Luke’s interview with Mary continues.
LUKE: Was it quiet after the Baby was born?
MARY: (smiles) For a while, then we had some unexpected visitors.
LUKE: Who besides the innkeeper knew where you were?
MARY: God knew and sent men to help us understand that this seemingly normal baby was really a Child who would change the world.
LUKE: What do you mean?
MARY: Well, it was such a normal birth and in a stable. All babies are miracles but Joseph and I both expected something more, I guess. Maybe we thought there would be trumpets or another appearance of angels. (pauses) We didn’t see angels but the shepherds around Bethlehem did.
MARY: You know that the fields near Bethlehem are where many of the lambs for the Temple sacrifices are raise, don’t you? Nearly year round the shepherds are out in the fields watching to be sure that no wild animal attacks the flock and making certain the sheep have grazing. Most people don’t like shepherds because they are smelly from being around the sheep all the time. Because they aren’t in town much, there are always rumors that shepherds are thieves, or murderers. It’s sad, really, because most of them are hard working men. Our ancestor David was a shepherd, after all.
LUKE: What happened?
MARY: I was dozing after Jesus fell asleep. Joseph was resting, too, on the hard packed dirt at the entrance to the cave. The murmur of many voices wakened me. At first I thought it was part of my dream until I saw Joseph barring the entrance with his staff gripped in his hands. I saw that he was ready to defend us. ‘What do you want?’ he challenged whoever was outside. I couldn’t hear the answer but I saw his head lift as if in surprise. He turned and looked at me. ‘Mary? Mary, are you awake? There are shepherds here with an amazing story.’
LUKE: What was their story?
MARY: It was the sign we were seeking. I told Joseph, ‘I am awake.’ A moment later the cave was crowded with roughly dressed men. I had to hold my breath for a second because the wave of sheep odor was very strong. They shocked me when every single one dropped to his knees and began to say things like ‘Praise the Holy One of Israel,’ ‘Glory be to God,’ ‘Alleluia,’ and ‘Hosanna.’
LUKE: That is extraordinary.
MARY: (smiles) It was what they told us that was really astonishing. ‘What is this?’ my husband demanded. One older man, probably the chief shepherd turned to him. ‘This is how the angel told us we would find Messiah.’ Joseph and I looked at each other. ‘Messiah,’ Joseph repeated softly. The old shepherd nodded solemnly. ‘We were sitting around the fire tonight, like we always do. The sheep were bedded down and we were almost dozing, too.’ Then all the others started trying to talk at once. I couldn’t understand anything except a few scattered words. ‘Angel…’ ‘baby…’ ‘glory…’ ‘Bethlehem…’ The baby started to cry from the noise and I picked him up from his manger cradle. My simple action silenced the men. ‘Please tell us what happened,’ I begged, ‘but one at a time.’ Again the old shepherd spoke. His eyes never left my son. (closes her eyes and remembers the scene)
LUKE: What did he say?
MARY: The old man knelt there at my feet staring at Jesus. In an awestruck tone he continued the story. ‘We were almost asleep and then there was a brilliant shaft of light in the sky nearby. The sheep weren’t frightened, but we were.’ He looked at his friends and they all nodded in agreement. ‘From the light we heard words.’ Another shepherd repeated the angel’s announcement. ‘We heard, in the air or in our hearts, I don’t know how really. “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy for all people.” I looked around to see if I was the only one hearing the voice.’ Another man interrupted, ‘We were all staring at the light and hearing the words.’
LUKE: I can imagine that they were terrified.
MARY: I suppose so, but the men who came to the cave were no longer frightened. They were ecstatic. The old shepherd continued the saga, ‘This messenger told us, “To you is born in the city of David a Savior, Messiah has come. You will find the child wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” It was amazing news and we stared at each other in disbelief.’ A young shepherd added, ‘Then the sky seemed to burst open and there was music everywhere. I think all the stars of heaven were singing.’ His companion nudged him and insisted, ‘It was the hosts of God. They were singing…’ When his voice trailed off, several other shepherds began to recite the angels’ song, ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those God favors!’
LUKE: What did you do?
MARY: I stared at these ordinary men, transformed by the vision of angels. ‘Thank you,’ I whispered. That God would send angels to these men was confirmation that the Child I held was indeed Messiah. I did not doubt again. Joseph asked the shepherds, ‘How did you know to come here, though?’ The old shepherd chuckled at the question. ‘When the angels were gone, we sat staring at each other. I think we were speechless for several minutes. Everything looked just as it had before the visitation, but we were different. Job there was the first to say what we were all thinking.’ The man indicated shrugged, ‘All I said was that we should go to Bethlehem and see what God showed us. There was a little discussion, but we were sure that if the Child was in a manger, it would be in these caves. So we came.’ All the shepherds nodded. The spokesman added, ‘It was just as we were told. Your Baby is no ordinary child. Messiah has come.’
LUKE: Did they stay there?
MARY: Yes, the men seemed to want to linger. When dawn was lightening the sky, they finally got to their feet and bowed to me and to Joseph. ‘We must tell everyone what we have seen and heard,’ the eldest shepherd told me. Then they left. Joseph and I were alone with our Son, who was really not ours, but God’s.
“Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” During this holy season, I hope you have been able to take time to sit and ponder what the coming of Christ means to you. Like the shepherds, our duty as Christians is to tell others what we have seen and heard of our Lord. They met him as a Baby in a manger, we meet him daily in prayer, in good times, and in difficult times. The story of Jesus you tell is different for each of us, because it is the story of where and when God in Christ met and meets us. What can you tell of Jesus?
Sometimes the tragedies in our lives prove the seed to greater faith. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” despite sorrows in his life and the Civil War raging across the nation (the 4th and 5th verses allude to the war and are rarely sung now). He was married twice and both wives died tragically. His second wife, Frances Appleton Longfellow, died from burns and Longfellow himself was burned trying to put out the fire. His son was badly injured in the Civil War, which he alludes to in the rarely sung 3rd and 4th stanzas of his poem:.
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound the carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearthstones of a continent,
And made forlorn, the households born
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
However, like us, Longfellow knew that this was not the end or answer. He was able to proclaim his faith in the final stanza:
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep;
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With Peace on earth, good will to men.”
Can you affirm a faith that says “God is not dead… right [will] prevail, with Peace on earth, good will to men” despite everything? The birth of a Baby over 2000 years ago is our proof that this is true. May it be so for you this Christmas.