The light is fading like the final notes of a symphony, but still the song lingers in the air. It is something that will forever resound in your being. You take a deep breath, your heart pounding furiously in your chest. The shepherds have regained their feet and are now talking excitedly, flailing their arms and dancing from foot to foot, exclaiming over the wonderful news that has been announced to them.
You turn to find your friend standing with face turned toward the last shimmer of perfect light. His staff is on the ground, but it appears he has no need of it. He is standing tall, like a mighty tree with roots digging deep through time, and branches being drawn upward toward an inexpressible and glorious hope. In his face shines all the wisdom of a king and all the delight of a child.
“It is as I had hoped,” he whispers to you, “and still beyond all my imagining.”
“It's Him, isn't it?” you reply with eagerness. Now you hear the shepherds preparing to go into town, to search every stable to find earth's newest son. “Shall we go to Him?” you ask the old man, eying the shepherds pointing the way to Bethlehem and not wanting to be left out of the search.
At first he makes no sound, and you wonder if he has heard you. Then he turns toward you. “Hand me my staff will you,” he says with purpose in his eyes. You bend to obey his wish, placing the wood in his hands. His wrinkled face looks down at you. “Permit an old man a bit of a slower pace. I'm not as young as I once was.” The shepherds have already begun to run, down the path and past the sheep, coats streaming behind them. The last one calls out a word of beckoning to you both, and you can hardly restrain the burst of speed threatening to carry you with them.
“Don't worry,” your friend responds. “I think I know the way, and I have a feeling we'll get there in plenty of time.” Though slightly disappointed, you start out at the patriarch's pace.
“Isn't it wonderful?” you say breathlessly. “I just know I'll find what I'm looking for. He's here, and everything I dreamed of will come true! But you must know what that's like. A son was the answer to your promise too.”
Your companion looks thoughtful. “Yes, he was. Though his birth wasn't the end of the story.” He pauses, and something like sadness softens his features. “Promises from heaven do not always follow the easy road. I had to lead mine up a mountain, to an altar. . .” The old man stops and leans heavily on his staff. You offer your arm in support. “I had to give him up. You see, it wasn't just about the promise. I wasn't living for the promise anymore. I was living for Him.”
You are surprised at these words. “Did your son die?” you ask hesitantly.
“No. But something in me died that day. Something that had to die in order for me to go on, in order for the promise to live.”
“That seems cruel.” you reply, and for an instant you are not sure you want to meet Him after all.
“It was the only way.” The ancient traveler lays his bony hand on yours. “And when it was over, He gave me my son back.” The creases of his mouth form a smile and he straightens up, looking down the path. “And I've anticipated this day ever since.”
“What do you hope to find now?”
“One of my descendants.”
“Do you have a grandson now?” you ask.
He laughs. “I am far older than you think. And though He is a baby, He is older than us all.”
Truly these are strange happenings this night. You wonder about this new son. You hope he lives, because somehow you know all your hopes will be fulfilled in Him. The path turns and you almost stumble over a lamb, left alone in the confusion of the night. It is caught in some branches and bleating pitifully. “What about the sheep?” you gasp, realizing suddenly that the whole flock has been abandoned by their keepers.
Your friend stoops to untangle the animal with experienced hands. Then with tenderness he speaks. “He will provide, even for them.” You take the lamb and heave it up over your shoulders. In the distance, the lights of the little town hold out a cheering welcome. You grasp your fellow traveler's arm and look at him with new regard.
“Come on old father, let's go and meet Him.”