Traditionally, the third candle of the Advent wreath, instead of being blue or purple as the others are, is pink or red. It is also known as the Shepherd candle, reflecting the joy the shepherds felt after their initial fear and confusion.
Try to imagine what it might have been like. It’s difficult to divest the story of all the meanings our life and experience have given it, but let’s try.
We are on a quiet hill near Bethlehem. It’s our turn to stay up with the sheep. They, woolly and warm, have long since settled down in fluffy, greasy-smelling bundles to sleep. The highest ranking sheep are on the inside of the bunch if it’s a chilly night, while the lower ranking ones huddle on the outskirts, sometimes shoving inward for more warmth.
We humans huddle, too, in cloaks spun and woven of the wool of these very animals. But we have a fire, too, and in the firelight our faces are strange and shadowed. Perhaps someone is singing or playing a pipe or harp quietly. Perhaps another brings up the prophecies of Messiah and the friendly but hot discussion/debate dear to Jewish (and Adventist) hearts has begun.
Suddenly an alien being flashes into existence right next to us, and our hearts just about stop. Gasps, cries, and grabbing of rods creates a moment of chaos that disturbs the sheep, whose heads pop up nervously. But the being says, “Don’t be afraid. I’m bringing you amazing news!” And we can tell, just by the look on the strange, shining face, that he is nearly bursting with excitement himself as he proceeds to announce that Messiah is here! Now! In Bethlehem! In a . . . what??
We look blankly at each other. Did he say in a feed rack? Seriously?
Then, just as our nerves are thinking about beginning to settle, there’s a flash that makes our eyes see purple splotches for an hour afterward, and we hear singing such as we have never heard before. Nor will again, in this life.
GLORY TO GOD IN THE HEAVENLY HEIGHTS! PEACE TO ALL MEN AND WOMEN ON EARTH WHO PLEASE HIM!!
It’s just about deafening. It’s terrifying, and exciting, and joyful, and . . . then it’s gone. We blink, and try to catch our breath, and turn to each other. “Did you–? Was it a dream? I-I–” We are incoherent. “You saw it too? And heard it?”
Well, let’s go see!!
Stumbling over each other, still half-blind and half-deaf, maybe remembering to leave someone with the sheep and maybe not, we tumble down the hill toward the sleeping village. How could anybody still be asleep? We stumble even more when we reach the streets, which are half-full of travelers who never did find places to stay, and who don’t appreciate being stepped on in their sleep. But, still incoherent, we just say, “Oh, sorry! Excuse me! He’s here! Messiah’s here! Didn’t you hear the angels?”
We check every barn, stable, and cave that could possibly house animals. Perhaps we hear a baby’s cries and see a couple of women bustling in and out with buckets and blankets. Then . . . here we are. Clumsy, embarrassed, we feel like intruders on a very intimate family scene, but the man lets us in, and the young mother smiles tiredly, and . . . there he is. Impossibly tiny, wrinkly, snuggled into linen wrappings, and only interested in his dinner.