The Worlds Rejoice!

Scripture can be found here...

Micah had just come to the decision that the lamb had to be put down. He sat, huddled beneath a wolf’s pelt on the chilly hillside, a little apart from his father and brothers. In the distance he could see the glow of lamps from the city, even in its deep and dreamless sleep. Around him the sheep and lambs were settled, as settled as they ever were. They certainly sensed no predators, no danger. But one lamb was breathing shallowly in Micah’s arms, and the ewe’s milk he’d been attempting to drip into its mouth was dribbling out.

It was the way of nature. Things are born, and they die, human and beast alike. Micah had known that from childhood, as the son and brother of shepherds. He rose, and carried his small, barely living bundle over to a rock against which his older brothers rested. Awake, every last one of them. Their father lay sleeping near a fire, his breath nearly as shallow as the lamb’s. It was late, nearly midnight, and in the normal course of events the ratio of sleepers to those awake should have been reversed. But none of the brothers could sleep.

They had returned to the old conversation. Jeremiah was speaking. The oldest, he knew his words were taken to heart. But he also knew he’d said these things before. “How do we get him to stop? He can’t go on like this. He’s skin and bones. Could he defend the flock against a lion, or a poacher? For that matter, could he defend it against a strong wind? But he insists. He must go on.”

Zebediah shook his head. “What did he eat today? Did anyone see? Maybe a few dried berries he had in his pouch. I don’t know how he goes on. Yesterday Obi and I practically carried him up this ridge.”

Obadiah nodded. “And… I haven’t mentioned this before, but…” The middle brother hesitated. “One day this week I heard him. He was talking to… our mother.” The brothers looked at one another as he went on. “It was as if Amma were sitting right beside him. He was laughing and speaking softly, and teasing her, just like always. And when he saw me coming, he stopped… so maybe he knows she isn’t really there. But what if he thinks… she’s still alive?”

Micah watched as his brothers nodded and sighed. Their father was a constant worry, more of a burden, in a way, than the flock itself. And since their mother had died… he’d refused to even set foot in their little home on the outskirts of the city. He wanted only to sleep under the stars.

Isaiah spoke. “You know what I think…”

And then the world tilted, and the heavens burst asunder, and the brothers were flat on the stony grass, quaking with terror, their heads hidden beneath their hands.

Later they tried to describe it to one another. They kept circling back to…

The light. How it shone bright as the noonday sun… and what it revealed as they peeked through their shaking fingers… an army. Was it an army? Rank upon rank of beings that did not stand on the hillside, but who hovered, circled and danced above them, swooped unsettlingly close, and whose wings… were they wings?... were the colors of rainbows and rivers and new blades of grass in the spring.

And the music… strange, loud, lovely, harmonies joyous and sweet, and voices unlike any they had ever heard, all singing together one word.  “Glory!”

And… their father! The sons—all five of them—remained flat against the ground, shaking uncontrollably, as the flock, now fully awake, circled them and stepped in their hair and created a cacophony of bleats as the sheep did their best to join in the unearthly singing. But their father alone, of all the men, stood on his feet and lifted his face to the light, as if bathing himself in its warmth… and he lifted it to the music, as if drinking it in with all his thirsty soul. One by one the brothers saw, and, with fear mixed with a strange hope, lifted themselves, just a little from the ground. There was their father, not cowering, but standing; swaying slightly, but not in weakness. He seemed to move with the sounds of singing. His cloak, fluttering in the breeze, took on the colors, too, of the singing, dancing, shining vision, making him look, for all the world, like the very angels above.

There were angels above them.

And then all the angels were still, but for one, whose shape and size seemed to alter—he grew until he dwarfed, not only the others, but the very mountains themselves, and even the city, Bethlehem, whose lights they could no longer see. The angel spoke, and its voice was like rushing water, like stars singing.

“Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:  to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” And then the angel seemed to swoop forward again, until it was almost face-to-face, wing-to-garment with their father. Zebediah jumped to his feet, as if to rush forward, but Jeremiah held him back; their father, too, without turning, held out one hand, to the side, a familiar gesture to brothers and sheep alike: Stay. He needed no one’s aid. And though the angel seemed to whisper, its voice resonated in their blood, so thrilling were the words.

“This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

And then the angel once again was one with the great angel army, and their song swelled and the refrain branded itself into the heart of each man:

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace, goodwill among people…”

One by one the brothers came forward to stand behind their father and lift their faces, too. Glory! They found their courage in his courage, and they laid their hands on his shoulder, and clutched one another’s arms and backs as they stood, swaying, like the holy men praying in the Temple. Micah had almost forgotten the lamb, still a bundle in his arms. Its heartbeat seemed to be getting stronger. And for the first time since it had come forth from its mother, it started to join in with the bleats of the flock. Even this tiny creature couldn’t help singing.

And just as suddenly as it had appeared, the vision was gone. There the men stood, five brothers and their elderly father, in the midst of the swirling, roaming, singing flock of sheep, and before them lay their goal: the glow of the lamps of Bethlehem, which seemed to brighten and shine forth. It was an invitation: Come. Come and see. And they remembered the angel’s message: “You will find a child.” 

Their father turned to them at last. His eyes were shining and his face was glowing, as if he’d been running. His voice was strong… stronger than they’d heard it for a long time. They waited for him to speak, though every one of them wanted nothing more than to break into a run towards the city, towards the child, towards the savior, the Messiah. But they waited. They waited for their father to speak.

“My sons,” he said at last. “Named for a prophet, every last one of you.” And then he laughed so long and hard that they couldn’t help joining in, and their eyes and their faces were shining, too. Their father continued.

“And now, God has imparted to our human hearts, the blessings of heaven. Cast out your fear! Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us!”

And then they were running and laughing, the brothers, their father, even the sheep. They were running, running, towards the dark streets that somehow, promised to hold an everlasting light, one that would shine even when every lamp was extinguished.

The visit was, you may say, satisfactory. The father, still dazed and amazed, but also energized, at his own unexpected competence as a midwife. The mother, an exhausted girl, who blushed at the presence of six strange men bursting through the stable door with talk of angels and singing. But her eyes warmed when they asked to see the child, and she held him up for them, her face broken into a dazzling smile that erased all signs of fatigue. And when their father had told her the words of the angel, she nodded her head, eagerly, and spoke at last: “Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed… the Almighty has done great things for me!” And she looked at the child, now held tightly against her, and whispered. “Holy is his name.”

As they returned to the fields, Micah realized he’d left the lamb behind. It had meandered about the stable on its own power. It seemed ready and determined to live. But his mind was elsewhere—their father, too, was new and alive with this strange and inexplicable joy. He was leading them in singing a merry song as they walked, just as he had when they were boys. And the day broke all around them, and inside them, too, and and it seemed that everything, everyone, had been made new.

Merry Christmas my friends, and Thanks be to God! Amen.