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A Shepherd’s Story

“Another uneventful night.” Benjamin said to nothing more than the sheep grazing on the hillside below. They did not answer, sleeping peacefully within the knowledge that they rested in his care.  Or perhaps just sleeping because they were tired, not truly caring if he watched over them or not.  He envied their simplicity, even if he did not their foolishness.

Benjamin sighed.  Tonight would be inconsequential, much like the life he had led.  Every night along this hillside was uneventful. Certainly, the occasional predator lurked in search of an easy meal, but not on this pristine of a night; they preferred the cover of clouds to obscure the lesser light that ruled nights such as these. Tonight, however, the moon’s full brightness illuminated the hillside joining with Abraham’s children within the night sky’s ebony canvas and reaching down to paint the earth with a silvery sheen.  It was beautiful, but so were the cities he had always longed to be, leaving their mother’s herds, and his responsibilities, in his sibling’s care. Benjamin tried not to think of such things. He tried, but the longing called him, just as it had his brother.  But that… that was not for him.

“Benjamin, are you awake?” The questioning voice of Tsion broke through the night air.

“You took a nap didn’t you?” Benjamin asked already knowing the answer.

Tsion appeared over the ridge, his rustic cloak tossed over his, no doubt, disheveled hair. His shoulders were slumped as usual, looking as an old man just waking from a long nap, but with the weight he carried in this life, Benjamin understood why.

“No worries, brother, nothing shall happen on this night.”

“You have been doing this too long.” Benjamin mischievously responded as he pulled the cloak from his brother’s head. The moon caught Tsion’s face revealing a smile, the smile revealing the lines upon his face, and the lines revealing the age beyond his years.

“You are not that far behind me, brother,” he said with the smirking, little grin that had always been his shield of strength. Tsion should have been free to do more, but his role in life had been set at birth.

“Quite the night, brother. I was able to see a star fall from heaven.”  Tsion said with a note of simple wonder in his voice. I had noticed it as well. Such things were visible in the countryside, especially on nights such as these.  Could it also be seen in the cities?  Were those in Jerusalem watching the heavens as they laughed till late into the night?

“Yes, I noticed it as well. Quite the sight.”   Benjamin responded flatly.

Tsion turned to Benjamin, his eyes scrutinizing the lack of inflection in his voice. Benjamin chastised himself for not guarding his mannerisms closer.

“Something troubling you, brother?” Tsion asked with an inquisitive and caring voice.

Benjamin turned from Tsion and to the stars. They were beautiful, but… would Benjamin’s life exist of only this – standing on the hillside looking at stars and watching sheep? There had to be more.  Benjamin closed his eyes, forcing his thoughts elsewhere for this was a subject best not discussed with Tsion; he had enough upon his shoulders.

“I understand,” Tsion said as he put a hand upon Benjamin’s shoulder.

Benjamin turned back to Tsion to find him lost in the stars above. How did he remain so strong?  So willing to continue with sheep in the face of such obscurity?  Benjamin followed Tsion’s gaze to the heavens above. The stars twinkled as before.

A glow, growing from everywhere and nowhere at once, appeared against the night sky.  No bigger than the circumference of a tree’s trunk, it floated.  It was unlike anything Benjamin had seen before and so he turned to his brother whose own eyes narrowed, showing his crow’s feet.  Clearly, Tsion did not know what it was either.

The glow pulsated slower than Benjamin’s pounding heart, and then sped up, matching the heart’s rate and then exceeding it, driving Benjamin’s thoughts from mere wonder to- –

“Lord, be with us,” escaped Tsion’s quivering lips. The contentment in life and simple wonder upon his face had been replaced by something new – fear.

A force, unlike anything ever witnessed, exploded from the glow.  Benjamin grabbed Tsion.  Fear turned to utter terror.  All about Tsion was a surreal radiance emanating from inside and outside of him as brightly as the sun, wrapping about him, his disheveled hair swirling with the force.

“Run!” Tsion screamed through the haze that cocooned him.

Benjamin turned to race from the alien light and nearly fell, his eyes focused on his own arm, at the light dancing along it, surrounding him.  And then a strange weight, or fear, overtook him, driving him to the ground.

“Fear not.” Came a voice as alien and as radiant as the previous light.

Fear not?  Benjamin questioned.  Too late!

“For behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

The City of David? The Christ?  As the voice spoke, Benjamin’s thoughts raced.

“And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” The voice stated.  A moments pause was followed by more voices, many more. Benjamin turned from the dust upon which his face had lay for what must have been an eternity, or a few minutes, to see…what?  The sky had ripped apart, torn asunder by a light more brilliant, and yet less harsh, than the sun.  And within its radiance – creatures as unto man.

Angels?

In the hillside above Bethlehem? Not since the prophets of old have… angels?

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” As quickly as they appeared, they were gone. Benjamin looked to the last place he remembered Tsion being and found him there, still staring into the stars with the same wonder as before.

Heavy footsteps echoed upon the ground followed quickly by another new voice.

“Did you see it?” Solomon, their middle brother asked. Tsion did not answer for his wonder was still upon the heavens. “…Well?”

“…Yes.” Benjamin responded.

“Let us go now, even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord has made known unto us.” Tsion finally spoke through a quivering voice.

With that, they ran. Normally, a brisk walk to Bethlehem would force men to their knees gasping for air, to attempt it at a full dash would be impossible, but now the air felt different, fuller, able to sustain.  It seemed to guide them, pull them forward as they inhaled, guiding them to what had been promised to them – the promised manger. As they arrived in the tiny hamlet of Bethlehem, the sound of sheep and cows and mules rustled in the hay, their tails flipping anxiously as they peered into a place little more than the trees the shepherds always slept beneath.  Benjamin did not know how he knew this was the place, and as he looked from Tsion to Solomon, he knew they were not certain either.

Benjamin stepped through the threshold and surprised the man sitting with his wife. Lit only by a torch, the room’s shadows were dark. The mother looked into a manger, a feeding trough, and smiled at a child. Swaddling clothes wrapped about this tender body, rags for our Messiah.

“Who are you?” The man asked with a certain degree of trepidation in his voice.

“We know of the child,” Tsion said with that same wonder in his voice.  “The angel of the Lord told us.”

The woman, little more than a girl, turned her head to see the three shepherds with sweat pouring from their bodies, their scent likely as strong as the three mules resting in the hay.  Benjamin looked away ashamedly.  They could not approach this child.  Not shepherds.

“Then come, see the salvation of the Lord,” the man said with a smile that spoke more hallelujahs than a chorus of the fittest singers. Tsion rushed forward, nearly tripping over his feet, garnering a smile from the mother before turning back to her child.

“His name is Jesus,” she said, her thoughts clearly not in a stable.

Tsion looked at the child, tears falling from his eyes and streaking through the dust upon his face. The woman lifted the child from the manger and handed the babe to Tsion. With a silent shout of joy crossing his face, Tsion took the child, the Messiah, and held the child in his arms.

“Glory to God,” Tsion said as he turned to his brothers. A torrent of joyous tears flooded his eyes as he whispered again, “Glory to God.”

Benjamin stared at the child, his thoughts racing.  The baby was so normal, looking no different from any other newborn.  But angels had not spoke of every child.  The prophets had not wrote of other children’s power. This child would rule over nations, save His people from their sins. This child… would be the Messiah. The torch crackled, singing its glorious song to the Lord as its light caught in the freshly opened eyes of the Saviour making tiny stars in his eyes. He stared at Benjamin, as babes are wont to do, seeming to attempt to make sense of the strange men and world and then he began to cry, just as other children.

The shepherds stared at the child for what seemed an eternity, lost in the babe’s wonder at the newness of life and trying to connect it with the words spoken by the angels.  It had all came as told, and with a rush of excitement, Benjamin turned to his brothers.  Just as this had came to pass, so would the words of the prophets – the kingdom of God had come to man!

Tsion grasped the shoulders of the man who would guide the Messiah as father on earth and hugged him, every other breath exuding a praise to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Benjamin followed his older brother’s lead.  The sun peaked over the hillside proclaiming the night to be at an end.  Benjamin knew the people of Bethlehem would be beginning to go about their daily struggles, not knowing what had transpired within their own city.

“Let’s tell them,” Solomon said.

For a moment, Benjamin questioned.  What if they didn’t believe us?  What if they think we madmen possessed of devils?

“Yes, let’s tell them, brothers,” Tsion stated.

His statement left only one question within the heart of Benjamin – what would it matter?

Each shepherd stepped into the dawning sun’s light.  Palpable joy beat within Benjamin’s heart and as he looked to his brothers, finding the same on each of their faces.

And it was then they found one final miracle – one star remained high in the fiery heavens of morning. The sun’s rays had cascaded across the landscape, but this stubborn star held on, refusing to go away without being noticed.

“Praise be to God,” the praise slipped from Benjamin’s heart and through his lips. “Let us go tell them.”

As if content in the notice, the radiant star began to dwindle as the shepherds raced through the city to proclaim the events of the night.

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