Christmas message: ‘Soon we were just shepherds again – but we were different’

Father Jock Dalrymple offers a Christmas story and message: Reflections from a Retired Shepherd in Judaea, 46AD

Monday, 23rd December 2019, 6:00 am

People often tell me that mine was a dull life. Well, maybe. Looking after sheep is much the same each day. But many people have never seen the lambs play and leap, have never sat quiet on a hill and watched the sun, or the moon.

I like to watch the night sky, the moon and the stars. Once, I saw at night, a sight that very few have seen. I was about 19 at the time – and although it’s now about 50 years ago, I remember it like yesterday. I was one of a group of shepherds. We usually worked at night, and on this night I’m talking about, we’d met up where we usually did, on the side of a hill. We’d had a bite to eat and drink and were sitting talking. Around us, our sheep. All normal and usual and quiet. Very restful and pleasant, those talks at night.

Then there was a sort of stillness, and a feeling of change, of difference. We all felt it. I had a friend called Simon, and he first noticed what the change was . . . It was the light . . . there was a sort of paleness . . . we began to see each other’s faces very clearly in a sort of silvery shimmering light . . . It was the purest light I ever saw. Then just farther up the hill from us the glow seemed to intensify and take shape . . . and we saw a man. Like us, but not like us. Taller, stiller. Though we were still enough, God knows.

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Father Jock Dalrymple is the parish priest of St John’s, Portobello, and St Mary Magdalene’s, Bingham

We waited for him to speak. He took his time – as though to find the right words – and then he began to tell us what he called GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY. Of a new-born baby, born in David’s town. A baby sent by God, to change things, to make things better, to save the world. He told us where to go and find the baby. And to tell other people the good news . . . Then he stopped speaking, and became two, then four, then eight and in a second there seemed to be a million like him. And they sang to us “Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace to men who enjoy his favour.” It was wonderful. It came to an end – and then they were gone. Every single one. And we were silent, stunned.

Then Simon said: “Come on, let’s go and find the baby.” And off we went. And we did find him. We were led there. There was no “searching”. Not much to see perhaps. A young mother and her husband, and her newly-born baby in a stable because all the inns were full. Poor people they were. The man was a joiner.

Well, we did as we’d been told by the angel – we spread the word. And people did get excited. But time passed – in fact the baby and his parents disappeared when Herod, that tyrant, moved in with his soldiers – they must have fled somewhere. Soon we were just shepherds again. Doing a dull job . . . But we were different – we’d had that night – I don’t talk about it much any more but I think about it most days. It keeps me warm. I was there . . .”

Father Jock Dalrymple is the parish priest of St John’s, Portobello, and St Mary Magdalene’s, Bingham