“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.”
There is magic here when you first come to the desert on a silent night. In the beginning life feels as limitless as the sky. I laid back and looked up at these stars and Orion danced across the sky until the bear came bounding along to chase him across the midnight canvas. I had hope then and nothing seemed impossible. Those long night hours flew away in fantasies of heroism, certain riches, and a woman to make it all worth-while. Glory, gold, and a girl. Night watches fly when you’ve got dreams to ride.
These sheep under my eyes should multiply by the hundreds. I could lead a revolt and throw off our oppressors, become a leader of men. Or I might save the sheep from disaster and catch the eye of my master and through him the hand of his daughter. Out here in my head my biceps were bigger, my courage stronger, and my intelligence a little greater than everyone else. One day I would catch my break and be a King. I hung onto those dreams for years.
Turns out it isn’t the shifting shadows, the weight of deep black, or the bumps in the night that terrorize the experienced. After a while you aren’t scared of anything anymore that might be there just out of sight. A grown man’s terror is that after a couple decades Orion stops dancing when you look up there. Big bear sits still in his place, no longer willing to move at the whim of your imagination. You realize that glory isn’t given to those who keep a couple dozen animals, that you aren’t big enough or tough enough to conquer an empire, and chicks don’t dig guys who stink like sheep.
Worse than hopelessness is the knowledge that life used to be so hopeful. The certainty of my teenaged promise doubles the pain of this middle-aged defeat. I could have been a hero. I might have made it big in the shepherd business. I should have been a good husband and a great dad, with a big house and horses to run. If only I had become that legend who had kept me company all those gloomy nights.
Instead I’m out here at dusk, too tired to make Orion dance, with twenty-three sheep and zero dreams. Would the world change for me if I looked up in time to glimpse Orion leap, or the bear’s nose lift to sniff in his direction? What good would it do if some tiny spark of future hope flickered over those far hills? Has hope ever held value year over year? And what could happen out here in this silence that made life matter at all?
“And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy, that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”