Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Little Shepherd--a Christmas story for children

III. Asleep on the job

The moon, bright and full, turned a cheerful face on the hills where little Jesse sat alone, listening to the voices of the night. Once the angels had closed the night’s door once more and the shepherds were long gone to Bethlehem, the moon’s bright glow opened up over the hills and the scattered flock, hundreds of sheep, hither and yon, bedded down against stony ridges up high, where they believed they could spot their enemies approaching.

Little Jesse had been around the flocks his whole life, long enough to know their only sure defenses were there senses—noses that made them move into the wind, no matter where they were bound; eyes sharp enough to pick out any quick and dangerous movements.

Maybe the choir of angels kept them quiet right then, he thought. He sat, perfectly alone, at the top of the hill where they’d set camp. Above him were a million pinholes in the nightfall.

He turned east to face a dawn that was nowhere close to arriving, and knew at that moment that his brother Ezra and all the others were well on the way to the city of David. They wouldn’t sleep—how could they? And he shouldn’t either—after all, his job was to protect the sheep. He’d offered to stay with the sheep, the one who wouldn’t be find the baby King in swaddling clothes. Even though the others had thanked him, he couldn’t help but feel abandoned and alone.

He thought about making a quick run back to his home to get his baby brother, but Sammy was too little. Or he could leave anyway, go to Bethlehem, trusting that host of angels to keep watch, even though they’d vanished as if they’d never been there at all.

He was alone in the wide Judean hills. He’d been left behind, and he was going to miss the miracle, the biggest miracle of all. Everywhere he looked, the silly sheep snored away as if this night wasn’t the most important night in the history of everything.

Nothing moved in the moonlit darkness. Silence reigned, even if somewhere in town the angels were singing as beautifully as they had right here. He was the lone sentry, and the sentry’s job was to stay awake and stand watch, to be sure that nothing would harm the sheep.

Silence fell over him like a quilt in the cool night air. His eyes grew heavy. He shook himself awake once, twice, three times, but heard nothing anywhere—no sound from the hushed hills. His mind painted images before him—a brand new baby in swaddling clothes, a child bathed in heavenly light, the shepherds all around, falling to their knees in prayer, their joy beyond measure.

The music of the angels still played in his mind, and he saw them again, an entire chorus of shining brilliance--“Glory to God in the highest”--like nothing he’d ever heard or seen before, music so joyful it still made him smile. When it replayed in his mind, he knew it would be stuck there forever.

He jumped awake quickly when he realized he’d almost fallen asleep once again, the hillside so quiet that his having to be there seemed silly. Who cared about sheep when the King had been born? Really, he wasn’t needed here. He sat back, spread his legs out to lie down, and soon enough let himself go, fell asleep with bright ribbons of angel music that kept playing in his soul.

“Jesse, the crook! Grab your crook.”

He rubbed his eyes. A robed man stood with his back to him, looking west, a white bandana around his head. It wasn’t Ezra, wasn’t Brom, wasn’t any of them, but he knew his mind was foggy with sleep. Big shoulders, loud voice—someone who called him by name, someone who knew he’d been napping. “Where?” Jesse said. “What’s happening?”

“Something’s out there—the sheep are moving. I can’t see where, but I can hear it—listen!” the man said.

He tried to shake himself awake. A low rumble rose, a low humming he hadn’t heard before he’d fallen asleep.

“Come with!” the man whispered and pointed to Jesse’s crook, then took off, Jesse behind him, crook in his hand, sandals slapping over the sharp grass on the hillside.

Tomorrow:  The problem.

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