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Some distance from Bethlehem, a shepherd turned in his sleep, pulling his torn cloak closer around him as the frost formed on the stubble on which he lay. Another shepherd snored loudly; another wheezed through his half-opened mouth and the sheep stood huddled together for warmth.
Suddenly, the shepherd heard a sound, like no sound he knew; laughter, like no laughter he had ever heard. With his eyes still closed, because he wanted to sleep and could not, he thought, "It is the stars themselves singing with joy" and he was glad the others could not hear his thoughts.
But they woke at the sound too and looked up and stared. Years later they would argue about what they heard and saw that night and maybe each was right. One said into his grave, the stars were singing themselves, celestial music he could understand.
Another one, the one who snored, said it was angels, real feathered angels with golden harps, all singing out their hearts into the winter's sky.
The one who wheezed in his exhausted sleep said, no, it was the sky, it was the earth, all making some kind of music he had never heard before.
But - from that night on, they never argued about what they felt within themselves that night. Something wonderful had happened and these sounds called them to come to a place where a baby had been born.
It made no sense, they agreed on that too, but that night the music called so clear that they rose, shook the dust and leaves from their worn cloaks and, crooks still in hand, dumb sheep following along the dark road, they had seen the star and went this night to where it seemed to hang over the old man's cave.
They agreed on something else. There was only one little wick in one shallow bowl of oil; there was only one dying fire, but strange it seemed then and later, the whole place seemed aglow with light. Strange too, that the child seemed to see them first, though the father had startled at the sound of the sheep's hoofs and raised his head from his chest and rubbed his eyes to see three shepherds and a flock of sheep in the middle of this night.
The mother, and they agreed on this, was just a little girl mother and when she woke and saw them there, she smiled.
At that, the baby cried and the father rose to take it to the mother who shyly turned away to still the cries with nursing.
So, there they were, in the middle of the night, the father scratching his head because he seemed puzzled by it all; the mother, half-turned away and the sound of the hungry child's hunger met.
And then, the three of them, trying to explain to these strangers why they had come to this illuminated place in the middle of the night, where even the old man's animals seemed now warm and now content.
So, the one said the stars had called to him in the night and the sound was like laughter and it was the stars he said, singing a song of pure joy. Stars had awakened him and brought him to this place to see the child, although he didn't rightly understand all that.
The other said, not stars at all, but angels with golden harps and wings and bright streaks of light and their sound too was of pure joy and they sang to him to come to see Emmanuel and while the child was a good and quiet child, perhaps his wife would call it beautiful because she called all babies beautiful, he came because the angels told him to.
The third, even in all that golden light - with the star right above their heads and with the others talking about laughter and golden harps, he said, "No! No siree!" It was as though the stars themselves were weeping. Joy indeed! The whole night sobbed and the sound of the earth was like a moaning. Like music perhaps, but music the sound of grief.
He finished telling of the music he had heard; the baby finished nursing and the mother turned and stared herself at the three of them - with the sleeping baby in her arms.
She was smiling, they agreed on that. There were tears upon her cheeks, they agreed on that and each one of them, alone in his long night for the rest of their lives' nights, each one of them remembered how she held the child, the tenderness there in that night, when some kind of music had called them to come and see this child.
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