>> December 24, 2011
I stuffed a stick into the fire and watched the sparks fly. I wasn’t worried about wild animals. The old men’s snores would scare away any threats to the flock. Being the youngest, the lot fell on me to stay awake through the night.
A random bleat mingled with the dull clang of a sheep’s bell startled me and forced my chin off my chest with a jerk. I couldn’t risk getting caught nodding off or I’d forever be stuck on night watch until I learned my lesson.
I stoked the fire again. The sensation of blazing heat on my face, coinciding with the cool night air on my backside, inspired me to spin around to warm my hind-end. Facing the inky blackness, my eyes struggled to adjust. I rubbed them with my fist but a blurred, halo-white form remained.
“What is out there?” I swiped at my watery eyes with the back of my hand.
“Don’t be afraid,” a voice boomed out of nowhere.
I jumped back and felt my foot land in the warm ashes. In the heart of the whiteness, a figure moved towards me. Cornered, I reached for my staff but froze when the voice spoke again.
“I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign to you: You will find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
Afraid I’d gone mad in my sleepless imaginings, I was thankful to hear the others stumble to their feet. Just then, the horizon lit up and crystal clear voices cried out saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace and goodwill towards men!”
Everyone fumbled over the partial words they heard, piecing them together to make sense of it all in their grogginess.
“Father, Father,” I shoved my way through the men. Toe-to-toe with the man who diligently taught me the scriptures, I whispered for his ears only. “Emmanuel…from the words of the prophet Isaiah…could it be?”
Father stroked his beard and gazed past me to the city below. “The house of David...”
The others huddled in closer. Father placed the palm of his hand over my heart. I’m sure the sound of it thumping could be heard by everyone.
“Indeed, it could be.”
We rushed down the hillside and through the streets of Bethlehem, not knowing where we were to turn next, yet we ran straightway to the place where He lay.
I stared at the tiny swaddled infant. We could see His eyes, nose, and His sweet lips were pursed, freshly satisfied with nourishment from His mother. Before I dared to step forward, I glanced at my father, his beard moist with tears.
The mother nodded to welcome me. She couldn’t have been any older than I, yet I stood looking into the eyes of the virgin we all spoke of from the familiar prophecies. The magnitude of it hit me and I fell to my face and whispered, “God is with us…Oh my Emmanuel.”
I stumbled through the streets, balking at the crowds, with my sacrificial lamb wrapped around my neck. The preparations for Passover caused mayhem in the city, but an unmistakable tension filled the air.
My father always called me a tender soul, able to sense when the Spirit of God mingled among us. Today my heart hammered in my chest. I remembered a time long ago on a grassy hillside when it pounded so hard. I sensed the Almighty’s presence, but not in the same way.
Ahead of me a mob shouted, “Crucify him!”
I could barely breathe. I used my bulk to force my way through the masses and followed the throng to Golgotha. One quick glance into the eyes of a distraught woman and I knew who hung on the cross.
The prophecies swirled through my memory.I clutched my bleating sacrifice to my chest in an effort to quiet my heart. Intermittent words from the Man on the cross pierced through my soul. The guttural cries of His mother’s agony ripped at me.
“Father, into Your hands, I commit my spirit.”
The animal in my arms quivered.
“It is finished.”
Instantly, the earth shook and darkness enveloped us. I fell to my knees, buried my face into the snow white fleece of the lamb, and whispered, “Oh my Emmanuel!”
** Portions of scripture have been quoted from the NKJV.