The starry sky was ablaze in the east—a shimmering brightness cast flickering shadows across the horizon.
I was wide awake, and had been for a long while. My brain was furiously at work attempting to untangle a nightmare—in the dream sequence Beka Steele had been in extreme danger. I was racing to rescue her when I’d slammed into an old woman on the sidewalk and killed her dead. None of that could distract or trouble me now. I jettisoned whatever it all meant and let it drift away on rippling currents of denial. The colorful array in the heavens beckoned my attention.
I was camped in hill country on the far outskirts of a small village—a secluded knoll isolated from the inhabitants of the area. A craggy enclosure near my bedroll housed the remnants of a fire. I gathered sticks and dried moss, and carefully fed the embers until tiny tongues of flame began eating the fuel. Squatting on my haunches I warmed my hands while watching the crazy pattern of light brushing its way across the canvas of night.
The happening was a peculiar spectacle—perhaps it could be identified as some bizarre electromagnetic firestorm that’d consume itself. The brilliant beauty overwhelmed questions about its significance or origins. It was marvelous to behold, but difficult bending almighty close to impossible to describe—Aurora borealis wired into high intensity lamps that projected a moving, living, wondrous display.
A rainbow of greens, reds, whites, and stunning yellows climbed to the top of the skyline. The sight mesmerized me—my breath was coming in shallow hitches. Comfort flooded my soul—it felt as though I was about to crawl inside a cocoon of perfect peace.
What made the phenomenon all the more fascinating was the exquisite music. There was a distinct melody that had a contagious spontaneity, but the distance was too great for me to discern the words. It sounded as though a thousand or more voice choir was singing in flawless harmony, yet the story or message of the song was lost on me.
I decided to go and investigate. The campfire was extinguished with a few kicks of loose sand. I glanced at my bedding that’d been scrounged from a wandering merchant, and figured I could come back for it if necessary. With awestruck determination, I headed toward the amazing anomaly, but then in an instantaneous thunderclap, a black shroud of silence and darkness settled on the landscape.
My eyes fluttered rapidly to adjust to the abrupt change, then in a moment refocused. Everything was as it should be. The ceiling encircling the world was starlit—the soundtrack was countryside quiet.
Crickets chirped. The sudden stillness agitated me. The normal balance of night had a bleak or fearful feel. Loneliness crept up beside me. I was tingly all over—my nerve endings were on edge. The imagery and echo of the glittering, rhythmic incident was an abiding mystery that tugged at me.
Suspicions swelled—I had a strong inkling of what it was all about but it was too unimaginable to be real. I studied the constellations, and concluded that the timeframe was in alignment with my gut instincts. Even so, doubt sank roots deep into my psyche. Wariness took hold that had fear festering within—doubt and fear were nasty companions tagging along to keep me in an antsy, second-guessing mode.
I put my hat on snugly, then made tracks. The need to know specifics kept me moving fast. I angled eastward over the rock studded terrain as nimbly as a mountain goat.
A half hour or so later, with the slumbering village nearby, I came upon several flocks of sheep. The animals were spread out across a gently sloping field.
Some were milling around aimlessly, but most were bedded down. My presence didn’t seem to disturb, worry, or cause any annoyance in their midst. I eased past or around them, making decent headway until I had an interesting encounter.
A large ram pushed up against me and stuck close. He repeatedly nudged a knee, hard enough to knock me off stride on more than one occasion. He kept at it until I finally stopped and hunkered low to affectionately grab hold of the scruff of his neck.
The coat was thick, dirty, and heavily matted—his breath hot, wet, and rancid as it raked my face. His eyes were alert and animated—he was staring at me with a depth of emotion that was weirdly intimidating. We were eyeball to eyeball, with his gaze boring steadily into me. It was as though this dumb beast was privy to information that he desperately wanted to share with me. There was no fear or uneasiness emanating from him, but rather, his vibrant eyes were pools of calm assurance.
“Okay. Gotcha,” I whispered, nodding. He returned a nod of his own, then gruffly jerked free of my grip and ambled away, bleating in a satisfied tone.
I immediately followed. Other sheep joined us. Before too long there were a hundred or more in the entourage making its way toward the little town—we picked up stragglers all along the way. The livestock chattered back and forth in their native language, making much noise as we stayed with the lead ram. He halted when the grassy slope leveled out to a gravelly laneway.
A loud, insistent exclamation tore from his throat—the force of it startled me. Then I saw what my shaggy acquaintance wanted me to see—it was a strange, surreal scene. A man was doing a jig, twirling a shepherd’s staff like a baton as he spun around and kicked up his heels. I wanted to laugh, but somehow knew that was an inappropriate response regardless of how silly or ridiculous appearances.
The sheep settled down—a hushed calmness filled the air. It was respect that bordered on reverence. I moved past the flocks to approach the dancing man. He was entirely engrossed inside a reality I couldn’t broach—it was as if nothing else existed except an extraordinary joy set loose within that had put jitterbugs in his feet.
I cautiously inched closer to him. His eyes were glassy, his face radiant. He was humming so softly as to be nearly inaudible. I leaned in and perked up my ears, straining to hear the inner symphony.
Recognition came to me in a flash of tremulous clarity—it was the exact tune that’d accompanied the dazzling light show. A swarm of goosepimples squirmed over my skin. In an unexpected rush the man surged forward and crashed into me. I backpedaled, but he latched on and wrapped me in a bone-crunching bear-hug that surely hurt.
“My friend, my friend, my friend,” he sang out, rocking me back and forth in his tight embrace. “It was just as the angel told us. The baby was swaddled in a manger. Glory to God in the highest!” He released me with such a fierce and mighty thrust that I stumbled onto my backside.
I was frozen in awe. I sat there enthralled by the shepherd’s continuing celebration. His body swayed as he hitched up his garments, lifted his knees, and whirled around as though he was going to lift off. All the while his voice hit other-worldly notes of sheer ecstasy.
My feeble understandings were accurate. The partnership of doubt and fear unraveled; out of its twisted fibers a tapestry of tranquility formed to envelop my heart. I was in Bethlehem of Judea. A peasant couple from Nazareth had spent the last number of days traveling to be here. They came for temporal reasons, but that was merely so that the One who is from everlasting to everlasting could accomplish his eternal purposes.
I, Jedediah Jodat, was shivering with astonishment—because of the miraculous events of the last few hours the human race had a shot at redemption. In the annals of time and space this was truly the dawn of a new day.