set out towards the town. Looking back I can’t quite think why we went - we just did - no discussion about it. But down there in the town it was as still and quiet as it had been on the hillside - all except for one shabby old stable down an alley, which still had a light burning in it.

Somehow we knew we’d found what we were looking for - we pushed open the door and piled in like we were arriving for a party. And there inside, sitting in a corner, was a young girl - hardly a woman - holding in her arms a new born baby. I can see her face now; I wouldn’t say she was pretty, but she had wonderfully kind eyes and a smile so warm, and innocent, and accepting, as she welcomed us in, as it seemed, not in the least surprised to see us.

Her husband was there too, a nice looking chap, and I thought to myself “you’ve done well for yourself there, mate!” But when he spread out the straw in a manger and laid the baby in it, now asleep, I just burst out laughing! It all made sense after all. In fact, I’m afraid I laughed so loud I woke the baby up. But he didn’t cry. He just looked at me, and I had the strange feeling he was trying to fix my face in his mind. Then he went back to sleep.

Mary and Joseph, the couple were called, and they’d already decided to call the child “Jesus”. I always remembered those names. They were from Nazareth, and they’d come down for the census.

Thirty four years ago… I can hardly believe it.

And yet, the funny thing is, I was in Jerusalem at the Passover this year, and while I was there they were leading a man out to be crucified. A horrible, horrible business, but nothing so unusual.

Except… they came right past me.

And as they did so, the poor condemned man, with his face caked in blood and sweat and tears, caught my eye.

I tried to turn away, but somehow I couldn’t. I stood there, petrified, rooted to the spot.

And through all the grime and the pain, the man smiled at me, as though he recognised me.

And…

And… I’d have known it anywhere…

It was… Mary’s smile!

I caught a snatch of conversation behind me - something about “Jesus of Nazareth”…


That afternoon, the sky turned black - it was a day like night. And if that night like day on the hillside all those years ago there’d been angels in the air, that Friday it seemed as if every evil thing in the whole wide world was thronging up the hill to wreak some terrible vengeance on the poor wretched condemned man who’d gone that way before.

The next day, it felt like time had stopped in its tracks. I was almost surprised to see the sun still creeping across the sky.

But on the Sunday there seemed to be something completely new in the air - a freshness and a lightness like a Spring of Springs. If you haven’t seen angels you maybe wouldn’t understand, but it was like the whole world was brand new again, fresh and clean like the wool from our sheep when the fuller has washed out the grease.

And so last night, as I sat out on the hill, I remembered once more those angel voices - peace… goodwill to men… a king.

And I knew that I’d met the King. And that He was smiling on me still.

ęPhilip Le Riche, 2007

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