The Shepherd's Tale
(A Continuation of the Jesus Diary)
Did I mention that there were shepherds?
I recalled that when I arrived at the shed where Jesus was born several shepherds were already there. That would explain all the sheep, I thought. But why were they there? Who told them to come here?
Shepherds are not usually adventurous people. They like the quiet life, overlooking their flocks by night and hoping nothing exciting happens, like the sudden appearance of a wolf to terrify their placid animals. But they were here, and already on their knees, before I arrived. I quickly fell on my knees as well.
After several moments of quiet adoration of the radiant mother and her newborn son, we all began to drift away, back to our homes and flocks. It was dark, and both Mary and the baby were falling asleep. Joseph was starting to yawn, but seemed determined to stay awake to guard his wife and son.
When we were out of earshot of the crib the shepherds began exchanging comments on the exciting evening they had just shared. I listened intently, hoping to learn something.
"Did you hear that his name will be Jesus?" one asked.
"'Yeshua' in our language," another said. "'Jesus' is the Greek version."
"It means 'Yahweh has saved', another commented.
It was at this point that my curiosity became overwhelming, so I broke into their conversation and asked how they knew they should come to this particular place at this particular time.
One of the shepherds, whose name was Eber, said "We were tending our flocks as we do every night, when a sudden bright light almost blinded us with its brilliance. We shielded our eyes.
"'Be not afraid!' a voice said.'I bring you tidings of great joy!'"
"We wondered what that might mean," said Josiah, another of the shepherds. It certainly got our attention, because there is not much joy in our lives right now under Roman rule."
"When we opened our eyes," added Jael, another shepherd, "we saw a man in blinding white garments--I think it was an angel--he said in the city of Bethlehem we will find a newborn child. Go see him!"
"So we left one of our friends in charge of the flocks, and we set off for Bethlehem," Eber said. "We knew the way, because we are in the area. But we also noticed an unusually bright star that seemed to be leading us on our way."
"We spend a lot of time studying the stars at night," added Josiah, "while watching the sheep. But this star was something we had never seen before."
"It added a sense of urgency to our trip," added Jael. "Only a shepherd can understand what it means to leave your flock in the middle of the night on a journey unknown, even for a few hours and in the hands of a trusted friend. The anxiety never disappears."
"But the angel was adamant," said Josiah. "We felt we had no choice but to heed his summons. And I'm glad we did. We didn't hesitate."
I recalled that or as long as anyone could remember there had been talk and hope of a new king who would throw off the shackles of the oppressive Roman regime and restore Israel to the glory of the old days.
"We study the ancient writings of our ancestors," Eber said, "and discuss them throughout the long nights when we are watching the sheep. We read that the prophet Micah wrote 'From you, Bethlehem, too small to be even considered among the towns of Judah, shall come forth for me one who is to become ruler in Israel.'"
"Could this be the one?" shouted Jael. "We had to find out. We had to go! When we got to the hut we were overwhelmed. There was an incredible sense of peace and holiness in this simple surrounding."
"And then we heard the music!" shouted Josiah. "The rich chorus filled our ears, praising God and wishing peace among men. We fell to our knees, our eyes filled with tears."
"Some of the sheep also fell to their knees," added Eber. "They are natural followers, calm and loving creatures."
I was overwhelmed at the words and intense passion of these simple men of the fields. But I also asked myself why this great event had been revealed first to these humble and unpretentious shepherds. Why were not the high priests, the scribes and princes of the people given advance notice of this momentous birth? Where were the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the mighty rulers of the world?
If, as the prophets foretold, a new king has been born, where are the other kings to welcome him?
The only king I know of is Herod. I wonder how he will take the news of a new king in his realm.
But I find it amazing, if this is indeed the new king that Micah foretells, that God has revealed his birth first to these humble, quiet shepherds. And to me.
(NOTE: This story has been adapted from my book The Jesus Diary, which is available on Amazon and other online retailers as well as directly from the publisher at xulonpress.com)