What Light Is This?

Date: December 23, 2021


Bemused, the shepherds paused, their sheep crowding around
in confusion. The men pulled their cloaks more tightly to themselves,
as if the coarsely woven fabric could shield them from a mystery.
They pointed up at the night sky and murmured among themselves.
What light is this?
The constant stars and their positions in the heavens they knew well;
did shepherds not guard their flocks by night? But this star was
new and singular: brighter, larger, lower, its radiance purer.
So suddenly had it come. Why?
What light is this?
The most senior shepherd among them stood very still, as if listening
to a voice the others could not hear. Then, in a whoosh of white wings
and shining in the vault of God’s majesty, an angel appeared.
Despite being hardened by hill climbing, their knees trembled. In
stomach-churning panic, they hid their faces; their sheep bleated
and huddled more closely together, needing the security of massed
woolly bodies. ‘Be not afraid,’ the angel proclaimed in sonorous tones;
he told them of a wondrous birth, an infant Savior born in Bethlehem.
An angelic choir joined him in a bright whirl of wings. As suddenly as
they had come all the whooshing angel wings were gone, and the night
became hushed darkness again. But still that burning new star remained.
It dipped lower as if in invitation.
What light is this?
‘Come,’ said the senior shepherd, ‘Let us go to Bethlehem and see.’
And so it was that the shepherds set out in haste, urging their trotting
sheep ahead of them. The light of the bright new star never wavered. Its
light led them to the stable where a tiny newborn lay in a manger. Brighter
even than the star that had guided them to Him was the child’s face. Known
to the shepherds as well as the hillsides where they grazed their sheep
was the ancient prophecy; surely it was fulfilled this night. Falling on
their knees, they praised the Messiah and worshiped Him.
What light is this?
Why had they been chosen? They knew not, but they knew what they saw.
Each told and retold the story of the miracle in the stable to all who
would listen and believe. The light they saw in His face that night entered
their hearts and remained there, to warm them on the coldest nights of all their days.

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