Shepherds Abiding in Their Field, Keeping Watch

by Jared C. Wilson December 14, 2020

An Advent Story

Picture a couple of shepherds. They’re just watching the sheep under the stars, like they have for years, maybe decades. And two of the guys, buddies, lean against a boulder, watching the flock. Two months earlier they were leaning against that same rock, like they had so many times before, and one shepherd — let’s call him Sal — says to the other, “Hey, Ernie.” (Let’s pretend the other guy’s name is Ernie.) And Ernie says, “Yeah?”

“Do you ever sit and think to yourself,” Sal says, “if any of that Messiah stuff is true?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, my grandpa used to recite to me all the Scriptures he knew. Isaiah. Jeremiah. Job. I’ve never forgotten them. And when I was younger I used to really believe them. But now, sometimes I wonder . . . I mean, was it all just fairy tales?”

Ernie is incredulous. “What are you talking about, fairy tales? Of course not. God The Lord himself inspired those prophecies.”

“I know,” says Sal. “But it’s been, like, 400 years, since the last prophet. The Romans own everything. Our preachers are mean. Our activists get crucified. The whole world is a mess. It’s chaos. If God was ever speaking, he sure doesn’t seem to be speaking today. He’s been silent a long time, since long before you and I. And day after day, night after night, we come out here and we stare at these stars, and we assume there’s a heaven up there and there’s a God up there doing something. But if there is, he has a funny way of showing it. You never think to yourself, what if this is it?”

And Ernie says, “Man, that’s just life. It’s just waiting. But I know God’s up there somewhere. I know he’s all around here somewhere. And just ‘cause we can’t see him, and just because it looks like he’s done talking, doesn’t mean it’s so. One day he’s gonna split that sky in two and come right down here and set everything back the way he wanted it.”

And Sal looks up at those stars and he says, “Man, I hope so.” But he is also haunted by doubt, by the idea that maybe if there is a God, he’s forgotten all about the people he’s made.

So, the months go by. And then we come to this night. The shepherds are out with their sheep. Just like they’ve been doing for years. It’s Christmas Night, but they don’t know that. Christmas doesn’t exist. To them, it’s just one more night. Like all the others. Same ol, same ol. Nothing ever changes. And Ernie and Sal are leaning against that rock again, in silence. And they’re looking up at the stars. Ernie is hopeful. Sal is doubtful. But they’re looking at the same sky. The same sky that holds so much promise for one but just seems like a big black silence to the other.

But then they strain and squint. Because one star seems to twinkle a little brighter than the others. And the more they stare, the more it looks like it’s . . . yes, it is. It’s getting bigger. Maybe even closer. And then over the whole field the light gets brighter and brighter, almost like daytime. And then it seems like the whole place is on fire. Except nobody’s getting hurt. And all the shepherds are freaking out, terrified. And a figure comes walking out of the blaze. An honest-to-goodness angel has come down: “I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today in the city of David a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

The terrible, wonderful dream has come true.

Can you imagine? Can you hope?

It’s not far off.