It feels as if it were yesterday, that wildly unexpected visitation in the fields, when the Angel of the Lord came to us. Now is the time of year, your earth years, not heaven’s time, where my story is told again and again, as it should be. But allow me to share it myself as the exact facts are more glorious than you know. And please, I say it is “my story” because it is so precious to me, but it is our story, us shepherds in that field near Bethlehem, and it is your story and it is, most of all, our Jesus’ story.
We were sitting around on that dark, brooding night, passing our time by whittling, or chatting, or daydreaming of better days. We did not realize that the most incredible wonder was about to happen. I was not sure if I was dreaming or awake when I first saw the Angel, but one’s mind would not have the material to create a dream of such a glorious being. He was majestic, clothed in a great light that seemed to push us back and down to our knees. He was suddenly there, far taller than a man, shining like the sun, staring deeply into my eyes. I was terrified. My heart was beating so loud and fast that I thought to run but could not move my legs. His gaze held us there. His words astounded.
“Don’t be afraid,” he said, “I am sent from God to bring you some very happy news: In the City of David your Saviour is now born, and not just your Saviour, but the Saviour of all people. The sign you will look for will be in an unlikely but fitting place –for you will find the the Baby from heaven wrapped in lambskin swaddling clothes and placed in a feed trough.”
I know that your nativity scenes feature a little wooden stable, or perhaps, your tradition suggests a cave, or perhaps your imagination suggests the backside of a very full country inn, where the donkeys who accompanied the travelers were housed. It was not like that really. You see, I was a special kind of shepherd, still quite looked down on, but less so than the ordinary shepherd who sat keeping sheep safe In the middle of nowhere. You see, that night I was tending the flocks in the shepherd’s fields outside Bethlehem watching over the lambs that were born for temple sacrifice. I worked at Migdal Eder, which nurtured and cared especially for the Passover lambs, the ones that must be perfect and without blemish.
Migdal Eder was where Rachel gave birth to little Benjamin “Son of My Right Hand”, the youngest son of Jacob (Gen 35:21), you will see the hint that God put in that! Migdal Eder means “the tower of the flock” because there was a tower there and that is where we cared for the newborn lambs. The chosen baby lambs were wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger so they would not hurt themselves–they had to be perfect for the sacrifice! The prophet Micah was the one that linked Bethlehem with Jesus — “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah,Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting.” (Micah 5:2) but you missed the hint of the exact spot–Migdal Eder!
The prophet Micah, it seems to me, refers to Migdal Eder when he writes: “And you, O tower of the flock (see picture above), the stronghold of the daughter of Zion, to you shall it come, even the former dominion shall come, the kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem.” (Micah 4:8). From this verse grew up the understanding amongst our people that the Messiah would first be declared here. And so He was!
Oh my! I bow my knee to God when I think that He came to us shepherds, came to us nobodies, to tell us our King had come! Who was I and Who would write such a story? Only God! Blessed be He!
I find it amusing, now, in looking back, that we who earned our living as shepherd’s, were not considered trustworthy enough to bear witness in court and yet the High King of Heaven’s courts trusted and blessed us with the announcement and the announcing of the Messiah! That is what our God is like though, yes? Always confounding the high and mighty and revealing Himself to the humble of heart.
Please believe me when I tell you that it was sometimes hard to be humble after the events of that night–so privileged did all we shepherds feel! But what mystery is this? the High King of heaven, born of a woman, a baby wrapped safely in lambskin like a sacrificial lamb? and put in the feed trough like those destined to be sacrificed?
Now and forever it is the first duty of the shepherd to keep the flock safe, the little lambs….I cry when I think that He is My Shepherd, just as I, for a few blessed moments, was His shepherd. I cry when I see how He shepherded us in His low estate, giving Himself as the sacrifice for our sins. Who could have thought this story up?
The Angel came and spoke, his voice like a thunderstorm, and then behind him the heaven themselves opened to reveal a great multitude of heavenly beings–more angels and God knows who, singing in the most incredible harmony of love and adoration: “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth, peace and goodwill toward all people.” Do you know what it is like to hear heaven sing?
We ran to the tower to find them–you know it was not December– and there they were! The same glow that was with the angels was resting on the little One in the manger. My heart turned over within me when I laid eyes on Him–so small and serene yet so full of something so large, so very large.
His parents looked up, startled to see us, we were so bedraggled and bug-eyed, standing before their Baby in awe! We tried to explain, tried a hundred times before it made sense to us or to them–our words tripping out of our mouths…but they would get very used to odd stories and unlikely spokesmen. Mary looked at Joseph, then down at Jesus, for that was His Name, and started to cry. Joseph just looked at us like he had seen a ghost.
We could not contain ourselves, I’m not sure how far we ran that night, telling everyone what had happened, babbling the story out like mad men. Of course you can guess the ones who believed us and the ones who did not. It did not matter–we had seen the Truth! We had heard heaven sing! We knew! God, we knew! The Little Baby, wrapped like a sacrificial Lamb, the angels, the Light, the Glory! We could not really have known completely how it all fit together, but we knew our lives had forever changed!
I tell you all this to remind you that there is always more glory to the Story than you know. I tell you this to remind you that God comes to the lowly and the humble and the forgotten and not to the high of heart. He does this because that is what He is like. So as you celebrate His birth, please remember what I have told you and let your heart kneel before Him….perhaps the heavens will open and you will hear the host and inhabitants of heaven praising Him. Forever praising Him.
Won’t you join us?
My story here is fictionalized but based on some very interesting facts…. if you want to read more about Migdal Eder, check out Alfred Edersheim’s, “The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah’s” commentary on Migdal Eder, and read various other commentators various takes on the subject. I’m going to love to hear what actually happened from the shepherds themselves one day.
Rose-Marie Slosek is a Board Member of Women of the Word. She also blogs at Pen of the Wayfarer and is a spiritual director. She loves to travel to other nations spreading the Gospel, and is an avid photographer of nature.