It seems to me that there are some activities we humans have engaged in as long as there has been recorded history. The details might have changed through the centuries, but the basics have remained. That’s the thought that kinda got stuck in my head recently when I was listening to a reading of the Christmas story. The particular words that stirred my thoughts were from Luke 2:8, “In that region there were shepherds in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.”
Yep, there were men keeping watch in the dark of night - protecting those in their charge against predators and providing assurance that care and comfort were available. The duty must have made these guardians both watchful and lonely but their commitment to the task was vital to the well-being of both the flock and the society which depended on them. And that’s the way these men spent the first
Christmas Eve - keeping watch. You know, we have had those keeping watch by night, including Christmas Eve, in many forms through the ages. There were the cowboys in the Old West who had “night herd” duty - slowly riding around a herd of cattle to ward off both four-legged and two-legged predators. They reportedly sang softly as they rode with the sound of their voices providing assurance to the cattle that all was well.
But nighttime guardians have not been limited to protectors of livestock. At one time night watchmen in towns patrolled the streets and reassured the townspeople by announcing the hour and proclaiming “All’s well.” Their task was to safeguard not only against night-stalking villains but more importantly against fire. In those days a spark flying from an open fireplace, a candle tipping over, or a lantern falling from a peg or nail could cause a disastrous fire capable of destroying an entire town - with the danger being particularly great at night.
And so these nighttime watchers were entrusted with their lonely duty Thus ensuring others could sleep well knowing they were protected. We still have those who keep watch by night - even on Christmas Eve. We have law enforcement officers patrolling our streets and highways. As with the watchmen of old they not only guard us against nighttime marauders, but are there to provide assistance to those who might require their aid.
Then, too, there are the firefighters and emergency medical folks who will spend their Christmas Eve on duty - which means when we hear sirens we know these guardians are responding to someone in need. And we mustn’t’t neglect the physicians, surgeons, nurses and medical staff who are also on duty on Christmas Eve providing comfort and healing to their patients. Quite an impressive list, isn’t’t it - but it’s not complete. Let’s not forget the military.
I recall a Christmas Eve many years ago when I was assigned to an Aircraft Control & Warning (AC&W) squadron which had the mission of monitoring the air space along the desolate, bleak Aleutian Island chain. Keeping watch day and night, including weekends and holidays, our “eyes” were powerful radars capable of “seeing” hundreds of miles - searching for intruders and providing tracking of friendly aircraft. Our “voices” were carried by radio to the aircrews, assuring them they were not alone in the vastness of the northern Pacific Ocean.
Yes, we did our duty as Christmas Eve watch keepers - but this is not an isolated story. Our eldest son has shared with us how he spent a Christmas Eve - a cold, windy, wintry night - on flight line sentry duty in Germany. My youngest brother tells of spending Christmas Eve on duty monitoring the Fulda Gap - a likely invasion route from eastern Europe to the west.
These are only typical of the many lonely and thankless but necessary assignments that have been fulfilled by untold numbers of others through the years. Today, thousands of our military men and women continue to keep watch around the world on this Christmas Eve - safeguarding against evil-doers and providing assurance to the apprehensive. You know, keeping watch by night - especially on Christmas Eve - is something special.
While we are “nestled all snug in our beds”, today’s guardians, like those shepherds of old, are alert and vigilant - protecting those in their charge against predators and providing assurance that care and comfort are available. Some things don’t really change. It’s something to think about this Christmas Eve. At least that’s how it seems to me.
Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident, may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.