Chapter 5 – The Shepherds

Mary had been the focus of Omi from the time she had entered the house, so – though she had addressed her audience during her story – she hadn’t really taken account of who was there. Now, as she visualized the darkness outside of her stable in her mind, her eyes fell on the sleeping lamb at Yoshi’s feet. The past and the present came together in that moment. The five-year-old boy who had entered the stable that night holding a lamb was sitting with a lamb in the same room now. Tears filled her eyes as they met Yoshi’s. The experience they had shared together 34 years before had changed both of them in ways that only they could know, and yet not fully understand. She managed a smile through the tears, but could say nothing.

Yoshi came to her rescue. “It was a night unlike any other, before or since; a night of nights that began for me like every night since my father was assigned to the night shift by our co-op. In short, that night shift, like all of them, was boring. The sheep were penned up, mostly sleeping, and only a few shepherds were needed to watch over the gate and fencing to ward off nighttime predators. For a five-year-old, tagging along with his father, the desire to sleep came on quickly and dad let me find a spot of hay to lie down on and a lamb to hold to keep me warm, like normal. On other nights I would have been asleep in minutes, but this night, as I looked up at the stars above the dimming lights of Bethlehem, it seemed that something was different. It was almost as if the heavens knew something I didn’t know.

“Unable, now, to go to sleep, I turned my face toward my father who was talking in murmurs to his cousin, the supervising shepherd for that night. It was talk I had heard many times before of how life was hard and hope was gone. The monotony of their voices lulled me toward sleep and my eyes began to close. I began to think I was dreaming because standing just behind my father was a third person in a hooded robe. I rubbed my eyes and sat up and began to motion to my father, but that was not needed. The stranger removed his hood and light filled the night. The two men shrank to the fold gate, silhouetted by the light, staves in hand pointed toward it. A shout went out, and all the others rallied toward the stranger, deadly accurate stones flying from their slings. When those stones all fell harmlessly at the stranger’s feet, fear got the best of the men and they held their distance. I was already half behind the bales of hay that had been serving as my bed. I slid further down but continued to peer toward the light. What was really strange was that the sheep were not spooked. They were awake, but attentive, as if waiting for something.

“Within moments, which seemed like hours, our eyes began to adjust to the light. There, just feet away, the stranger stood. He looked like a young man of fifteen, exactly as Tanta Mary has described him, but there was something about him that defied age. Everyone was still frozen with fear. No one spoke except the stranger who finally said, ‘Don’t be afraid. I am here to share some great news with you, such great news that it will bring joy to everyone in the world. This very night, in Bethlehem over there, a baby was born and this baby is your Messiah, Savior, and Lord. He will be easy to recognize because he will be the only newborn in the town swaddled in cloth torn from a tunic and sleeping in a donkey’s feeding trough.’

“If that wasn’t already enough, suddenly the hillside was full of robed strangers with hands raised, shouting praises to Jehovah. The very ground shook from their voices and the light from their faces would make the sun seem dim. Though there seemed to be thousands of them, all praising Jehovah at once, we could still understand what they were saying, ‘Glory to God who is above all and over all, for he has made peace with everyone on earth who will ask him for it.’

“As suddenly as they had arrived, they were gone. The darkness was overwhelming, and it took a while for our vision to return and the fear to subside… but finally, all the shepherds began talking at once, trying to explain and make sense of what had just happened. After what seemed like forever my father said, ‘We should go and see if we can find the baby. That must have been what the messengers wanted.’ ‘Could he really be the Messiah?’ his cousin asked. ‘He must be. Have you heard of anything like this happening before?’ my father responded. An argument broke out about who would go and who would stay. They couldn’t leave the sheep unattended. Finally they decided to draw lots. I had decided to go, no matter what, but my father was chosen to go so I didn’t have to sneak away with someone else. He picked up the lamb next to me and put it over his shoulders, then he grabbed my hand and we were off.

“Bethlehem was a good hour’s walk away, but ‘walk’ would not define our gait. I was carried nearly the whole way, passed from my dad to an uncle to a cousin and then back to dad again. The challenge of deciding where to begin the search didn’t dawn on anyone until we got to the outskirts of town. ‘What now?’ I heard my dad utter under his breath as he scanned the sleeping village. A light from the nearby hillside caught his eye, and he moved that direction. Without words, the others followed. As we got close enough to make out the surroundings, it was clear that the light was coming from a cave stable behind a house at the end of an outlying street. Movement was visible from within as people seemed to come and go from the darkened house.

“As we approached the opening to the cave, some jostling began as the group struggled to find positions from which to see into the stable. Two young boys, though much older than I, stood at the entrance. Beyond them we could see others, but not the newborn. The lamb across my dad’s shoulders began to bleat and the boys, realizing that we were there, slid inside and out of the way so that we could also move into the cave. My dad set the lamb down and led the way toward the trough, kneeling before it and drawing a sheepskin from his pack. He laid it across the child. Others followed suit, making sure the family would be warm through the night. Omi saw that I was overwhelmed and took my hand.” Yoshi smiled at her. “‘It’s wonderful, isn’t it?’ she whispered to me. I nodded, but kept my eyes fixed on the baby. ‘Our Messiah, our savior, our Lord,’ I whispered back, remembering the titles the angel had told us. Omi squeezed my hand.”

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