It was in the fourteenth generation after the captivity, in the days of Herod the Terrible, that the Christ arrived in Judea. The land and its inhabitants were burdened with Roman taxes and oppressed with Herod’s soldiers. The injustices of the cruel emperors had enslaved them.
They saw themselves no different from the many others that had gone before them, another nameless generation that would grovel and fade and pass away, like the field grass that grew on the ground they worked. It was a time of misery and poverty for those who found safety in obscurity and wore piety like a cloak hoping to evade the evil eye of their persecutors. Nothing good ever seemed to happen to good men. The hope of the promise of a coming Great One, Who would carry the government on His shoulder, the Mighty God, the Prince of Peace spoken by the Prophet Isaiah, written in the sacred texts, was still dutifully read in the Sabbath rituals.
But for most, the coming of a Messiah, the deliverer was no more forthcoming or comforting than the dusty traditions that kept tormenting them with the hope of His arrival. Waiting for something for so long had only made the delay and their painful condition more sad and perplexing. And though a flicker of hope mysteriously lingered in the back of the minds of the devout, the darkness had fallen upon even them. No one spoke openly or watched the skies expectantly any more. Many had gone after the myths and fables taught to them by the followers of lesser gods, demons that moved seductively among them, delighting to mingle idolatry with confusion.
But it was just then, at that very moment when hope was at its weakest and the night was at its darkest, when the unexpected happened! Suddenly the blackened sky was filled with stars and the Angel of the Lord appeared among them. He told them that a baby had been born! A baby had been born? And what was so unusual about a baby being born at night? And why would the Angel of the Lord be sent to make this birth announcement to a bunch of inconsequential shepherds? Had not many children been born under worse conditions? A pauper’s child? Hardly the heralding of nobility it would seem. But it must be important. What had just happened to light up the sky with this excitement, they pondered. These messengers must have been sent by Someone out there who was trying to tell us something, no doubt. We are not all dreaming the same vision. Some of us were not even sleeping.
This could not be the descending of some fully grown deity, a Zeus or a Thor, come down from the sky, like some good looking demi-god in full armor and flashing thunderbolt. This was a baby! And yet the angels made a big deal about it to the only ones they could find watching that night, the lowliest of all, the Shepherds who kept the night vigil over the temple flocks of little lambs that awaited slaughter in the coming daily sacrifices.
“Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people, for there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
A Savior? What? Here? Now? Finally? Really? I do not believe it! This cannot be! Is this what we have been waiting for for so long, too long!! It is too late! Thoughts flew through their heads like racing birds set free from the back cages of their minds. Who would ever believe such a thing? We all have given up on the idea of a Messiah. We have grown up and gotten past that nonsense of a Savior come to rescue us. Rome is our god now. But the Angel continues to speak.
“And this will be a sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
They are talking about a place! A specific place, now, here? In obscurity? In Bethlehem? They rubbed their eyes and looked in disbelief at one another, suddenly blinded by the light of a multitude of heavenly beings radiating a brilliance that caused them to have to look down.
But now their ears heard what they could not look upon. These powerful sky warriors were benevolent beings, praising God, speaking in a language they understood. Wait, listen, what were they saying…?
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!”
Peace? Good Will? Toward Men? Men who knew nothing but ill will and had shed blood in battle since the world left Eden? Who was sending this message to them and what did it mean? Good will, a peace offering, a gesture from Heaven that was reaching out to them in their lost, hopeless, miserable condition.
They had learned to live life without peace, without love and hope, forgotten and without aspirations. Some would call it depression. They called it survival, not of the fittest, or of the worthy, but of the lucky. Fate ruled in the affairs of men, not God or His good will! For all they knew, He was still mad at them because of the sin. And since the curse had never lifted from the ground or their hearts from that day to this, what did it matter how many babies were born or sheep were sacrificed.
Peace, joyful tidings, what could this mean? Nothing? A loosing of shackles? A lifting of the veil? More waiting for sure? The Promise coming to fulfillment? How could they know that God’s message would be sent as a three part trilogy? The shepherds were not aware that their announcement would be part of the first installment, or of the stir the wise men would make with their inquiry.