This is my sermon for the Vigil tomorrow night:

My father named me Jacob, after the patriarch — for all the good that does!  What good is a name like that to a shepherd?  People today forget that Jacob himself really was a shepherd.  They refer to their leaders as shepherds.  But they mean it figuratively.

They look at real shepherds with contempt, and go out of their way to avoid contact with us.  They call us thieves behind our backs — and even sometimes to our faces.  But they wear our wool and eat our meat all the same.

Shepherds live hard lives in some ways, exposed to the hot summer sun and the cold winter winds, fighting off wild animals, working throughout the day and night when necessary.  I’m told we also smell.  I wouldn’t know.  But they say we pick up the odor of our charges, and people of breeding turn their noses up when we are near.

We do have a great deal of freedom.  Our flock is a family business.  It allows us to spend time together.  Sometimes, frankly, more time together than we really want.  But it also allows us time apart by ourselves.  And we all know our sheep could not survive without us.

Over time, the sheep come to trust us.  We lead from up front.  We call to them, and they follow when they hear our voices.

There is a rumor that in some places shepherds actually drive their sheep — even using dogs for this purpose!  I can’t imagine why the sheep don’t just scatter in all directions!  What silly shepherds.  And why would they want to work so hard when the sheep will simply follow you if you treat them well.

Still, it’s a hard life, and not that great a living.  In the time of the patriarchs, owning flocks of sheep was a sign of real wealth and substance.  Today we are marginal members of the community.  They won’t even accept our testimony in a court of law.  About all you can say is that we won’t go hungry so long as we can keep the flock healthy.  No one would ever ask for our opinion, or invite  us to participate in a religious event.

No one, that is, except God and his angels!

Let me tell you what happened to me — to all of us, out in the fields that night.  I doubt you will believe me.  But it’s true, non the less.  In all honesty, I would never have believed it myself.  But I lived it, along with my brother, Isaac (my father really did have a thing for those patriarchs).  We’ve never forgotten what happened.

It was a night like many others.  Winter had started.  But it was not the end of winter, when a season of slim pickings would drive predators to recklessness in their hunger.  So we were on watch, as always, but not overly concerned.

It was fully night, but still early night when it happened.  Some of us were gathered around the fire.  I was patrolling the perimeter of our encampment.  Quite a few of us were gathered that night, and our flocks were mixed together.  We would call them to us to sort them out in the morning.

One minute I was looking out into the darkness, carefully not looking towards the fire, to preserve my night vision.  The next, an angel appeared, shinning a brilliant white in the darkness.  It was blinding!  Within minutes, everyone was gathered around.  For once, we completely forgot about the sheep.  None of us had ever seen anything like this before.  All of us were awestruck in amazement.

The angel spoke to us:  “Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:  to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign for you:  you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was a great host praising God and singing, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”  and then it was dark once more.  When we recovered our sight, we were alone with our sheep.

Everyone was talking at once.  No one made any sense for a while.  Finally order prevailed.  Several of us who were just short of adulthood, ten, eleven and twelve year olds, were sent into town to scout out this wonder — if it could be found.

As luck would have it, it was my brother and me who found them:  a couple, with a baby shivering in a manger, an animal feeding trough, drawing what warmth they could from the animals among them.  I went running back to camp.  A few people were left to guard our flocks.  But most of us went down to the stable together.

One man, seeing the baby shiver in the manger, gave his parents the remains of an old blanket to warm the baby.  You could see how grateful they were.  They told us his name was Jesus.  We told them what we had seen and heard.  I’m not sure even they believed us — though his mother looked thoughtful when we finished our story.

We stayed for a while.  Then, when nothing else happened, we went back to our sheep — still praising God for the wonder we had seen, even if we didn’t know what this all meant.

I heard later that some foreigners came, with gifts for the baby.  And some time later (though we had moved our flocks by then) I heard that soldiers came, slaughtering all the newborn boys in town.  That was a horror to match the wonder we had seen.  But isn’t that the way of the world?

Shepherds and foreigners see the most amazing things, and no one believes them.  People in power are so full of themselves that they believe and yet they see nothing — except a threat to themselves.  They certainly don’t want their world to change.  For us, things could definitely be better.

Many years have passed since that night.  Many years.  I’m considered an old man now.  I’ve been hearing stories about a rabbi name Jesus, who sounds like he might be our baby, all grown up.

My brother thinks I’m crazy.

But I’ve got to know.  I’m leaving my flock in his care, and I’m going to find this Jesus.

What I saw was truly amazing.  It was the most remarkable event in my life.  And I simply have to know, before I die, what all the fuss was about.  Who is this Jesus?  How is he going to save us?

All I remember is a baby, shivering in the cold.  And that amazing angel, shining in the darkness.  And the heavenly choir, singing music like none I’ve ever heard.

Frankly, the baby was the least impressive thing about the night.  But it was all about him.  That’s what the angel told us.  I nee to know why.

Something wonderful has happened.  I want, I need, somehow, to make it part of my life.