|Night crept quietly across the hills and valleys of Galilee.
Shadows spilled into the cracks and crevices of the countryside as the sun marched down to
the horizon. Nathan sitting by his fire, relished the company of fellow travelers. He
pulled the hood of his cloak up over his head and inspected his companions.
Only two of the company shared Nathan's fire. The younger seemed sharp-edged, stern, and unforgiving. At the mere mention of Rome he would turn his head and spit. He carried himself confidently but cautiously, proud of his heritage, yet uneasy with himself.
The other man was a florid-faced, fat little trader. His gray, dirt-smeared beard and his bald head did not add to his venerableness. The wineskin at his side explained many of his actions. Strangely enough, it was the trader who broke the night silence.
"Care for some wine, boy?" he addressed Nathan.
"No, thank you, sir." Nathan rankled at the term "boy," for he was nearly thirty. "I don't drink wine."
"What's the matter, boy?" the trader chuckled. "Your mother won't let you?" Then he swallowed another mouthful.
Nathan straightened. The flickering light of the fire revealed the anger on his face. "Don't you know," Nathan snapped, a sneer edging into his voice, "that Solomon called wine a mocker?"
The trader nearly gagged. Nathan smiled inwardly. The trader probably hadn't had the Scriptures quoted at him since his boyhood, if then. The little man wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
"Well, what have we here, a ragged rabbi? Next you'll tell me that you believe in the Messiah!"
Nathan's face, hidden again from the fire's light by his hood, was invisible to the others. "I have seen the Messiah," he said quietly
The other two, especially the cautious man, stared at him. "What did you say?" he asked.
"I have seen the Messiah."
"Explain yourself," the man commanded.
Nathan gazed for a few seconds into the fire. And as he told his story, he remembered another fire that burned warmly in the hills near Bethlehem. He saw again the flocks of sheep. He could hear the voices of his father, his older brothers, and their hired help as they argued on their favorite subject.
"The time has come. The Messiah must appear soon! The prophecies point that out clearly," his father said quietly.
"Yes," agreed a hired man, "and when the Messiah comes, He will push these Romans into the sea! Imagine: no more soldiers, no more Roman taxes, no more census-taking, no more Caesar Augustus!" He scowled, twisting his staff in his hands.
"I'm not sure about that," one of Nathan's brothers interjected. "I've read the same prophecies you have. They do speak of His power and the destruction of His enemies. But there are other prophecies. They speak of the Messiah's suffering and sadness. He dies for people who do not love Him. The prophecies seem to contradict each other."
"Could the prophecies be speaking of two different Messiahs?" another brother asked.
"I doubt that very much," his father replied. "Nothing in the Holy Writings speaks of two Messiahs saving Israel from its enemies."
"Then maybe it's speaking of two separate appearances."
"I still say that..." Nathan quit listening. They would argue that way for half the night, and always said the same things. He returned to his whittling in the light of the fire.
The darkness, held back only by the blaze, seemed like a second cloak. Yet he loved it, for he had fewer duties at night and could work on his flute while he listened to the soft sounds of the sheep. He finished the instrument and blew a few reedy notes from it. It wasn't exactly what he'd hoped for, but it would do for a time.
A faint tinkling noise rose above the arguments of the others, accompanied by a sound muted so low that it scarcely roused Nathan. He glanced around. The others stopped talking, so trained were they to hear anything odd in the night.
It came again, a tinkling sound like the wind chimes in the Temple. This time he recognized the accompanying sounds: a soft, unwavering fanfare, meshing harmoniously with the wind chimes in a pleasant musical dance.
Nathan jumped to his feet, as did the others, their eyes searching the blackness. An eerie light played across the sky in shimmering pastel colors.
Without warning the stranger appeared beside the flames of the campfire. Robed in a hooded cloak he stood not six feet from where Nathan had been sitting. None of them had heard him enter the circle of firelight. He could not have been there, yet he was. A hired man moved to challenge the hooded figure. In answer to the man's movements, the stranger threw back his hood.
Numbing light cascaded over the shepherds as if released by the stranger's eyes. The fire seemed cold in comparison. Nathan could not move to run or to fight. He could only stare at this stranger, who seemed clothed in the light he carried with him.
The stranger's eyes held no malice. A smile touched his face, and when he spoke, his voice sounded like trumpets and cymbals. "Don't be afraid. I bring you good news of great happiness for all people. Today in the city of David a Saviour was born. He is Christ the Lord!" he exclaimed, his hands outstretched in blessing.
"The Messiah!" Nathan breathed. "He's come!"
The stranger nodded, smiling broadly. "This will be a sign to you; you will find the Baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger."
As if on cue, lights and colors and music swept the plain. In unison a thousand voices echoed across the valley, and Nathan saw, angels drifting across the sky.
He knew their song, but not with his ears. Angels' songs must be known with the heart, felt by the soul. But if he had had to put words to the song, then it would have gone something like: "All glory belongs to God in the heavens, and peace for the earth, good will to all men." Nathan and the other shepherds stood reverently before the demonstration of joy. Anything else would have been sacrilege.
Just as suddenly as they had come, the stranger and his fellow angels disappeared, leaving only the starlight and a last soft chord hanging in the air. The dark night had a different quality to it, a promise of light to come.
"We must find the Baby they spoke of," Nathan's father said, hope alive in his voice.
"Wa-all, didja find Him?" The trader's voice grated harshly.
Nathan pulled his eyes away from the fire. Slowly, unwillingly he glared at the drunken man.
"Did you find Him?" the quiet man repeated the question.
"Yes, I found the Messiah that night. I vowed that when He grew up I would follow Him wherever He led. He must be a grown man by now. I've chased a hundred rumors these past months, and yet I have not found Him."
"'S a good story, boy, but it doesn't fill my pocket or my stomach, so it doesn't mean much to me. I'll say g'night. We got a long trip ahead of us, and it's not gettin' shorter while we talk."
The trader wrapped some blankets about him, rolled onto his side, and began snoring almost immediately. Nathan looked with disgust at him, then noticed the other man watching him closely.
"You don't believe me either, do you?"
The man just shrugged.
"I'll find Him, and it doesn't matter what anyone thinks!"
"I hope you do find Him. We could use a Saviour. Well, the old man was right about the trip tomorrow. Good night to you."
The man stood and started to walk away. Nathan called after him.
"Excuse me, but I don't even know your name."
The man turned.
Nathan wondered why he chilled when the man smiled.
Him - Morning Will Come
Copyright © 1990, written by Kenneth Fields