A Time to Rejoice

Today, the third Sunday of Advent, comes with the lighting of the Joy Candle. This one always confused me when I was younger, as it’s the only candle that’s pink instead of purple (excepting, of course, the white Christ candle). I only recently learned that pink symbolizes rejoicing. Today’s candle is also sometimes referred to as the “Shepherds’ Candle,” commemorating the joy the shepherds felt when they heard the angels’ message of the advent of Christ. The following story is a glimpse into what that experience might have been like for the shepherds.

Adriel shifted his position in the grass, resting his back more comfortably against the rock he was leaning against. His neck was somewhat stiff as he gazed up at the sky, but it would be fine for a few moments longer. The stars were too beautiful tonight to not drink them in. They were twinkling merrily, as if they were buzzing with some special secret.

“Halfway through.” Yitzhak plopped to the ground beside Adriel, propping his elbows on the rock. “Nights just keep getting longer and longer out here.” He shivered. “At least we’re not having to search for a place to stay tonight. My sister’s husband runs an inn, you know. They were full shortly after noon. They’ve had to turn several people away.”

“It’s bad timing for a nationwide census,” Adriel agreed. “It’s too cold to spend the night outside.”

“They’ll all manage somehow.” Yitzhak shrugged. “If it comes down to it, they can come out here and help us. We could certainly use it.” He suddenly leapt to his feet. “Hey! Come back here!” he shouted. Cursing the sheep under his breath, he chased after a pair of lambs that had decided to skip away from the flock. They apparently thought this was some new game, and they bounded away from Yitzhak as he scrambled to herd them back into place.

Adriel also rose and hurried to help his fellow shepherd. “Run to the left!” he called. “Head them off! I’ll circle around to the other side.” One of the lambs darted towards him, and he lunged for it. The lamb practically cackled at him as he missed his target and plummeted into the ground. He raised his head and ordered through a mouthful of dirt, “He’s coming for you! Catch him! Catch—”

A burst of light tore through the darkness, illuminating the hillside. Adriel clapped his hands over his eyes, struggling to shut out the blinding whiteness. Several of the other shepherds cried out, and the sheep began to bleat in terror. 

Adriel’s heart pounded in his chest as he cowered on the grass. This light—what could have caused this light? It was what he had always imagined when he heard the recounting of the presence of Elohim falling upon Sinai. Had He come now to their lowly pasture? Would they all perish in the holiness of the presence of El Elyon?

Then a voice rang out, rolling richly into Adriel’s ears. “Fear not,” the voice proclaimed, and though it was permeated with majesty, it also bore with it a wild joy. “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” 

The words circulated in Adriel’s mind, filling him with strange excitement. Good news? Great joy? What could this mean? Slowly, he raised his head. His mouth fell open as he stared transfixed at the creature before him. It was shaped like a man, but six wings spread out from it. Its face shone amidst the blaze of the glory surrounding it, and its eyes burned with a living fire. 

It was an angel. It could be nothing else.

Adriel gaped in open-mouthed wonder as the angel continued to tell them of the birth of the Messiah, come that very day into the city of David, lying even now in a manger. And then a multitude of angels appeared, all shining with that same brilliance, all singing and giving glory to El Elyon. Pure, uninhibited celebration filled every word as the angels worshiped together. Adriel longed to spring to his feet and sing with them. But he couldn’t move, could barely breathe as he watched the heavenly beings rejoice.

Then just as suddenly as they had come, the angels were gone. The light of the stars was dull compared to the brilliance that had just disappeared. Adriel stared at Yitzhak, who was gawking back at him. The lambs were lying trembling in the grass between them.

Then Adriel leapt up, a laugh on his lips. “Come on!” he cried, waving his arms. “Let’s go to Betlechem. We have to see what’s happened. We have to see what Adonai has made known to us!” Without waiting to see who would follow him, he turned and hurried down the hillside. The wide grin on his face likely looked akin to madness. He didn’t bother to try for a solemn face. If what the angels had said was true, he need never be solemn again. The Messiah… the Messiah had finally come!

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