THE SHEPHERD by Frederick Buechner

From "The Magnificent Defeat"

And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel Of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, "Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to 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 babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!" When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." And they went with haste, and found Mary and Jose ph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child; and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.

Luke 2:8-18 RSV

"NIGHT WAS COMING ON, and it was cold," the shepherd said, "and I was terribly hungry. I had finished all the bread I had in my sack, and my gut still ached for more. Then I noticed my friend, a shepherd like me, about to throw away a crust he didn't want. So I said, 'Throw the crust to me, friend!' and he did throw it to me, but it landed between us in the mud where the sheep had mucked it up. But I grabbed it anyway and stuffed it, mud and all, into my mouth. And as I was eating it, I suddenly saw -- myself. It was as if I was not only a man eating but a man watching the man eating. And I thought, 'This is who I am. I am a man who eats muddy bread.' And I thought, 'The bread is very good.' And I thought, 'Ah, and the mud is very good too.' So I opened my muddy man's mouth full of bread, and I yelled to my friends, 'By God, it's good, brothers!' And they thought I was a terrible fool, but they saw what I meant. We saw everything that night, everything. Everything!

"Can I make you understand, I wonder? Have you ever had this happen to you? You have been working hard all day. You're dog-tired, bonetired. So you call it quits for a while. You slump down under a tree or against a rock or something and just sit there in a daze for half an hour or a million years, I don't know, and all this time your eyes are wide open looking straight ahead someplace but they're so tired and glassy they don't see a thing. Nothing. You could be dead for all you notice. Then, little by little, you begin to come to, then your eyes begin to come to, and all of a sudden you find out you've been looking at something the whole time except it's only now you really see it-one of the ewe lambs maybe, with its foot caught under a rock, or the moon scorching a hole through the clouds. It was there all the time, and you were looking at it all the time, but you didn't see it till just now.

"That's how it was this night, anyway. Like finally coming to-not things coming out of nowhere that had never been there before, but things just coming into focus that had been there always. And such things! The air wasn't just emptiness any more. It was alive. Brightness everywhere, dipping and wheeling like a flock of birds. And what you always thought was silence stopped being silent and turned into the beating of wings, thousands and thousands of them.

Only not just wings, as you came to more, but voices-high, wild, like trumpets. The words I could never remember later, but something like what I'd yelled with my mouth full of bread. 'By God, it's good, brothers! The crust. The mud. Everything. Everything!'

"Oh well. If you think we were out of our minds, you are right, of course. And do you know, it was just like being out of jail. I can see us still. The squint-eyed one who always complained of sore feet. The little sawed-off one who could outswear a Roman. The young one who blushed like a girl. We all tore off across that muddy field like drunks at a fair, and drunk we were, crazy drunk, splashing ~rough a sea of wings and moonlight and the silvery wool of the sheep. Was it night? Was it day? Did our feet touch the ground?

'Shh, shh, you'll wake up my guests,' said the Innkeeper we met coming in the other direction with his arms full of wood. And when we got to the shed out back, one of the three foreigners who were there held a finger to his lips. "At the eye of the storm, you know, there's no wind-nothing moves-nothing breathes-even silence keeps silent. So hush now. Hush. There he is. You see him? You see him?

"By Almighty God, brothers. Open your eyes. Listen."



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• • Last Updated in May, 2008