By the gate, hugging his mantle close, the watchman walked; at times he stopped, attracted by a stir among the sleeping herds, or by a Jackal’s cry off on the mountain-side. The midnight was slow coming to him; but at last it came. His task was done; now for the dreamless sleep with which labour blesses its wearied children! He moved towards the fire, but paused; a light was breaking around him, soft and white, like the moon’s. He waited breathlessly. The light, deepened; things before invisible came to view; he saw the whole field, and all it sheltered. A chill sharper than that of the frosty air- a chill of fear- smote him. He looked up; the stars were gone; the light was dropping as from a window in the sky; as he looked, it became a splendour; then, in terror he cried- “Awake, awake!”
Up sprang the dogs, and, howling, ran away.
The herds rushed together bewildered.
The men clambered to their feet, weapons in hand.
“What is it?” they asked, in one voice.
“See!” cried the watchman, “the sky is on fire!”
Suddenly the light became intolerably bright, and they covered their eyes, and dropped upon their knees; then, as their souls shrank with fear, they fell upon their faces blind and fainting, and would have died had not a voice said to them- “Fear not!”
And they listened.
“Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”
The voice, in sweetness and soothing more than human, and low and clear, penetrated all their being, and filled them with assurance. They rose upon their knees, and, looking worshipfully, beheld in the centre of a great glory the appearance of a man, clad in a robe intensely white; above its shoulders towered the tops of wings shining and folded; a star over its forehead glowed with steady lustre, brilliant as Hesperus; its hands were stretched towards them in blessing; its face was serene and divinely beautiful.
They had often heard, and in their simple way talked, of angels; and they doubted not now, but said, in their hearts, The glory of God is about us, and this is he who of old came to the prophet by the river of Ulai.
Directly the angel continued- “For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour which is Christ the Lord!”
Again there was a rest, while the words sank into their minds.
“And this shall be a sign unto you,” the annunciator said next. “Ye shall find the babe, wrapped in swaddling-clothes, lying in a manger.”
The herald spoke not again; his good tidings were told; yet he stayed awhile. Suddenly the light, of which he seemed the centre, turned roseate and began to tremble; then up, far as the men could see, there was flashing of white wings, and coming and going of radiant forms, and voices as of a multitude chanting in unison- “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will towards men!”