Imagining being there on the night Christ was born
Editor's note: At this time of year readers have often asked Stacey Cole to repeat one of his earlier Christmas columns. This one is a rewrite of a column published on Dec. 24, 1983.
The Christmas season has always been a very special time for me. In trying to recall when I first heard the story of the birth of Jesus, I cannot remember. It seems as though I have always known and received great joy, whenever hearing or reading of this awe-inspiring event.
It has thus become a part of me, as are all things accepted within us. So ingrained is the story that on Christmas Eve, as soon as darkness begins to descend, I look skyward to see if there is a bright star - a star of promise.
There have been several occasions while traveling toward home, just after dark, when I have seen a bright "evening" star that seemed to draw me onward. Each time this has happened the star was not in the eastern sky but rather in the west. Even so, Christmas and that grand story in the New Testament as recorded in St. Matthew returns to mind.
King Herod called privily to him wise men - to inquire about what time the star appeared and, not getting a satisfactory answer, sent them to search for the young child. After leaving Herod, they found the star by looking east and, "When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy."
I suspect that the star I have seen on several occasions on the eve of Christ's birth was a planet. It really doesn't matter, though, for my "star" in the winter evening sky was but a symbolic remembrance. I have often wondered how many poetic lines have been penned because of the story of the star - the Star of Bethlehem. Perhaps it encouraged Henry David Thoreau to write in his Journal of Friday, March 25, 1842, "The stars are God's dreams, thoughts remembered in the silence of His night."
On Christmas eve, I still like to leave the world behind for awhile and dream of those golden days when Christ was born. Those words from St. Luke: "And she brought forth her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in the manger; for there was no room in the inn" - to this day, those precious words ring through my mind as clear as silver bells! How I wish I could have been there and have been one of those shepherds who eyes fell upon the babe lying in the manger. And once I imagined I was!
One Christmas Eve, I drifted back to the days when we kept a herd of cattle and a flock of sheep. I went to the barn to sweep the manger and move the remaining stray wisps of hay closer to where the cows could reach it. When all the chores were done, I sat upon a bale of hay, leaned back against the sheep pen wall and wondered how it would have been that night in Bethlehem two thousand odd-years ago. How would I have reacted had I really been one of the shepherds abiding in a field, watching over a flock at night, when the Angel of the Lord appeared?
Those shepherds were "sore afraid" and I have no doubt I would have been frightened also. I reckoned my knees would have quivered, and all manner of butterflies would have exploded in my stomach. And when the Angel of the Lord spoke, my fright would have increased. And when the angel said, "Fear not, I bring you tidings of great joy ..." and further explained that this day a Savior, Christ the Lord, has been born, I'm sure an immediate calm would not have descended upon me. My adrenaline would not accommodate such an abrupt change and a moment or two later my heart would have again skipped a beat, when, as it is written in St. Luke 2:13-14, "And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men."
All of this would have been almost too much to comprehend. However, after the night had once again become still, I would have readily agreed with my fellow shepherds to make haste toward Bethlehem to see what had happened.
To have opened a door or entered through an open door of a strange stable in the nighttime, would of itself have taken courage. And then, to have seen the Christ child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in the manger as had been foretold, would have created sensations within me that I could never have before known.
Gradually I felt the cold wrap itself around me. There in my darkened stable, the fantasy faded. I would walk the earth once more with my feet touching the ground. Even so, going to the house, my eyes looked upwards toward the heavens searching, always searching for the star.
And so this Christmas Eve there are no cattle nor sheep, nor even a bale of hay on the farm. Even so, once again, I will believe myself a shepherd tending his flock.
MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!
Stacey Cole's address is 529 W. Swanzey Road, Swanzey 03446.
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