One of the blessings, and sometimes headaches, of being a historical author is the amount of research I have to wade through each week. On occasion, a gem appears that is so rare, so astoundingly beautiful, that it makes the hours of sleeplessness worth every moment.
Each Christmas I find particular joy in digging anew into the accounts of Jesus’ birth. I’ve studied Simeon, Anna, the outposts around Bethlehem, the innkeeper, Mary…the possibilities are endless. But this year, I was giddy to discover a letter held in the Constantinople archives. This missive was a report written by a priest named Jonathan to the Bethlehem Sanhedrim, after the residents of Bethlehem experienced a particularly ‘eventful’ night. After investigating and many interviews, this priest found the source of the commotion in the eyewitness testimony of two humble shepherds.
A LETTER OF MELKER, A PRIEST OF THE SYNAGOGUE AT BETHLEHEM Sanhedrim, 88 B.
“Jonathan to the Masters of Israel, Servants of the True God:
In obedience to your order, I met with two men, who said they were shepherds, and were watching their flocks near Bethlehem. They told me that while attending to their sheep, the night being cold and chilly, some of them had made fires to warm themselves, and some of them had laid down and were asleep; that they were awakened by those who were keeping watch with the questions: “What does all this mean? Behold, how light it is; that when they were aroused it was light as day. But they knew it was not daylight, for it was only the third watch.
All at once the air seemed to be filled with human voices, saying, “Glory! Glory! Glory to the most high God!” and “Happy are thou, Bethlehem, for God hath fulfilled His promise to the fathers; for in thy chambers is born the King that shall rule in righteousness.” Their shoutings would rise up in the heavens, and then would sink down in mellow strains, and roll along at the foot of the mountains, and die away in the most soft and musical manner they had ever heard; then it would begin again high up in the heavens, in the very vaults of the sky, and descend in sweet and melodious strains, so that they could not refrain from shouting and weeping at the same time. The light would seem to burst forth high up in the heavens, and then descend in softer rays and light up the hills and valleys, making everything more visible than the light of the sun, though it was not so brilliant, but clearer, like the brightest moon. I asked them how they felt–if they were not afraid; and they said at first they were; but after a while it seemed to calm their spirits, and so fill their hearts with love and tranquility that they felt more like giving thanks than anything else. They said it was around the whole city, and some of the people were almost scared to death. Some said the world was on fire; some said the gods were coming down to destroy them; others said a star had fallen…
Can you imagine the terror? The wonder? The overwhelming ecstasy? That the shepherds could so clearly recall the sound of the angels’ voices rising and falling–not exactly speaking, or shouting, or singing, but praising–I have to wonder if worship in heaven will be the same.
Despite the darkness shadowing our world, truth calls out. Light shines. Joy sings.
A Savior has been born. He is peace amid the chaos.