You want to hear it again? OK. Gather 'round children. Let me tell you about that night.
It happened forty years ago, on this very night, but I remember it like yesterday.
We were a little way outside Bethlehem, sheep put up for the night, we were sitting around the fire, eating and talking. Actually, most of us were eating, and Joseph was talking. He was always talking. About the sheep, and the dust, and the girls and their giggling, and the rabbi ... But that night he was talking about the census, getting all worked up about that idiot in Rome who can't leave us in peace, about being counted to pay more taxes, about the fact that he's had enough. He was going to join the Zealots and fight. Tomorrow. Always tomorrow. Or after payday.
Judas was on his back, looking at the stars. He had this thing about stars, and since that new star appeared it was all he cared about. It's moving," he would tell everybody. "It's moving. And that. makes it special."
All stars moved, alright, around the earth. Everybody knew that. But they move together, mostly, except for those strange shooting stars, but they only live for a moment before the dragon consumes them. But a star moving on its own? Come on! God put them there and they will stay there for ever. In any case, only superstitious people are worried about the stars. There's enough trouble on earth already, no need to find more in the stars!
Eventually even Joseph stopped talking. We were just sitting there, staring at the flames, not wanting to be the first to fall asleep. It was absolutely quiet, not even the slightest breeze, the smoke from the fire rising straight into the dark sky; only us, and the stars.
And then, suddenly, as if somebody just pulled a curtain aside, he was standing there, not even three paces from us, shining like lightning, towering over us. A giant. Bigger than even Goliath!
Mmhmm? No, I didn't scream. Joseph did. And a few of the others. I wanted to run, as fast as I could, but my legs were water. I couldn't move. I tell you, I've never been as scared as I was then. Not before that. Not after that. Not even when I was caught in that riot at the Temple.
We have heard about angels. Just like you hear from your parents. I knew it was an angel, and angels usually mean trouble, you know? Like for Ezekiel?
Y ou know what he said to us? "Do not be afraid"! I mean, really, you pop out of the night like a ball of fire and then you say "Do not be afraid"? What did he expect? A shepherd boy saying "Howdy, sire. Come and join us around the fire"?
But you know what the strangest thing was? The moment he said it, my fear was gone. The others too, they were calm. And as long as I live I will remember every word he said: "I bring you good news of great joy, that will be for all people. Today, in the town of David, a Saviour has been born to you; He is Messiah, the Lord. And this will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger".
I'm sorry, kids, I can't help getting emotional. Everybody's given up on Messiah, and here's an angel telling us he has come. Born in Bethlehem. Right next to us!
And then the sky just exploded! Or so it seemed. There were angels everywhere, shining brighter than the brightest sunlight. They looked almost translucent, as if they were made from light. They lit up the sky, so brilliantly you could see every leaf on every bush around us. We were sitting right in the middle of a ball of light. Angels all around us.
Some were flying. Some were dancing. One seemed to be spinning around some invisible axis. A whole host of them was circling around us, running without touching the dust. Some looked almost human. Some looked like nothing you could ever imagine.
And they were singing!
"Glory to God in the highest,
and peace on earth,
good will to men!"
Over and over and over. Sometimes as one. Sometimes in parts. Sometimes in ways I cannot describe to you. Over and over. "Glory to God, and peace on earth, good will to men!" Incredibly beautiful. Mesmerizing.
It could have gone on for hours. I don't know. We were just sitting there, soaking it in, and I think we all knew that our lives had been changed for ever.
And then, suddenly, it was dark. And absolutely silent. No animal scurrying through the night. As if the whole earth was holding its breath. We sat there, our eyes slowly adjusting to the dark again, waiting, hoping they would come back. But they didn't.
Alphaeus was usually the quiet one, waiting for everybody else, but not that night. We were still sitting like dead men when he shot to his feet and shouted: "Let's go! Let's see this thing that the Lord has told us about! To Bethlehem!" And then he started running, like a wild donkey, shouting "Let's go! Let's go! To Bethlehem!"
Judas was the first to react. "The star!" he shouted. "That's it!", and suddenly we were all running. And shouting. We didn't feel the shrubs lashing our legs. We didn't stop to catch our breath. Like calves released from the stall we were running with abandon, finding our way by the light of that strange new star. To the manger on the outskirts of Bethlehem.
Yes, I saw him. I, Zebedee, I saw him. I touched him. I looked into his eyes. And I was never the same again. Ever.
I gave up on the sheep and moved to the sea. I started fishing. And I waited.
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