Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Shepherd Boy’s First Christmas


Based on the Master Story from Luke 2:8-20

            In the hill country of Judea some 2000 years ago there was a little shepherd boy tending some lambs for his father.
            “Hazaiah,” his father called, “bring the little ones back to the flock. It is getting late and we must set up camp.”
            “Yes, father.” Hazaiah obeyed and with his little stick herded the five young lambs back to their mothers. 
            Sheep are affectionate animals and when treated well are almost like pets, following their masters from place to place. Hazaiah's father, Melki, had told his son not to get too attached to this bunch. The owner of the flock would soon be taking them for sacrifice since the five lambs were without blemish.
            Hazaiah knew all about that but still he would run with his animals and care for them as if they were his own. He even named them.
            “Father,” he said, “can Rhappa sleep with us tonight? It is getting cold and she is the smallest of the herd.”
            “No,” said Melki. “That is why there is a herd so that they can protect each other from the cold. Our job is to protect them from wild animals. All of them, my son, not just Rhappa. Come, help me pitch the tent."

Shepherds who were living out in the fields would watch over their flocks at night. If they were near a sheepfold then they would bed there. A sheepfold is an enclosed area, its walls made of stone with one open entrance. The shepherds would then sleep at this entrance to ensure that no animals could get out or in.
            This particular night the shepherds were in the open country and so they set up camp on a small knoll overlooking their flock. The dogs would keep the herd from wandering off and would alert the shepherds of any danger.
            Melki and the other men worked together to build a fire and prepare dinner. They drank curdled goats milk and boiled some mutton. Then, as night fell, they settled down to music and conversation. They kept their voices low so as to not disturb the sheep; the sound of the flute sweetly calmed the herd to sleep.
            Hazaiah still wished that he could hold one of the little lambs next to him. But as he sat staring into the fire listening to the gentle music he began to get drowsy and soon forgot about Rhappa. His eyes got heavy.
            He was just about ready to put his head on his father's lap when all of a sudden the flames from the fire grew higher and higher. Sparks flew and the fire grew. Something strange and frightening was happening.
            The shepherds jumped to their feet and backed away from the flames and heat. They gathered together as much for protection as for mutual comfort and encouragement for they were terrified. Hazaiah gripped Melki's hand and tried to hide himself in his father's cloak. Melki in turn grabbed his son up into his arms ready to shield him from danger.
            But there was no danger. From the fire which was shooting flames ten feet or more into the air and casting light all around there came a voice. It sang, “Do not be afraid.” It whispered, “Do not fear.”
            The shepherds looked intently into the changing shapes created by the flames and saw the figure of a person. 
“It is an angel,” one of the men shouted. But his shout was barely heard. The shepherds fell to the ground.
“Do not be frightened,” the angel said again. “For look, the news I bring you is good news. It will bring you great joy; it will bring great joy to all the world.
            “Just tonight in the town of David a savior has been born. A savior has been born for you and for all people. He is the anointed one, the Messiah. He is the Lord himself.
            “This will be a sign for you: You will find a baby, a helpless newborn baby, wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a feeding trough.”
            Suddenly, the flames shot even higher into the air and the angel sprang from the fire to join a thousand other angels who were praising God. This host from heaven, so excited to be the first ones to shout the news to the world, joyfully proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest. And on earth may there be peace to those with whom God is pleased.”
            Then the angels left. The fire died down. It was dark once again. The shepherds looked at each other and at the sheep. Not a sound came from the herd for they were sleeping. What had happened? Were they dreaming? Could it have been something they ate?
            Melki released Hazaiah, got up and said to the others, “I think we need to go to Bethlehem. We need to see this thing that has happened. We saw a vision, we saw angels, but it is the Lord that has told us about this birth. The Lord has told us about this birth!”
            Everyone agreed. And so they left their dogs and their sheep, their tents and the camp and hurried off to find this baby. 
            “Father, how will we find the baby? Where will we look?” asked Hazaiah. 
            “He will be lying in a feeding trough,” Melki said. “That means he is at the stables.  Probably in the caves on the other side of Bethlehem. Let us first look there.”
            Again the shepherds agreed. As they walked through the streets the townspeople noticed how quickly the men were walking toward the caves. The men were silent, intent on finding the babe. Some people began to follow the shepherds for they did not trust them.
“Something must be happening,” someone whispered. “They're up to no good,” another said. “You can't trust a sheep herder,” came a third voice. “Let's follow them.”
            The men ignored the townspeople. They knew they were not well liked. But they had seen a vision; they needed to find out for themselves.
            Soon the shepherds were at the stables. They stopped. “I see a light,” Hazaiah whispered. The little boy took his father's hand and gave it a little tug. The men followed the boy. So did the small crowd.
            Back, behind the animals, they found a man and a woman and a baby. The couple looked up in surprise and noticed that everyone was staring at their child. He was just as the angel had said. He was wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in the manger. 
            “Is this the Christ Child?” one of the shepherds asked.
            The man, Joseph, hesitated. He looked at his wife, Mary, and then at the shepherds. “Yes, this is the Christ Child. His name is Jesus.”
            It's true! He is the Christ! The men had heard it with their own ears. They had seen it with their own eyes. The shepherds once again fell to the ground but this time not in fear. This time they worshipped for they were filled with great joy. Just as the angel had said.
              Melki stood. Close to Mary and Joseph, he turned so that the crowd that had gathered could hear. He told them what had happened. He told them every detail. And with growing excitement that spread throughout the stable and into the city the shepherds began to glorify God and praise him for all the things they had heard and seen.
            As the crowd began to leave, amazed at all they had heard and seen, Hazaiah stood next to Mary and gazed in wonder at the Christ Child.
            “Are you as excited as my father about the birth of this small one?” asked the little boy.
            Mary nodded and smiled and treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.

© Lyndon Perry
Permission Granted for Noncommercial Distribution