The angels poise themselves in expectation. They watch. They wait. They have been watching and waiting for years beyond human knowledge, but now is the fullness of time. It will happen tonight, and everything will be changed forever, because God himself has done the unthinkable. The very atmosphere of earth is pregnant with the Holy Spirit’s power and purpose, and they marvel that human beings can be so unaware of cosmic realities. But some will be players in tonight’s drama, and even now they are taking their places ..
The woman knows, though it will be many years before she understands all the implications. She is tired: the travelling has been rough, and the pains started several hours ago. She leans on the strength of the man, letting him organise things for her, for the hour of her need approaches. It has been a strange nine months, living in two realities at once: the ordinary pregnancy, the extraordinary conception. But now her exhausted mind is stilled upon two realities – the demanding rhythms of her own body, and the still, deep certainty that she and her future are held and carried in the love of God. She does not yet know that because of this night to come, and because of that daring ‘yes’ she said nine months earlier, her obscure, ordinary name will be known and honoured as long as the earth endures.
The man is as anxious as any first time father. Far away from the female relatives who would normally care for her at such a time, he feels an added responsibility to care for her safety, and that of the child. And he knows so little about things. But as he fusses around, trying to make sure that everything possible is provided for her, he is overtaken by a deep sense of peace. This birth has been planned for aeons; he can leave the outcome in the Lord’s hands.
The town is falling asleep, though restively. There are too many people crowded here at the moment; no one is quite at ease. But the laborious day brings its own reward of rest, and, one by one, the lamps are going out.
Out on the hills, it is just another night of sheep-watching. Or is it? The sheep are not settling down in their normal way, like Balaam’s donkey centuries before, they can sense the angelic presence which men are blind to. So the men, tuned into their beasts, if not to spiritual realities, are alert. There is a sense of waiting.
And somewhere, far to the east, a mighty star is shining, directing a bunch of weary travellers on their way. It is hard to travel by night and to try to sleep by day, but when the guiding star is only visible in the darkness, they have no other choice. The miles grow burdensome, but when they look up to the star they are reassured. Somewhere, many days ahead of them, a mighty wonder is waiting, a wonder that is worth all the kingdoms of the earth and the glory of them.
Night settles more deeply over the little town. Somewhere, a few miles to the north, an unhappy king starts from his sleep with a nightmare sense of foreboding. Why should he feel so threatened in the stillness of the night? The cold, midnight darkness is strangely silent, as if all the non-human creation is holding its breath ..