“There, there little one,” Marianne skidded her strong, calloused hand down the back of the bristly kid at her feet. “It’ll be OK.”
It was Marianne who was fretting and needed the soothing, not the goat nor the rest of her herd as she kept watch on the hillside that night. She imagined her poor husband David back at their tent in the village trying to stifle that incessant cough of his that could keep the whole tribe awake. She hoped the poultice of medicinal herbs she had fixed for him would lessen his symptoms and allow him and the rest of the community some much needed rest. Rather than have David run himself even more ragged in the cold night air, Mary Ann volunteered to fulfill his duty of watching the village’s flock until he was well.
The night was still and cold. Marianne drew her tan wool shawl around her shoulders and gazed at her fellow herdsmen. Malcom was stretched out on top of a rock. What a slacker, Marianne thought. It was no secret that Malcom had fallen asleep on his watch on many occasions. Those who pulled the night shift with him often grumbled amongst themselves. No one pressed the issue though, because Malcom had political connections with the census takers. Somehow Malcom managed to keep half of the community’s head count off the tax rolls. Nico, son of the village elder who lead them in prayers, was kicking at a decaying log. A young and restless one. His betrothed had been sent over to Nazareth to help care for her ailing aunt and poor Nico didn’t’ know what to do with himself. His father thought that having Nico guard the sheep and goats would help to pass the lonely, nocturnal hours.
Marianne really didn’t mind taking David’s shifts. It gave her time to think. She wondered about the meaning of her life as she sat feeling very small under the night sky. What is it all about? All of her life she had listened to the prophets in the market square. A Savior was coming, they’d say with such conviction. Sometimes she was inspired and shared in their excitement. Other times she felt flat.
Marianne yawned and stretched. I must stay awake, she shook herself. She was responsible for the village’s dozen goats that needed their heather and sweet clover on this particular hill. It would make the richest, creamiest milk for Marianne’s communal task of making her wonderful cheese. She proudly used her grandmother’s methods and spices. The cheese was a coveted commodity at the market in Damascus.
All at once, a blast of light flooded the hillside as if it were day! Marianne gasped and rose to her feet. What in the name of Heaven?! She scanned quickly to her left and to her right. Both Malcom and Nico stood facing the beam, shading their eyes. They followed the star moving steadily over the hill towards nearby Bethlehem.
“What was that?” Nico blurted as they converged at the foot of the hill. Malcom shrugged. Marianne was the one who suggested they follow it. “It looks brightest just over there,” she pointed to the glow beyond the hill.
“Let’s go,” Nico agreed. Malcom opted to stay behind. “Let me know what you find, I’ll, I’ll stay with the herd.”
Marianne and Nico began running up the path. They breathed hard as they climbed to the summit. At the crest, they looked down directly to where it shone. A humble stable was illuminated beneath as though it were on fire. “Oh!” Marianne gasped and reached for Nico’s tunic. She felt him shaking, or was it she who was shaking? In her peripheral, Marianne noticed several other shepherds were gathered around them now. They stood in awe as a halo of shimmering colors pulsated around the structure.
Marianne, Nico and the others were frozen in their tracks as an angel in white and golden robes appeared before them floating in midair. Marianne clutched her chest and felt her heart beating wildly. Is this the end? She looked quickly to Nico whose eyes were bulging, his mouth agape. Am I to die here with my neighbor?
It was as though the angel read her thoughts. “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. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
Marianne was greatly assured by the angel’s proclamation but was startled anew as a multitude of the heavenly host burst forth praising God saying,“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the Marianne said to Nico, “Let us go see this!.”
They quickly descended the rocky path and sprinted across the field toward the radiant stable. Quietly they stood shoulder to shoulder in the shadows as not to disturb a very young, beatific mother and the tear-stained, but sturdy father, who knelt in the hay beside the new born Child. A warm, golden glow emanated from His small, cloth-wrapped body.
The mother invited them to draw near. Marianne and her companions, overwhelmed in Presence of absolute love, fell to their knees. A holiness she had never known suddenly filled her with great peace. So profound and so powerful, Marianne stayed in that Place for the rest of the night.
It was nearly daybreak when Marianne rushed into her tent. “David! Oh, David! Wake up! Wake up!” She knelt at his pallet and shook him. Her mere touch infused him with such vigor that he sprang from his pallet. “I feel great!” he laughed.
“Oh, David! We must hurry and bring some goat’s milk and some of our best cheeses to them!” Marianne scurried with the earthen bowls.
“Bring cheeses to whom?” David asked, fastening his sandals.
Marianne stopped for a second and looked directly into her husband’s eyes. “The One!” her whole being seemed to smile. “He is here!”