Josiah stared in open-mouthed terror at the brilliance dancing in the black sky above him. A moment ago he had been drifting into sleep, cuddled against his father’s side, lulled by the low murmurs of the shepherds’ voices around the fire and the rustling of the meadow grass as the sheep settled down for the night.
He had been jerked awake when his father sprang to his feet, shouting, “Look, look!,” pointing to a vertical rift in the dark star-studded night and the dazzling light that was pouring through what appeared to be a gateway to beyond. As the light spread across the sky, it coalesced into a huge form resembling a man but who shone with a terrible, majestic and fiery brightness.
“Run!” Josiah’s mind commanded his feet, but they didn’t seem able to move. He felt his father’s protective arm pull him close but he also felt the tremors shivering through his father’s burly body. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from the mesmerizing display that was taking place above him.
And then the sky itself seemed to shudder with sound, as a deep, pure voice poured over and through them. “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
Time itself suspended movement, as the words hung in the air. Josiah felt a calm, a peace, that spread heat throughout his body, even as he felt his father’s body relax with the same warmth. Great joy. Christ. The Messiah.
Before they could react to the first pronouncement, the sky filled with heavenly beings crowding from one horizon to the other, and indescribably beautiful music cascaded over the hillside. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
Josiah had no idea how long he had been immersed in the glory before he became aware that his father was tugging at his arm. “Come Josiah! We are going to Bethlehem to see this thing that has happened. God has made it known to us!”
Josiah stood rooted for another moment as he began to grasp the immensity of what had just happened; something that would mark his life for the rest of his years.
God was real.
The history of Josiah’s people; the prophets who had spoken for centuries of a time when God would send a Savior, a Redeemer; the promises of blessings and eternal covenants that Josiah had thought were just the religious ramblings of old men; for, after all, it had been hundreds of years and it had never happened, in spite of the hope, the wishful thinking of so many. It was all real – because God was real.
Josiah hurried after his father and the other shepherds who were already disappearing down the hill, filled with the joy and peace the angel had pronounced. God was real. His Word was true, and He had come to earth to reveal Himself to little shepherd boys and to anyone else who had ears to hear.
God was real. The Hope was here.
Joe dropped his head in his hands, his shoulders shaking with the force of the emotions that swept through his emaciated frame. He struggled to quiet the harsh sobs threatening to escape through his clenched teeth and perhaps reveal his latest hiding place. Even as he fought against the despairing anger overtaking him, he shifted his feet on the dirt floor, pulling the small tattered Bible up under the pile of rags he used for bedding.
It had finally happened. They had found the small band of Christ-followers that Joe had been trying to lead and comfort during the last several years, as the noose had tightened around the neck of religious freedom in the so-called “land of the free.” When the Bible had been declared to be hate literature and its use outlawed, Joe’s church family – the ones who had refused at last to surrender their belief in God – had chosen to go into voluntary exile. Moving from place to place, trying to stay ahead of both the governmental authorities and the vigilante bands who were searching out the last of the so-called “enemies of true freedom,” they had also been dedicated to the fulfillment of the Messiah’s last great commandment: “Go into all the world and make disciples.”
“That world,” Joe had frequently told his resolute fellow exiles, “has now become the picture Jesus gave us of what would happen in the last days before his return. Many have left the faith; false messiahs are everywhere; and the kingdom of darkness seems to have conquered what was the last bastion of religious freedom. But,” Joe would hold up his Bible in the flickering candlelight, “we have the way, the truth, and the life. And we have the Hope. He is coming back – and He is coming soon!”
Joe had believed every word he said to the faithful group, even as their circumstances grew more grim and difficult to endure. When individuals failed to appear in court on charges of discrimination and hate crimes, their bank accounts were frozen and their assets seized. They would show up at Joe’s back door, clutching suitcases filled with whatever they could grab before authorities arrived to arrest them, their faces tight with both dread and determination. Joe and his wife Anita had sheltered them until the day law enforcement appeared at their own door, court summons in hand. They and their faith family had fled that same night.
That had been almost two years ago – and now it was over.
Joe leaned back against the splintered wall of the tiny woodshed and let the tears slide silently down his face. Three days ago they had found them, hiding in an abandoned warehouse in a small town in South Dakota. Twenty-three people had been arrested and taken away in handcuffs, including Anita and Trevor, their seven-year-old son. Joe had been visiting an elderly couple who could no longer afford medical care and who were probably only weeks away from death. When he returned to the warehouse, he had been met by a sympathetic townsman who had hurriedly told Joe what he had witnessed and then scurried away before he could be spotted by less sympathetic neighbors.
Gone. They were all gone, facing whatever horrors awaited them in jails and later, prison cells.
“Lord, I’m done,” the words formed without real thought. “I’ve held onto the hope of your soon return for as long as I can.”
Through his closed eyes, Joe felt a sudden warmth penetrate the darkness. Startled, he opened to see – incredibly – words shimmering in the air before him. They seemed written in gold. “Waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Even as he bolted upright, Joe’s entire being was both surrounded and penetrated by one long, pure, musical note that seemed to emanate from the very atmosphere – a trumpet blast of immense energy and joy.
And then there was Light.
God was real. The Hope was here.
- Trish Jones