Sitting here on metal benches in an ornamental garden it is hard to imagine that night. But look across the valley to the naked hill beyond and try to imagine ...
It was cold - very cold - and very dark. The moon had long set and there was only starlight. The small fire had burned down to embers and the air was very still. Dew had fallen and it was starting to freeze.
One could hear a rhythmic breathing- the sheep and the men; some snoring slightly and shifting under their woollen cloaks. The sharp, empty smell of night was invaded by the waxen tang of the sheep's fleeces and the sour, peppery, of their dung.
The sheep had been corralled in a natural hollow surrounded by a semi-circle of large rocks with the men sleeping in the gaps to keep the sheep from straying. A lone boy remained awake - no wolves had been seen for a while and they were close enough to the town on the opposite hill that the dogs would bark to warn them of predators.
He remembered that night to his dying day - how a brilliant light had appeared all around the rocks and a tall figure in dazzling white robes stood before him.
The men had awoken with cries of alarm but the visitor raised his hands in a gesture of calm and spoke to them in a clear ringing voice like the sound of water running into a stone cistern
"Don't be afraid. I have good news for you and for everyone".
His exact words were - gone now - only a vague memory if a giddy night to the shepherd boy in his old age.
He remembered that all of them tumbled down the hill side abandoning their flock singing and laughing. He remembered that above and behind them was a swirling cloud of winged forms and that the air was filled with their chanting; a sound like a great wind humming through a thousand tent ropes.
They didn't dare look back, the hair standing up on the back of their necks.
He remembered the messenger had told them that their Saviour had been born that night in the little town nearby. He remembered finding, in the dark, a mother and child resting amongst the cattle beneath a meagre house on the edge of town; the woman so young and so knowing, the child, still and radiant, and an older man standing in the shadows - but it was all such a long time ago.
What did it all mean? And why had they of all people been chosen, to see this child; " the Christ " "the Messiah", if indeed that is who it was. They, who had nothing but the rough clothes they stood up in - even the sheep belonged to others.
They told everyone they knew about the angels and the child, and the people loved their story but soon forgot it; shepherds are, after all, just dreamers and tellers of tall tales.
Why would the Christ, the Chosen One, appear to such a motley crew of people; to people of no account, without merit, in that place - in this place?
Is it so hard to imagine?