Around this time of year all around the world people are getting ready for Christmas. And from church services, to Charlie Brown specials, to decorations at Hobby Lobby, undoubtedly I’ll run across the scripture from Luke where a rag tag bunch of shepherds suddenly get a surprise from a gang of angels.
You’ve heard it:
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”
– Luke 2: 8-10
I don’t mind telling you that I have a problem with this. Specifically, one sentence — “Do not be afraid.”
There’s a bit of audacity here that I simply cannot overlook. When a group of presumably simple, rural guys are just sitting around by a campfire minding their own business and suddenly the sky fills up with what could only adequately described as a Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert, simply saying “don’t be afraid” hardly seems reasonable. I know this because I have experience. Not with angels, but beavers. Let me explain.
My family has raised cows for as long as I can remember. But many years ago, in a momentary lapse of sanity, we decided to try our hand at raising some crops. Specifically, ten acres of cabbage. The thing you need to understand for our purposes here is that with cabbage everything pretty much has to be done by hand. And what we had on our hands was essentially a ten-acre garden that consumed our lives.
As it turned out, a few thousand heads of cabbage was incredibly popular with the local wildlife. Apart from keeping the weeds out, keeping critters from eating our crop was proving to be a huge challenge. The rabbits were no big surprise. The deer not as much of a surprise. The surprise came from the field that bordered the local river — the beavers.
The beavers were drawn from the river to our cabbage patch quicker than a fat man to a catfish buffet. Armed with big teeth and voracious appetites, these oversized rodents were mowing through our field night after night until we finally had to take drastic measures. We began doing 24-hour armed patrols of the cabbage patch.
One summer night it was my turn. Armed with a daisy BB gun, peanut butter sandwiches and all the bravery a nine-year-old could muster, I set out into the darkness accompanied by a friend from school on our patrol of the field. Hardened warriors and guardians of the helpless, we were. Two young boys with the fate of ten acres of cabbage in our hands.
It only took a few hours for two young boys to do what two young boys do when left to their own devices and sitting in the middle of a field at two in the morning.
We freaked each other out.
Each trying to stoically maintain our composure, on the inside we were tinderboxes waiting to ignite. And sitting there on the edge of the field with our backs to the river, the inevitable happened. The stillness of the night was broken with some high pitched whining sound moving through the field. In retrospect, probably just a bird, but it was enough to put us both on critical alert.
“What was that!?”
“I don’t know!”
And then, directly behind us, in the river. (You know, where the beavers lived.)
BAM! BAM! BAM! A sound so loud that it must have shaken the foundations of the world.
What I now understand, as a rational adult, is that it was nothing more than a beaver slapping its tail on the water. As a nine-year-old I believed it nothing less than some nightmare of a monster coming up from the depths of the river set on dragging us back into the murky depths where it would tear us apart with its massive fangs. We didn’t stick around to find out.
You know in those old Looney Tune cartoons when one of the characters would take off so fast that they left their eyeballs and eyebrows sitting suspended in air? That’s about the pace we were setting as we screamed our way out of that place.
Our primary problem was that the field was a solid quarter mile from the house — a quarter mile down a dark and forbidding road with old gnarly trees that looked straight out of a scene from Sleepy Hollow.
My buddy took the lead, flashlight and BB gun pointed forward. I took the rear, flashlight and BB gun facing behind. We expected to see a horrific beast come crashing through the darkness at any moment.
We were getting closer. We could see the lights of the house in the distance. We were almost home. And then… Remember when I said we raised cows?
Just when I thought we were free, a beast of massive proportions suddenly raised up from the ground at our feet bellowing in surprise and irritation from being awoken from its nighttime slumber.
I’m not sure how many times we shot that poor cow. Lucky for the cow, and for us, our lever action BB guns were no match for her hide.
Moments later we were safely within the confines of the house, and my parents — who were still up and apparently waiting for this very moment — may have literally fallen on the floor laughing.
So when I say that that I have a problem with a story about an angel popping out of thin air to a bunch of kids sitting alone in a field and telling them not to be afraid, let’s just say I have some experience with the subject.
But then again, sometimes when the world seems really dark it helps to focus on the light and realize that things aren’t as scary as they seem. Sometimes, maybe it’s hope that makes all the difference.