By Trudy Wischemann
Lighting the second Advent candle Sunday at church, I got to read the passage from Luke about the shepherds. As we’ve been taught since we were toddlers, the shepherds were out tending their flocks by night. It is a scene in my mind I have always loved, though I didn’t really know why until this year, when it dawned on me that the shepherds are us.
Think about it. They are ordinary working men with the 24/7 job of protecting the sheep from predators, certainly, and possibly robbers. We don’t know if they own the sheep, only that they are in charge of them. Like herdsmen everywhere, their lives depend on the lives of their animals; they take their jobs seriously. Then an angel shows up and scares the bejeezus out of them. But with words of comfort and encouragement, this celestial presence encourages them to think of something other than their jobs, their livelihoods, and to go seek out an infant sharing the stalls with other animals, an infant who will change their lives and the lives of ordinary people everywhere for all time. Then a whole flock of deliriously singing angels descends on them, and they go.
These rural people, these ag workers, have no trouble receiving the message, for they live close to the earth and witness the miracle of life on a daily basis. I realized that they remind me of some of my favorite farmers, my orange grower friends. And that thought triggered the memory of my first and only wind machine night.
It was my third winter here. The previous two winters I had lain awake on wind machine nights, listening to the drone. It reminded me of the sound of B-52 bombers waiting to take off from a fogged-in airfield, something I knew only from the WWII movies I was raised on. The sound of these guardians was comforting to me, knowing the whole community’s economy was hanging in the balance.
Then I met one of Lindsay’s full-time orange- and olive shepherds, who kept groves for other people, landless himself. A 28-degree night was predicted, and I expressed my desire to experience the work of tending those machines. He arranged for me to go along.
He and another friend wedged me into the cab of a small pickup, and we took off to start the machines in the lowest, most frost-vulnerable groves. Some machines could be driven to, others we had to walk a ways with flashlights. After a few hours we returned to the shop, where a smudge pot was lighted to provide warmth as well as ceremony. Stories were told about other nights, other years, other orange growers’ experiences that had become part of the community’s history. Around 3 a.m., another friend had us in for hot coffee and eggs. And as dawn approached, and the temperature warranted it, we made the return trip in reverse order, shutting down the machines.
We saw no angels that night, but I sensed their presence, watching over us like the shepherds watched over their sheep. And remembering the simple holiness of that night, I have no trouble imagining that if the angels had shown up, we’d have dropped everything to go see the source of their excitement.