Have you ever visited a place that makes every story you’ve ever heard about it come barreling toward you with shocking clarity? Have you stood in a place that wrapped itself around you and soaked into the very fiber of your being? Have you ever been so startled by the reality of your faith that it changes you irrevocably? For me, that place is the Jordanian desert.
8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (Luke 2:8-14)
This past summer, I had the opportunity to travel through the country of Jordan. What an adventure it was, exploring some of the places that have shaped the stories of my faith. The history of the Old Testament was all around me in ways that shook me to my core. And though the story of Christ took shape on the other side of the sea from where we stood, I could imagine vividly the place of all of it.
One of the places that we visited that struck me most deeply was the desert of Wadi Rum. I’ve never been anywhere like it! Sand as far as the eye can see… no level ground to walk upon… rocks and hills jutting out in random spots… heat that is intensely hot during the day, and a crisp chill in the air at night with SO MANY STARS. Everything is brown, from the dirt covered tents, to the worn looking shepherds, to the herds of sheep. (That’s right, your Nativity scene has it wrong folks… those sheep aren’t white and fluffy.)
We had the amazing opportunity to spend the night in Wadi Rum. I will forever be changed by that night. Sitting on my deck, wrapped up in my robe, I looked out into the inky blackness in wonder. Everything was so still. There was no evidence that life was out there beyond us… just silence and a vast sky of stars.
Though the Christmas story took place a few hundred kilometers away from us, I imagine the terrain and setting were very much the same. The gravity of that hit me with unbelievable power. I could FEEL what it must have been like to be one of the shepherds that night. A bunch of guys, not of any respect or means, just minding their own business out in the stillness, surrounded by dirt, were witnesses to one the most amazing events in human history!
They were sore afraid. I read it, and heard Linus quote it, hundreds of times. It honestly felt like a throw away line. But sitting in that desert, it struck me. Seeing the sky explode with light and singing would have been, absolutely pee your pants and have a heart attack, terrifying! No “sore afraid” about it. I mean for real!!!
What an absolutely holy night it must have been… to see the sky filled with stars explode with angels, delivering the greatest news ever! Fall on your knees… fall on your FACE… the Savior has come, and the world will never be the same.