Friday, December 16, 2016

Advent 2016

A Shepherd Boy

 

The sheep of the outermost flock south of Bethlehem fidgeted.  A peculiar radiance spread across the distant sky unsettling their nocturnal rest.  The boy, Shachar, watched with unease.  If the sheep stampeded into the night, he would not be able to get away to Bethlehem to deliver the dangerous message his uncle imparted to him. 

His uncle had said, "You are the bravest and shrewdest son among all the sons."

"What if I am captured?"

"You are just a boy, Shachar.  You will not be noticed."

"Yosef too?" he asked, indicating his brother who at age nine was four years younger than he.  "Can he come?  Two would be able..."

"No.  He is too small.  My sister will never forgive me if you are lost.  Imagine losing Yosef too."

Shachar's first mission!  Saving a freedom fighter taken by goi soldiers!  Tonight, the Romans kept him in Bethlehem.  Tomorrow would be too late to stop his journey to Jerusalem.

"Go to Barsabas," his uncle said, slipping a dagger into his hand.   "Once in Bethlehem, ask for the rabbi.  He will show you where Barsabas abides."

All the shepherds knew Zealots who hid out in Bethlehem.  Barsabas led their raids.  Often, he had been a guest in his uncle's tent.

Shachar's father appeared.

"What's this?" he asked.  Shachar nearly cut himself trying to hide the dagger.

"I am sending your son to Barsabas."

"Not my son.  Find another."  Even though the night hid it, Shachar knew his father's face reddened.

"But he is nearly a man."

"I forbid it."

They argued loudly.  Shachar's father distrusted Zealots.  Shachar thought he would sneak away when his father was not looking.   He imagined himself eluding Romans and stabbing a few before escaping.

A noise that broke out among the other shepherds interrupted his reverie.  A shepherd from two herds away sprinted in among them saying that crazy Emuna had seen messengers in the sky who proclaimed the rebirth of King David.  He pointed in the direction where the radiance had been, but now it had vanished. 

The shepherds laughed.  This was the same Emuna whose moon-induced visions often evoked ridicule.  When Emuna spoke, elders bugged out their eyes and sucked in their cheeks.

Shachar's father and uncle did not laugh, but scoffed.

The shepherd said, "Others saw this wondrous sight as well."

"Where are these others?" asked Shachar's father.

"In Bethlehem."

"If that is true then they are as meshugga as Emuna," his uncle said.

"Where is the proof?" asked Shachar's father.

"The baby is lying in a manger."

"King David lying in a manger?  Ah!" his father scoffed.

"He should be born in King Herod's chamber?" asked the man sarcastically. 

"You expect us to abandon our flocks upon your word?"

"All are abandoned this night.  God will watch over them," the shepherd said.  He did not wait for a reply, but ran off toward Bethlehem.

Shachar watched in despair as his uncle and the other shepherds ran off too.  His father hesitated for a few seconds, looking at Shachar.   Before he departed, he said, "You watch over them," and jerked his arm indicating the sheep.

Shachar yearned to follow.  But how?  If he disobeyed his father, and the sheep wandered into a nearby farm, trampling grain, the ensuing shame and grief would be everlasting.  Suddenly, an idea popped into his head.

"Yosef!"

"Huh."

"Get Mama.  Tell her what happened.  Hurry!"

"Why?"

"The men are in Bethlehem.  They left their flocks with their sons.  We must gather all of them to herd the sheep to Bethlehem so we can see King David, too."

"Just like they left us."

"Exactly.  Go get Mama."

After a few minutes, Shachar's mother arrived with his sister, Mischna.  His mother said she would stay behind if she did not have to deal with the sheep.

"Take your sister," she said. 

"No!" protested Shachar.

"You will need someone to watch for the strays."

Shachar agreed it was a good idea.  He sent Yosef to tend to the other side of the flock while Mishna watched the rear.  They drove their sheep toward every flock whose whereabouts they knew and discovered that Shachar had guessed well.  All the sons had been left to tend the sheep.  Their sisters were summoned, too.  As they led the way to Bethlehem, Shachar looked back to a sight worthy of Moses.  Sheep and children covered the road and the land beyond it.  Sounds of pounding hooves, bleating sheep, and gleeful children shouting commands as if they had suddenly grown into their fathers shook the land. 

"Wondrous," he said.

Once in Bethlehem, townspeople pointed the way to where their fathers had gathered.  Many people lined the streets to watch them pass.  Shachar saw Barsabas the Zealot walking the other way.  He considered running to him to impart the message his uncle had given, but the momentum of children and sheep behind him prevented it.

When Shachar arrived where the shepherds gathered, they greeted him with joy.  Word that children and sheep were moving into town reached the fathers long before the children arrived.  Shachar marveled how the night had been filled with wondrous signs, but none so wondrous as their fathers not being angry.

Shachar's father and uncle emerged from a door. 

Shachar said to his uncle, "I saw Barsabas, but I did not tell him."

"It doesn't matter anymore," his uncle replied.  "This child will grow up to be our king and the Romans will be vanquished."

"I think not," said Sachar's father.  "If this child is God's anointed one, the Romans will be our family.  Now, give me that dagger."  Shachar obeyed his father.  "Go see the child, son.  Take Yosef and Mischna. We'll tend the flock." 

Shachar entered through the door, followed by his sister and brother.  He saw the mother and father, their faces as journey weary as any shepherd's, yet reposed in an expression of restful elation; and he gazed upon the baby sleeping peacefully in the manger, just as the sky messengers said; and he imagined this David ushering in a world without daggers.

 

-- Bill Heard