It sounds very romantic and cosy, when I hear people talk about; watching over our flocks in the fields by night and all that. But, as I am sure you can imagine, if you stop to think about it, you will know it wasn't romantic - or indeed cosy. The fields are not the most comfortable place to be at the best of times, and overnight is not the best of times. There wasn't a man among us who wouldn't rather have been in our own bed (with or without company - some of us were rather young....)
But that wasn't the way of it, and so there we were out in the fields, listening to the snoring of the sheep and hoping we wouldn't hear the sounds of something threatening them. We told stories, we sang songs, we exchanged gossip, we played games....anything to keep at least two of us awake to be on watch.
It's just as well we did.
One alone would never have convinced the others....there was suddenly this light in the sky, and a noise like, well, like everybody in the village singing on the feast day, no, everybody in the country, no, - oh, I don't know; it was loud, ok.
And then the most ridiculous thing you've ever heard; "Don't be afraid".
I mean, what's that about....filling the sky with light and music, in the middle of the night, when we're on the alert anyway, and then telling us not to be afraid.
Afraid doesn't begin to touch it.
I did not know it was possible to be so scared. Turns out, it is. If I never see or hear anything like that again, it will be too soon.
They didn't give us time to get to this "not afraid" place - told us not to be afraid and then to get ourselves into Bethlehem to see "the Saviour who is Christ the Lord". It didn't make a lot of sense, but by that time we were so "not afraid" we'd have done anything to get them to go away.
Did I say I didn't know it was possible to be so afraid?
We ran from the fields - I'm ashamed to say we left the sheep to take care of themselves; they were huddled together in a quivering mass of utter terror, and we reckoned that anything that might have threatened them would have been frightened away!
We ran to the town, and we went where they sent us - and do you know, it was just as they said. There was the young woman and her man, and the baby in the feeding stall.
Did I say I didn't know it was possible to be so afraid? When I looked into her eyes, I saw the same terror - and acceptance. And I knew, I just knew the light and the music and the "don;t be afraid" were her story too. And that that instruction was all that was getting her through.
I've not been afraid since.....