It’s over forty years ago now but I’ll never forget that night.
It’s pretty cold out in the fields at that time of year but somebody has to be out there keeping an eye on the sheep. There’s always a wolf about and at that time there were hundreds of strangers about for that census. I never trust strangers and I wouldn’t have put it past that lot to have nicked a sheep for supper. Anyway there were just four of us; me, my brother Reuben, and Seth and Ben our cousins.
It was just gone midnight so we’d got the sheep settled in the fold and we were all of us dozing by the fire. In fact I think I’d actually nodded off. Suddenly it was all very light. Well sometimes you get a flare up of the fire but that would barely last a second and this was much brighter and it went on. Then there was a voice and I was definitely awake with my hand to my stick ready to fight off any thief.
It was no thief. I just couldn’t see what it was because the light was so bright but it would be a very odd thief who would sing “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will towards men”.
Reuben wanted to take charge but he could hardly speak. No, whoever had that voice was definitely in in charge. And he’d brought his mates and they were singing so loud that Reuben wouldn’t have been heard anyway. All we could do was cower and listen. The voice went on about a baby being born down in Bethlehem and that this baby would become the Main Man promised by God. We were supposed to go down into Bethlehem to see him and we’d find him in a manger.
Just as suddenly as the light had come, it went but by this time all four of us were wide awake. For a while none of us could speak but somehow we all knew that the sheep were going to have to be left. We had to go to Bethlehem.
Anyway, off we went down the hill. I have to admit that we felt better when we saw that the light had moved to just over the pub but as we got closer we realised that it wasn’t at the pub – it was behind the pub near a cave in a field. Pity that, I think we could all have done with a bit of Dutch courage.
Anyway, we went to the cave and it was just like the voice had said. Just a woman and her baby, curled up together in a manger. Nothing remarkable. Just a woman and her baby and the old man watching them.
And I know that this sounds daft but the remarkable thing is that it was so unremarkable. Young women have babies every day. Husbands look stunned when it’s happened. It was the light outside which should have been so remarkable and to this day I can’t explain it.
But, you know, the light didn’t mean anything at all. It was the baby. So ordinary. Nothing special. But somehow I knew things would never be the same again for me. I can’t explain it; you’ll just have to take my word for it. Nothing has been the same since that night.