Joebya searched the sky, but all he saw was the full moon and a few stars. There was no hint of the glow from just a half hour ago. His father and brothers left him behind with his grandfather to care for this small flock of sheep.
“Why couldn’t I go with them. “ He said sadly, tears pricking his eyes.
“They will return soon with good news.” His grandfather said. Hobbling over to his blanket, he set down heavily. “Be patience my son.” And so Joebya went to check on the sheep.
He thought of years past when he was left behind. Each year he begged his father to accompany him and his older brothers to Bethlehem. And each time his father said the same thing. ”When you are 10 years you may go.”
Year after year, he watched from the front of his home until the hill covered the sheep and their headers. Last week he turned 10 years. At the small gathering of his friends, his father said smiling. “This year you may go.” His heart leaped in his chest. This year he would have a man’s job of helping to herd the temple sheep all the way to Bethlehem.
Just this very morning his mother kissed him and with tears in her eyes told him to be a good boy and obey his father. He smiled assuring her he would. When they drove the small flock of sheep down the street of his village, his chest swelled. His friends stood by the doors of their homes watching him, envying him. A man herding his sheep. A few of them lifted a hand in greeting, but he didn’t respond. He had the important job of keeping the stragglers up with the rest of the flock. Each lamb selected for sacrifice, their perfection, just as The Lord required. None must be lost.
Mile after mile they traveled. When the sun was halfway across the sky his father called a halt. Seated on a rock Joebya took off his sandals and rubbed his feet. “Here this will help.” Belu, his older brother, said, handing the boy a stick of goat grease. “I remember my first time; I thought my feet would fall off.”
“Thanks.” Joebya said and the goat’s grease did help some.
The only one permitted to ride their small donkey was his grandfather. Joebya liked his grandfather. He told stories of the days when he was young. Of his own journeys to Bethlehem with his father. At times when grandfather dozed on the donkey, Joebya led the animal with one hand while holding the elderly man upright with the other.
His father had selected a place with a quiet stream where the lambs might drink. Joebya filled their skin bottles with water while his brothers spread the fish and bread on blankets. After an hour of rest, they resumed their journey.
In the afternoon as they walked along, Joebya became so weary he thought of climbing up behind his grandfather and riding the donkey. However, the small creature had enough of a burden without him adding to it.
Finally, they arrived at the pasture just to the north of Bethlehem. A small green hill with a gentle stream at the bottom. After they settled the sheep, Joebya’s father took the donkey and went to speak to the priest. An hour later, he came back to camp in a jubilant mood. This year the temple could use all the lambs.
Seated on the side of the hill Joebya watched the crowds. The village was filled with those there for the counting of the tax. Tomorrow they would drive the sheep to a holding pen on the side of the temple. As dusk fell, they gathered around the fire. Joebya, his father and brothers, listened as his grandfather told of other trips of bringing the sheep for the temple. His stomach full his sore muscles relaxing the small boy lay on the ground listening. He had heard his grandfather tell the same stories a hundred times yet they seemed to be new and fresh around the fire. His brother Paual pushed up to go check on the sheep.
Joebya’s eyes became heavy. He must have drifted off. Suddenly his eyes flew open, terror gripped his heart. His father, grandfather and his two brothers were on their knees. A man unlike any Joebya ever saw hovered over the earth. His body a rainbow of colors. The man stood in a circle of light brighter than the noonday sun. His jeweled robe flowed around him. He spoke his voice like many waters.
“Fear not, 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. And this shall be a sign unto you, Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger.
A strange peace swept through Joebya. The glow dissolved into an army of men. Joebya gasped, each one clothed like a king more splendid than any human royalty. They covered the sky from horizon to horizon. The glow came from their bodies. Their robes like the first angel coated in jewels. At their waist golden swords, they too, gleamed with encrusted jewels. As one, their voices shook the earth with the praises God. Joebya had heard the singers in the temple, their voices sounded amazing. Alone he tried to sing like them and failed. To him his voice sounded squeaky. These angels sounded more magnificent than anything he had heard in his young life.
The sky darkened. Was it a dream? After a minute, his father spoke quietly. “We must go and see this thing the angel spoke of.”
“Yes go. The boy and I will stay here and watch the sheep.” His grandfather said. Joebya’s heart plummeted. He hated to sound like a child. Tears came to his eyes.
“I want to go with you.” He said his voice cracking. His father laid his hand on his son’s shoulder. “Your grandfather is too old to care for the sheep by himself.”
A few minutes later, his father and brothers hurried in the direction of the small village, disappearing in the night. A great sadness gripping him, Joebya turned away from his grandfather to hide the tears coursing down his cheeks. “I…I’m…going to check the sheep on the south side.” He said. His grandfather just nodded, the elderly man’s mind filled with the words he had heard from his youth about the messiah. He was glad the boy was gone; he bowed his head thanking The Lord that God’s promise was fulfilled in his lifetime. “Now I can go home and die in peace.” He said quietly.
On the other side of the flock, Joebya wept. True he had seen other babies. Saw them bathed, diapered and fed. However this one was different. This was God’s son the promised one. He dried his tears and went to put more wood on the flames before they died out.
In sorrow, Joebya curled up by the fire. He dared not sleep. Shortly he heard his grandfather’s soft snore. Pulling himself up, he walked around the flock. He heard the growling of the brown bear before he saw it. The predator lumbered in the direction of a small lamb. Spittle dripped from the bear’s mouth. His hands shaking, Joebya reached for the slingshot he carried in his belt. Panicking he felt around his waist, he chanced a look down. His slingshot must have dropped out of his waistband by the fire. The bear came closer, he meant to have the lamb and the only thing that prevented this was a small boy.
Joebya wanted to run away. Yet he couldn’t. All the people back in his village would laugh at him calling him a coward. Yet the biggest deterrent to his flight was the look of disappoint he would see on his father’s face. Trembling he searched for a weapon. Anything with which to defend himself and the sheep. However, all he saw were rocks and dirt. Frantically he snatched up a rock and threw it at the animal missing him by inches. It was enough to momentarily stop the bear. Picking up more stones, he threw them as fast as he could. Some sailed past the creature, but a few struck its hide causing it to roar. Gathering himself the bear prepared to charge. A stone bounced off the bear’s nose. Stopping it shook its head. Two more soared over Joebya’s shoulder both striking the bear’s nose. It stood for a few seconds shaking its head. Then turning the bear ran back into the night.
Joebya breathed a sigh of relief. Behind him his grandfather spoke. “Here you dropped this.” He said, handing the boy his slingshot. Joebya’s face reddened, he stared at the ground, ashamed. A man must be prepared for battle. “By the way, that was the bravest thing I ever saw.” His grandfather said. Joebya lifted his head.
“Really?” He said, tears misting his eyes.
“Really.” His grandfather said. “King David would be proud to have you care for his sheep. Come my son, let’s go back to the fire, the bear will not bother the sheep any more tonight.” The boy smiled at the elderly man. Laying his hand on Joebya’s shoulder, the old man and the boy walked back to camp.
“Where have you two been?” His father asks as they approached the campfire. Joebya noticed his father and brothers faces seemed to be glowing.
“Your son, my grandson, just fought off a bear.” His grandfather said proudly.
“By himself?” Paulal asks. Smiling he patted his little brother on the back.
“He didn’t look like he needed any help from me.” His grandfather said.
“Build up the fire we have exciting news.” His father said. “Not you.” He said as Joebya started into the dark to gather sticks. “You have done enough labor for the night. Here,” His father handed his son a shiny red apple. The boy knew his father was saving his apple to eat in the morning. Joebya had eaten his an hour after leaving home that morning.
When they were settled around the fire, his father said. “We have found the Messiah just as the angel said.”
“What is He like, tell us everything?” His grandfather said.
“He is the most beautiful baby you ever saw.” His father said, his eyes closed remembering. “Though He is an infant, when He looks at you you feel the most joy, peace and happiness you ever felt in your entire life. It is as if the world melts away and you and He are alone.”
“And it is as the angel said? He is in a stable?” Joebya asked daring to speak. His father laughed.”Yes my son a king born in a stable.” He hugged Joebya.
Later curled in his blanket by the fire Joebya couldn’t sleep. He longed to see this baby, this king. The one the priest always spoke of. He opened his eyes. Belu watching the sheep was the only one awake and he was on the other side of the flock. The rest curled in their blankets slept. He waited until Belu’s watch was replaced by Paulal. Within a few minutes, Belu was asleep.
The small cluster of houses and businesses lay in the moonlight at the foot of the hill. Joebya thought about The Messiah. How wonderful to look upon the saviour. In the distance, he could see the glow of lamplight from the inn. There must be a party going on. He remembered the priest reading from Isaiah about a woman who never knew a man giving birth to a saviour.
Now Joebya was an obedient son. However, the pull to see this special baby overwhelmed his thoughts. It really wasn’t that far he reasoned. Just down the hill and into the edge of the small village. Pushing off his blanket Joebya set up. Fluffing it up so he wouldn’t be missed he stepped carefully away from the camp. Glancing at the moon, he judged it to be an hour before touching the western horizon. He would just sneak up to the edge of the cave, see this child of God, and hurry back to his place by the fire. He would be back before they knew he was gone.
Staying in the shadows, he came to the wall of the inn. From inside men shouted as they did when filled with wine. The windows glowed with many lamps. Music and drunken singing drifted out to the young boy.
Suddenly the door opened and two men stumbled out. Joebya sunk back against the wall of a house and crossed the narrow street from the inn. The two men argued, their voices rising. A knife glinted in the moonlight. The one holding the knife thrust it in the others middle. The one struck winced and crumbled to the ground. The man standing stared at his fallen companion. Then turning he stumbled down the street away from the inn.
Terrified, Joebya’s heart pounded in his chest. He wanted to run back to the safety of his father, brothers and grandfather. His father had warned him of the dangers of drink. He stood frozen to the spot. How foolish he was to come here. He wished for daylight, but it was hours away. He remembered to breathe deeply. Calming down, he listened closely and thought he heard a groan.
Edging forward, he looked into the man’s face. His eyes were closed, surely he was dead. The boy knelt down. The man’s clothing spoke of wealth. He must be a rich merchant. The man’s eyes opened, he looked into the frightened boy’s face.
“Help me.” He said, his words slurred. Joebya wasn’t sure if it was the wound or alcohol, which made the man’s words to sound like that.
Joebya fearfully looked around for someone, anyone to help. He saw no one. He could not leave this man alone. Suddenly he felt a hand on his shoulder. There had been no one there seconds before. Instead of alarming him, a sense of peace and comfort flowed through the young boy’s heart. He looked up into the kind face of a man bending over them.
Clothed like a beggar yet with a muscular body the man said, “Let’s bring him around to the back of the inn.” To astounded to speak Joebya nodded his head. The beggar picked up the wounded man as if he weighed no more than a feather. Smiling at Joebya he said, “It will be alright.” Somehow, the boy knew the man’s words were true.
Walking around the corner of the inn, they came within sight of the stable. Suddenly a bright beam of light shot from within the cave. It covered the wounded man and instantly disappeared. The beggar also vanished. On his feet now, the merchant ran his hands over his stomach. The man’s clothing showed no hint of blood. Without a word, he spun on his heel and ran into the night.
Left alone the boy looked around. tranquility governed his heart. A glow came from the mouth of the cave. His feet seeming to move on their own as he approached the opening. He peeked around the edge of the rock wall. He saw a horse and three donkeys and in the midst of the stable a long feeding trough. The only light came from a lamp carefully placed away from the straw. In the long manger lay a man and a woman with a small bundle between them.
Raising her head, the woman smiled at Joebya. Lifting her hand, she motioned him forward. Quietly the young boy stepped up to the manger. Lying between the two adults was a tiny baby wrapped in strips of cloth.
“This is The Christ?” Joebya said whispering.
“Yes.” The woman said softly. She pulled back the cloth so the boy could see the baby. The child opened his eyes and looked full into Joebya’s face. Waving a tiny hand in the air the baby grasped the boy’s finger. An overwhelming sense of joy, happiness and peace flowed through Joebya’s body. The boy’s eyes widened in astonishment.
“Did you feel it? It is the touch of God.” Mary said. The baby let go of Joebya’s hand. Joebya nodded. “Now you must go back quickly. Your father will be searching for you.”
“Thank you.” Joebya said to mother and baby. Softly he backed out of the stable. Once outside, he turned and ran back up the hill to the flock.
His father, grandfather and two brothers were awake and scattered across the hillside.
“Where have you…” His father began harshly. Then as the others gathered around, he said more gently. “You went to see the Messiah?”
“Yes father, I looked into the face of God.” Joebya said.
“As have I, my son, as have I.” His father said. Smiling he laid his hand on his son’s shoulder.