On a cold winters night, on a lonely hill near Bethlehem, a group of men sat huddled around a campﬁre. If one went close enough they could hear occasional laughter and the steady rhythm of a story teller's voice. An old shepherd stood a little ways away from the cheery blaze, looking down the hill to the ﬂocks of sheep. His eyes scanned the surrounding trees and brush for the ﬁrst sign of a predator. The cold bit at his hands and ﬁngers and he blew on them to keep them warm. Finally, he turned and walked over to the ﬁre.
"Benjamin," said the old man, handing one of the men a shepherd's crooked staff, "Go take your shift and give an old man a chance to warm up. Josiah, you replace Andrew."
"Aw, Jessie, Jacob was just in the middle of his story about his travels to Rome," complained the one called Benjamin.
"No buts," said the old shepherd sitting down. Benjamin took the staff and walked out mumbling into the darkness, with Josiah right behind him. Jessie, for that was the old man's name, listened to the rest of Jacob's grand story of the capitol of the greatest empire on earth while he sipped his lamb broth in silence.
After Jacob had ﬁnished his narrative Jessie cleared his throat, "You may talk of all the grand things you’ve seen and done, but unless you were here on this night thirty ﬁve years ago, which you weren't, then you have never seen something I have, and never will."
"Come on, old man, how can you have seen something I haven't seen if you have never left Judea?" Jacob asked skeptically.
"Because what I saw only happened once, right here on this hill and in the town behind us." Jessie answered, taking another long sip of his hot broth and wiping his lips.
"If your story is so grand, old man, then why don't you tell us?" Jacob challenged.
"That I will," the aged shepherd answered, leaning back. He slowly moved a long straw back and forth in his mouth as he contemplated for a moment. He then took a deep breath and began.
"Around thirty-ﬁve years ago, when I was but a young man like yourselves there lived a young virgin in the town of Nazareth. She was betrothed to a man named Joseph of the house of David. Her name was Mary. One day she was going about her business as usual when an angel appeared to her."
"You believe in angels, old man?" asked Jacob.
Jessie turned his head towards the traveler who had decided to spend the night entertaining shepherds and replied simply, "Yes, I do." He worked the straw back and forth in his mouth for a moment more before continuing his narrative."Anyway, the angel told her that she was going to have a baby, but that this baby would be very special. He was to be the Messiah, the promised deliverer. Of course as she was not married yet she asked the logical question, 'How shall this be, for I am a virgin?' The angel then went on to tell her that 'The Holy Spirit would come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you, therefore the Holy one who is to be born
will be called the Son of God.' Mary believed the angel. How could she do otherwise. When her betrothed heard that she was pregnant he thought to put her away privately.
"God had a different plan in mind however, so he sent an angel to Joseph as well and explained the same thing. Months passed and the Child in Mary's womb grew. Then came a decree from the Roman Emperor that all the world would be registered. So Joseph took Mary and came here to Bethlehem to be registered. The Emperor had decreed that each man must go to the town of their birth. When they arrived the only inn in town was completely full, and they couldn't ﬁnd anywhere to stay but the stable." "The stable!?!" ejaculated the disbelieving Jacob. "If he was the Messiah as the angel said then he wouldn't be born anywhere as humble as a stable!" Jessie quietly waited for the traveler to ﬁnish his outburst, working the straw back and forth in his mouth, then quietly stated, "God's ways are different from our ways." Jacob huffed then slowly settled back into his sitting position. Jessie continued.
"This is where my part of the story comes in. I was around twenty years old at the time. We had registered as soon as the soldiers came so we were free to work as usual. We had spent almost all day moving the sheep from the pasture west of the town to this pasture here. The sheep were especially difﬁcult and we were all worn out. To make matters worse three wolves decided to take advantage of the distractions and try to grab a lamb or two. So we had to stop work to go after them. When we ﬁnally settled down for the night we were all very tired. I plopped down to scrape the wolf hides while Benjamin's father Simon was on watch duty with his brother, Ezra. Another two shepherds lay sleeping to my right and my brother Jeremiah carefully cooked our dinner.
"All of a sudden out of nowhere light burst in upon us. I fell to the ground instantly and I believe my companions did the same. I thought that the end of the world had come and my whole life ﬂashed before my eyes. When I ﬁnally mustered enough courage to look up, my worst fears seemed to be conﬁrmed, for directly over our heads was the most grand looking angel anyone has ever seen."
Jessie paused and chewed his straw leisurely as all the shepherds and the traveler stared at him expectantly, wide eyed. "Well? That isn't the end, is it?" asked Jacob. Jessie shook his head, took a deep breath and continued. "We were all so terriﬁed that the angel's words, 'Do not be afraid,'
scarcely eased our troubled minds.The angel continued on to say, 'Behold I bring you good tidings of great joy that will be to all people. For there is born unto you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: You will ﬁnd the babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.' Suddenly it seemed as if the very sky over us exploded as hundreds, no, thousands of magniﬁcent angels appeared in the sky over us singing: 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill to men!' ”
"As quickly as the angels came, they were gone. We all sat in stunned silence until Ezra and Simon came running up. 'Did you see that!?!' Simon asked. We nodded our heads, shocked beyond the point of speech. 'Well then what are we waiting for? Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this great thing that the Lord has made known unto us!' We all slowly rose to our feet and began walking towards Bethlehem. As we slowly got over our shock, our walk became a trot and our trot turned into a full out run. "You must know that there are several stables in Bethlehem and I was beginning to wonder how we would ﬁnd the right one without having to search from stable to stable, when I noticed a strangely bright star above us. Its beam of light seemed to shine straight down on a particular stable. I quickly directed my course towards this stable, the other shepherds following right behind. When we entered a dim lantern burned in the corner, casting shadows over the form of a man and woman next to a manger with a baby lying in it. The man, whose name I later found out was Joseph, rose to his feet. ‘Sirs, we want no trouble,’ he said, putting himself between Mary and the Baby and ourselves. ’Neither do we,’ I said, and when on to tell about the angels and their message. Joseph then stepped aside and Mary showed us her Son.
"A feeling of awe swept over me as I looked down at that Baby. I knew in my heart that what the angel said was true, this Babe was the Messiah, the Son of God, the One come to save us. I can never describe the feeling of that night. The angels' appearance was spectacular, but seeing the baby Jesus was somehow more amazing."
Jessie rotated the straw from the one side of his mouth to the other and stared into the dying embers of the ﬁre. The other men sat in reverent silence of Jessie's reminiscence. A pine knot broke sending a shower of sparks into the black night sky. For a long time no one spoke.
Finally, Jacob cleared his throat and spoke, breaking the silence, "Is that it? is that the end? He was announced by angels at his birth and did nothing?” Jessie folded his hands behind his head and leaned back before speaking, "Oh no, that is not half of the tale. I heard that some magi from the east came, following that bright star, and brought him gifts. This made King Herod angry and he sent his soldiers to kill all the baby boys under two years old. Whoever, an angel warned his parents and they ﬂed to Egypt in the nick of time. I did not hear of the Boy Jesus again until about ﬁve years ago when he was baptized by the preacher John. He went on from there healing the sick, cleansing the leapers, giving sight to the blind men, restoring hearing to the deaf and speech to the dumb, casting out evil spirits, and teaching the people. I went to hear Him several times myself. "But the priests and Pharisees saw Him as a threat to their power and sought to destroy Him. When I went up to Jerusalem for Passover, I found out that very night he was betrayed by one of his own followers to the religious leaders. They then handed Him over to Pilot, who had Him cruciﬁed. To me it seemed all was lost then, but God raised His Son from the dead on the third day, and He ascended back into heaven after being seen by many witnesses. His blood that was shed on the cross was the forgiveness for all sin for those who believe on Him. He now sits at the right hand of the Father making intersession for us."
A ﬁre had come into Jessie's eyes as he spoke. His straw had fallen from his mouth and lay forgotten in the dirt. His gaze lay directly on the traveler. Jacob squirmed under the penetrating stare and then spoke, "Eh...um...well, that's an interesting story."
"It's a story that will change your life if you believe it," Jessie said with passion in his voice. His gaze shifted off into the night sky, dotted with thousands of blinking, sleepy stars. His voice softened as he said, "And it all started on this night, a long time ago.“