I was there, you know. There on the hillside when the angels appeared. Of course it was years ago now – I was just a kid – but I remember every detail. It’s not the kind of thing you’re likely to forget.
It seemed I’d only just fallen asleep wrapped up in Dad’s coat, snuggled up beside him as he kept watch, when he shook me awake and I jumped up, thinking a wolf or a wildcat was in the flock.
“Up there!” He pointed to the sky that was lit up as bright as daybreak.
In the west.
I rubbed my eyes and glanced towards the east where the sun usually comes up. It was still pitch black and the stars twinkled bright as can be.
The other fellows were on their feet too, staring up at the strange light that was growing brighter by the moment. In the end we had to fall to our knees and shield our eyes it was so intense.
And then came the singing. It was like nothing I’d ever heard before, more beautiful than silver bells. It was too beautiful to hear and I covered my ears and started trembling, not with fear but from the sheer rapture of it. My dad put his arms round my shoulders and drew me to him and I hid my face in his chest, feeling the wild beating of his big old heart.
Sudden silence. I peeped out and saw that the light was fading. I watched the sky turn to black again and the stars reappear. I slowly turned towards the east again. Dawn was still far away but a single star shone more brightly than usual. One that I’d not noticed before.
“Quickly son,” my dad urged, “we have to find the new King.”
“But . . .” I waved my hand at the sheep, resting on the hillside, oblivious to the commotion as men gathered up their belongings and set off at a run towards the town.
“Ari and Nathan will stay and keep watch.”
They were lads too, a few years older than I was and I’m glad now that I was too young to be given such responsibility. Instead I ran to catch up the others and then overtook them, slipping and sliding over loose stones, jumping boulders, as sure-footed as the sheep and goats I tended even in the dark, running far ahead of the rest into Bethlehem.
How did I know where to go? I’ve no idea. Something guided my dusty little feet and the moon and stars seemed particularly bright. I found myself at the entrance to Simon the inn-keeper’s stable that he sometimes rents out to travellers if he’s full up. Just as I got there, the silver bells started up again, pealing and ringing in my head and a great light like the one I’d seen in the sky earlier made me tremble so that once again I fell to my knees.
“It’s all right lad, you can come in if you’re very quiet.” Someone took me by the elbow and lifted me to my feet. It wasn’t my dad, who was still far behind, but a man about his age who I didn’t know but who had a local accent. “Come,” he said, “he’s only a few hours old but already he knows you. Look, he’s smiling.”
I saw that smile again today. I’m past middle age now with my own flocks and herds and five sturdy sons to help me. But I recognised him and he seemed to know me as well. I’d heard of him of course, who hadn’t, but since he was from Nazareth I hadn’t made the connection.
He was heading towards Jerusalem with a whole band of followers, men, women and even a few children. I offered him food and shelter for the night but he smilingly refused; there were all these people to feed, he told me. I picked out the finest of my flock – young beasts that would make good eating – and this time he accepted.
“Do you want to come with me, Aaron?” he asked.
I was about to refuse: I was too old, had too many responsibilities, too much to lose. But suddenly my head was filled with the sound of silver bells and the sun seemed to blind me with a golden light and I stumbled. He caught me. “Well?”
The smell of roast lamb wafts over the pasture as the light fades. My family think I’ve taken leave of my senses but the urge to follow him is overwhelming. After all, I know who he really is. I was there on the hillside the day the angels sang.