December 24, 2008

The Angels Still Sing

2008 1536 page31 capLL WAS CALM, ALL WAS BRIGHT, AS WE WALKED ACROSS AN ANCIENT field to the crest of the hill, excitement growing with every step. Before long, nearly 100 people had gathered together for what would be a memorable night on the hills of Bethlehem.

Like Mary, I was pregnant. But unlike that young mother I came to Bethlehem by bus rather than donkey. The famous town is still nestled on a hillside, with small, narrow streets lined by shops, houses, and inns. And it was crowded on this Christmas Eve. Looking out the bus window I could see the masses of people gathering on Manger Square, surrounding a tall, brightly lit Christmas tree. The crowds slowly made their way to the Church of the Nativity, where a midnight mass would be held. The narrow streets were crowded as buses and cars converged, trying to get through to this sacred spot.
But this was not our destination. Breathing a sigh of relief, we finally left the masses behind and soon arrived in the shepherds’ fields outside of town.
2008 1536 page31For thousands of years Bethlehem and its surrounding hills have held meaning. It was on the way to Bethlehem (then known as “Ephrath”) that Jacob’s beloved Rachel died while giving birth to Benjamin. It was to Bethlehem that Ruth followed Naomi to her newly found faith and home. God sent Samuel to Bethlehem to anoint David king of Israel—the David who watched his father’s sheep on the hills of Bethlehem and who would a few years later exclaim: “Oh, that someone would get me a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem!” (2 Sam. 23:15).
And the prophet Micah referred to this small Judean town when he wrote: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2, NKJV).*
Today, shepherds still watch their sheep near Bethlehem, and it was to this place we arrived. Sponsored by the Jerusalem YMCA, the event was a simple one—“Carol Singing in the Shepherds’ Fields”—and yet it was profound. As we began to sing, it was as if we were transported back in time 2,000 years ago, when, perhaps near that very field, the most magnificent event the earth has ever seen took place.
“O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie! Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by; yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
As we sang carol after carol, our voices grew stronger until it seemed the very angels who sang so long ago were singing once again—“Angels we have heard on high, singing sweetly through the night, and the mountains in reply echoing their brave delight. Gloria, in excelsis Deo!”
After the last “Glo———ria!” finished echoing off the hills, we lingered on, still savoring the gift that was ours that night.
It was all so tangible—the stars, the hills, the sheep. That night heaven once again touched the earth as I realized that Christ loved me so much that He had come to this little place, born of a virgin, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, so that I might live with Him forever.
Tonight, although I am far away from the hills of Bethlehem, I plan to step outside, look up at the stars, and hear the angels sing.
*Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Gina Wahlen, a freelance writer, was an interim assistant editor of the Adventist Review when she wrote this article.