I have always loved Hope’s enthusiasm and obedience. He has been a wonderful comrade in arms since the beginning of our time as well as a true friend.
My laugh rings out and vibrates through the air causing ripples and disturbances.
It feels like I have waited almost my entire existence to bring this message and now the time has arrived I can barely hold it in!
In a sudden flare of light, he is gone. Hope leads the way and we all follow.
Smoke rose, and flashes of embers floated up in the warm air; the gentle glow quickly faded in the cool night. The wood crackled and popped as the flames licked the dry surface. The light and warmth from the camp fire drew the men despite their duties to their charges on the hillside.
It had been a quiet and uneventful evening. The sheep had gathered in close and there had been no need to wake his father. He sighed as he got to his feet again and wrapped the mantle tighter over his shoulders. Turning his face away from the heat and into the cold night air, he set out to patrol the borders.
Rocks lay hidden in the darkness, so he waited a few moments for his eyes to adjust. He looked up. The night sky never seemed to become less powerful. The swathe of stars creating a milky belt, the constellations that never changed and the occasional single bright speck that didn’t flicker but shifted from season to season made the night watches bearable.
Soon he was able to see the valley was lit by the dull silver light of the moon. He shook his head, not able to understand how the fire light could blind him to all the detail that was now revealed.
He carried his rod; a short wooden club. He looped the leather cord around his wrist and gripped the smooth handle. His father had watched over him as he had made it a few years ago, whittling at the cut branch until it resembled his own weapon. It had stayed clean and untarnished for only a few days. They had been further down the valley when a lamb was attacked by a wolf. He had been the first to the scene. Quicker than his father, but not, at that point, as skilled, he had taken on the beast and killed it. The lamb had survived, yet did not come away without injury. He learnt that day what it really meant to have a strong rod in his hand, he knew that had it not have been for that wooden club, and his father’s teaching, it may not have been just the lamb that had got injured.
In his other hand was his rod. He leaned on it as he descended a particularly steep section of the hillside. The stones shifted beneath his feet. As the rattling faded, a quiet bleat came from some bushes a little way off.
He dug the flattened end of the rod into the ground and scooped up a little dirt and grit. He flicked the contents to the far side of the undergrowth and a startled sheep darted out from the other side.
‘Get back with the others!’ he said laughing to himself. He stretched out the rod, tapped the ground then patted the sheep’s rear, directing it back to the group. ‘Greedy thing! You are much better off with the flock than thinking of your stomach.’
He followed it up back up the hillside, tucking it back inside the briar fencing, before encircling the fence and repairing the place where the sheep had escaped. The movement made the animals skittish. He began to sing a familiar and gentle song, and his young voice calmed the anxious flock enough for him to account for all the sheep.
He turned away and looked over the still valley.
My friend is so full of excitement that he is to be the one to tell the news and declare the message. His face shines and he radiates pulses of vermilion and emerald in his intense joy. I cannot be anything but happy for him.
We arrive under cover of darkness. The night sky is beautiful from this hillside. The Creator set the heavenly bodies on their courses back at the beginning of time; they tell a story of their own. They will announce mysteries of their own.
There is no sign of the enemy, yet even he has heard of what will take place.
I focus on Liberty in the town and the hillside fades from my vision. I see him brandishing his flaming sword, swiping and plunging the dark creature before him. It screams as it backs away and then takes flight.
He stands, concealed, between the couple in the secluded cave where the animals are kept, and the man at the entrance. The man conceals the purses of several other travellers visiting the town under his cloak.
‘Nothing here to see,’ Liberty states, blowing into the man’s face, who turns and walks away with a blank expression.
The young girl is crouched on the floor. A cloth has been laid out beneath her, separating her from the debris. The heat from the animals takes the chill from the space. She cries out and the man at her side tries to comfort her. There is only a small oil lamp but through Liberty’s eyes I can see the agony they endure. But, even in the turmoil there are ribbons of fresh green twirling in the air. I see another creature hiding in the shadows. Its sulphur breath stains the air insipid yellow.
‘Joseph!’ she whispers as the pain subsides.
‘What can I do?’ he asks rubbing her back but looking about for anything that could help her. ‘What do you want me to do?’
Liberty speaks clearly. ‘Remind her of the promise.’
Joseph takes a deep breath and wraps his arm around her. ‘Remember what he said to you,’ he said encircling her with his embrace. She sighs and her body relaxes a little. ‘He won’t fail us now.’
‘I don’t think I can do it.’
‘I know that you can. You are highly favoured, remember.’
The pain floods over her once more.
Liberty stands guard and as a witness for the host. We all watch as the most incredible miracle the earth has ever seen, takes place.
The girl struggles in labour, but her confidence has returned.
Suddenly, and yet after a long wait for human kind, a child is born. Such a small and helpless being, given to the care of parents that will love and guide. Yet, I do not understand the fullness of the Creator’s plan. I have seen these parents, they are not without fault, they are vulnerable to fear and evil, yet are favoured far more than they will ever understand. They were chosen to be the ones to raise this, the most precious of all children.
The grey baby, covered in the traces of the struggle to be born, lies on the blood stained cloth.
The girl sighs and her husband reaches for his adopted son. He gathers the newborn up in the cloth, wiping away the mess, and holds him close. He looks down on the perfection of the fragile body formed away from prying eyes, and he marvels.
The weighty authority of the Creator fills the dark cave as the baby takes his first breath. It is one of pain and the infant lets out his first cry.
Joseph laughs and leans forward to kiss his wife. ‘Your son, my love,’ he says as he puts the small baby into her arms. ‘Just as he promised.’
Tears of joy flow readily down her cheeks. She gently whispers his name. ‘Jesus.’ She looks into the eyes of the little one, who calms at the sound of her voice. He blinks, unable to focus.
Joy fills me completely, yet there is room for wonder. This is the greatest and most glorious gift of life.
I quickly focus again on the hillside. This is going to be fun!
Hope giggles. ‘Are you all ready? he asks.
We line the border of the camp in a huge circle, then row upon row of us tower ever higher into the sky. We form a dome over the unsuspecting men.
Hope begins to walk over the stony ground, dressed in a shepherds garb drawing ever closer. The young man who guards the flock is squinting into the darkness.
Everything is as it should be. The watchman wandered over to the fire once again and prepared to settle down. Movement caught his attention. He began to squint into the darkness. He took a step forward and gripped his rod tightly, purposely tapping the leg of his father with his foot.
The older man stirred and glanced at his son. Seeing his son’s alert state he glanced over at the approaching man then reached over to the other sleeping men and shook them.
Quickly, all six of them were ready to take on any robber.
Still, with almost unnatural silence the man approached.
Suddenly the man was encased in light and brightness shone out of him.
Hope discards his human appearance and blazes into light. The men hide their faces and back away. Trails of purple, like silken robes, flow from the men and linger on the ground around them. The youngest man, Jesse, the one who was watching, is the first to look up.
Hope’s golden tunic leaves gold dust sparkling on the stones. ‘Do not be afraid!’ He bellows in his deep voice.
I cannot help but laugh. Humans seem to be prone to this emotion yet if they fully knew and understood their Creator there would be no room for the fear that they suffer from. The Creator has only good things for them, blessings that are of great value, yet they cower away, wondering if their idea of the Creator is here to punish or rebuke them. They have no understanding of the awesome gift he has given to them today. But even as he speaks the fear dissolves away and in its place a deep respect and attitude of worship seems to rise. Indigo sparkles in the space around them.
Even at these few words I can see the change in Jesse. Swirling over his mantle are cyan mists, curling and twisting. He is recognising the call of the Creator.
Hope speaks clearly the message that the Creator instructed him to give. ‘I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.’ He lifts his hands in praise to the Creator, encouraging the shepherds to take hold of this message. In their town, their province, their world, there is so much sorrow and loneliness. But no more! ‘Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you.’ The shepherds listen to the fullfilment of what was spoken of hundreds of years ago. They are familiar with the prophets who spoke of this wonder and have heard the teaching in the temple. But this is the town nearby, this is the place where the mighty King David was born and they are the ones who are following in the kings footsteps as they graze their sheep on the same hills that he did.
Hope sees the unbelief begin to spread. ‘This Saviour born to you,’ he continues pressing through the haze. ‘He is the Messiah, the Lord.’ Suddenly the air is clear, truth cuts through all doubt. ‘This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’
We cannot contain it any more. We have to celebrate! We need to worship and declare the truth.
Everything within me responds to the Creator. Bursts of gold explode from my mouth as I praise, mixing and joining with all the explosions around me. Each one of us expresses something different, and each eruption of uttered words laces the air with fresh and iridescent sparkles.
The host blaze and fill the night sky. Each one of us shouts with one voice. ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven!’ What has happened tonight has not been the result of any man, yet it is because of man that the Creator stepped down. His plan and purpose is glorious. He has come to redeem the Remnant once and for all. ‘And on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.’ There will be no more wandering, no more loneliness, no more restless spirit, but he has come to earth so that humankind may be brought to a place of peace with the Creator. Humankind has been shown favour.
We sing, we shout, we celebrate.
Jesse stood, unable to move. As his eyes adjusted to the sudden darkness, he could feel a bubbling of excitement.
‘We should go,’ he said quietly at first. ‘We need to go.’
‘What about the sheep?’ his father asked.
‘Did you not hear what the angel said?’ Jesse laughed to himself. ‘I never thought I’d say something like that!’ He turned to the other shepherds. ‘Don’t you see? The Messiah, the one who will bring freedom is here. We should go and see him.’ Jesse picked up his sleeping blanket. ‘Do you really think that there are any wolves that would hang around after all that?’
‘Who are we to go looking for the King?’ the older man said sadly. ‘I’m just a shepherd.’
Jesse straightened his shoulders. ‘I think we are the ones on whom favour rests. I do not want to ignore a message from God. Those angels were here to speak to us. God sees us from a different perspective.’ Jesse looked to his father, wanting to be obedient, but knew that he had to leave. ‘Are you coming?’
Everything seemed dim compared to the angels’ light. The faint glow from the town of Bethlehem welcomed them. Jesse patted his father’s back as they climbed the hill.
‘This is all very well and good,’ his father said, ‘but have you thought about finding this baby with all these visitors in town?’
Jesse frowned. ‘Well, I guess the manger is a clue. We should check the places where there are animals.’
Years of waiting and feeling that the Creator has been silent has made Jesse’s father bitter. His colours are tarnished. I see the spindly creature that stalks him. I hear the constant barrage of lies. No wonder he thinks that the Creator has abandoned him, when his atmosphere is polluted and insulated against the voice of the Creator. He fights so hard for all he has. I have a treat for him. He is called to higher things. He has been chosen to tell of the arrival of the Messiah to the Remnant, to tell of all he has seen and heard. This will change his perception of a distant Creator, his weakness will become the Creator’s strength.
I stand in the gap and raise my bow. The clean crisp light makes the creature cower.
‘I’m not doing any harm,’ it hisses.
‘Not anymore!’ I say as I fire an arrow. It pierces its tongue and the creature gags in pain. It turns and takes to the air.
I instantly change. Taking the guise of a young girl I step out in front of him and skip about. There is no hiding my joy tonight!
‘What’s got into you?’ he asks as he passes by.
‘Come and see!’ I grab his hand and pull him down the alley towards the rock face and the caves. I can hear him puffing and trying to break free. But I just hold him tighter and pull harder.
‘You are strong!’
I laugh. I know that!
I have led him to the cave.
Jesse followed his father as the little girl enthusiastically pulled him down the path.
The tattered hessian curtain flapped in the wind and a small cry came from the cave. Jesse pushed the fabric aside. He covered his mouth, hushing the gasp. In the manger, where the straw and feed for the animals was meant to be lay a tiny baby wrapped in cloth. The mother quickly picked the child up and snuggled it close to her protectively.
Jesse’s father pushed forward. ‘He is here just like they said!’ He fell to his knees.
All the shepherds entered and bowed low.
‘How did you know we were here?’ Joseph asked.
‘You won’t believe it …’ Jesse said quietly. ‘… but then, maybe you will.’
The End … or is it?!
(This story is the property of Katy Hollway. Permission to copy must be obtained from the author.)