Keeping Watch

Posted on by WMYFC


“When the angel had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’” --Luke 2:15

The man on the hill squinted into the sun’s blazing descent.  Scarlet stained his cheeks, and his eyes—rheumy as a doddering beggar’s—ran with tears against the glare.  Needles of pain shot into his head with a force that left him stunned.  Quietly, amidst the sheep, as the stirring breeze lifted and then settled a forelock of hair upon his brow, he laid down his staff and pressed the palms of his smudged hands into the hollows of his eyes.
He had secrets, this man.  Many secrets.  Secrets hidden in the folds and pockets of his robe, secrets in his heart, and secrets in his head. They threatened to overwhelm him.  There was a time, not so very long ago, when they comforted him, these mysteries he harbored.  They were as sweets to a child, to be kept out of sight, prized, to be enjoyed in solitude, away from prying eyes.  Self-satisfied and smug, the man had thought his private musings rendered him superior to others.  He recalled with something akin to guilt how brazenly pompous his behavior had become.  In defense against his demeanor, his compatriots had all but turned their backs on him.  Even now, they stood apart from him, gazing in every direction save his.  He fought the desire to cry out, suddenly and with great force, for their attention.  Better, he admonished himself, to suffer in silence.

Members of his own clan had lately begun the subtle shift away from him, as if a distasteful smell they had no desire to partake of accompanied him.  Accusations and insinuations, less real than imagined, tormented him at night.  No harsh words had been exchanged among his group, only sidelong glances and whispered innuendos.  Those gestures had begun just lately to bother him like open wounds upon his skin.  He had up until shortly been impervious to their stares.  After all, their naiveté in correctly translating the altered state of his consciousness displayed their ignorance, not his. How he had changed, and why, was his business, not theirs.

But that was then, he told himself reluctantly.  This is now.

Something had changed.  No, that wasn’t quite accurate.  Something inside him, deep down, where his true self resided, had begun the slow journey toward change.  His transformation was in process.  And the man did not know the why of it.  He knew simply that within his splintered heart changes were taking place.

The sun as it set left a pink stain upon the horizon, which shifted into purple, then indigo, then black.  Stars popped like burning embers against the great onyx bowl above him.  The moon was his lantern, giving rise to the mottled shapes of nudging sheep and wandering but attentive shepherds, the man’s companions who had never asked for, but had received, his betrayals.

The man on the hill had a story to tell, and no one to tell it to.  He was alone in the universe: a pariah of his own making.  He had become over time a liar and a cheat, unworthy of dignity in the eyes of others.  This was the truth of his existence, the reason for the anxiety and unrest from which he nightly suffered.  Standing upon the hill, he gave thought to his family, to the teachings of the household in which he had been raised.  He felt suddenly the cold and coiled serpent of shame as it moved in his belly.   What he had become, the path he had chosen for himself, the crowd with whom he conspired, all had lent to the speed of his coming destruction.  There was no room for doubt as to the inevitability of that reality catching up with him.  The inexplicable changes that were taking place within his heart, the whisperings in his ear that caused sudden jolts to his brain as if it had caught fire, told him that.  Nonetheless, temptation to halt these changes and return to his past, less than exemplary life, was a powerful force that left him breathless and near weeping.  Into the midst of his musings, a sudden epiphany shook him: I-cannot-do-this-alone.  But who was there to give him hand and help?

Past behavior had strangled his dreams.  They were as dead as yesterday’s wandering ram that had broken free and fallen from the rocky precipice off in the distance.  No breath and no will.  Gone.  Forever dead.
Weren’t they, these hopes and dreams?
And then came that flame to his head and the whisper in his ear, echoing all at once from nowhere and from everywhere: No.

The man on the hill felt a sudden swelling in his chest.  Breath plumed out from lips open wide in wonder, for above him in the swirling blackness of the night, there appeared a flash so brilliant, so searing, that it caused his eyes to burn and his heart to hammer.  A form, watery white and shimmering like a jewel, took shape just beyond his reach.  The rushing of the wind struck him deaf all at once, and he catapulted to the ground.  His cowering companions too faltered and fell.  Fear as never before struck him like a physical blow.
And then silence.  A thundering silence.
“Do not be afraid,” the apparition (an angel, surely an angel! the man thought) admonished the shepherds, “I bring you good news of great joy.”  The harp-like voice floated on the still night like sparkling dew, speaking of the town of David, of a Savior, of Christ, the Lord, and wrapped cloths and a manger.  Before the awestruck shepherds, the single silvery angel multiplied as the sky split from east to west, from north to south, from black to white, fire and ice melting all sign of darkness.
Afterward, the shepherds scrambled together, holding one another in a powerful embrace of love and humility, making whispered plans that would take them immediately to far-off and Savior-safeguarding Bethlehem.
And the man on the hill, suddenly changed and freed from his past, from mistakes and misadventures that had painted his landscape in shadows, cried out to his newly born Lord, and stumbling in haste began the journey toward the Light.

* * * * * *

Join us in prayer and action for the redemption of the wandering, of the uninformed, of the lost.  They are the strangers on the street corner and the neighbors across the fence.  They are possibly our parents, our children, our friends.   There is a gospel to be shared for all to hear!  Proclaim it in Truth and in joy!
May your heart be struck by wonder and peace this Christmas season!

Roy Smyth for WMYFC

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