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.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Little Shepherd--a Christmas story for children

V. Yet another midnight visitor

Jesse wished the others had seen the way he’d taken care of that big, ratty wolf. He wished he could tell them, but then, maybe they wouldn’t care right now, after following the angels into town for the baby King in swaddling clothes. Those fierce yellow eyes of the wolf had made him nearly forget where they all were.

If it hadn’t been for the stranger, there would be a very sad story to tell for no matter whether that wolf was alone or in a pack, he certainly would have feasted on a lamb or two, maybe ten, and then left them there, bloody and dying. It would be terrible for his brother to find dead, mangled sheep when they returned, terrible because losing sheep was always bad, but also because the men would brimming with joy. After all, the baby in swaddling clothes was the Messiah.

Real live angels, too. Right in front of them, filling the sky. Hours had passed now, and with every minute it seemed harder to believe that what the angels had proclaimed could be true. He looked up at the sky, at the darkness. He hadn’t forgotten. How could he ever forget?

Those angels must have visited others too, not just stopped for a bunch of farm-boy shepherds—he had to smile to think of the angels breaking the night sky all over Judea, in towns, too, telling them all the wonderful news, singing and glorifying God. Must have been a heavenly concert in town.

He stopped walking and let the silence fill in around him, thinking that if he’d stand perfectly still he could maybe hear the stranger’s footfalls. Nothing. He kept walking until he reached camp, then sat down again beneath the fig tree at the top of the hill, still watching for shadows in the darkness, anything moving.

Thanks be to God, he’d run off that wolf, done the job he’d been left behind to do. There would be that to say anyway when the others returned. But he wouldn't have done it without the bandanna guy.

In the city of David, the whole world would be out in the streets, he thought. Standing room only—the magistrates and their women in best robes, merchants and townspeople, and his own good buddies in their dusty sheepskins. “Be not afraid,” the angels had said. Shepherds were never afraid, not even of wolves, whole packs of them.

He looked out into the darkness then listened for stirring. No sound. He wished the white bandanna guy would show up again because he needed to thank him—for waking him, for helping him face down the wolf. Besides, there was so much to talk about and no one to talk to.

Stones rattled beneath the hooves of some pokey animal coming up the path, but when a snorting blast leaped out of the darkness, Jesse knew it had to be Boaz, the fat old ram who always kept his distance from the flock—Boaz, the proud field general of all the sheep. 

 “Not to worry, old man," Jesse told him. "That big ugly wolf is long gone."  He raised his crook.  "Going to be a long, quiet night now finally," he said.

Boaz took a few sheep steps toward him and nudged at his leg. The first time he’d met Boaz, the old grandfather had flew at him, knocked him down so flat all Jesse saw was thick gray wool. But he had known enough about old rams to understand that you can’t let ‘em get the best of you, so he swung and swatted until the old guy let him up, then turned around and walked away. Ever since that day they’d been buddies, even though Boaz loved to butt him that way, all in play. Jesse dug his fingers into the wool behind the old guy’s ears and scratched, just like always.

“You see ‘em, Boaz?” he asked the old guy. “You see all those angels up there in the sky?”

Boaz nodded his hoary old head, then pulled away quickly.

Jesse wondered what his brother Ezra was finding now, in Bethlehem, in the middle of the night. They’d be looking for a barn—not that there were that many in town. They were looking for a baby wrapped in rags in a manger. . .a King in a manger, he thought. “You ever hear of such a thing, Boaz?” he asked his old friend. “How crazy is that?—a king in a barn, a dirty old stall?"

Boaz snorted. He turned his head and gave Jesse a blank stare as if he hadn’t heard a word.

“Course, you’re a sheep,” Jesse told him. “You know, I wish I were there—shoot, who wouldn’t want to be there? I still want to go,” he said, but somebody had to all of you guys," he told him. The grizzily old wolf had made it clear that big brother wasn’t wrong about someone having to stay behind.

Boaz snorted, then stomped off, stopped, looked around, bleated a couple of times as if answering, then kept going again, halfway into the darkness.

“You got something to show me?” Jesse asked, and Boaz nodded his wooly head, took a few steps farther down the hill, and then turned back again. 

 “You’re wanting me to follow you, aren’t you?” Jesse said.

He caught himself yawning. He could feel sleep creeping back into him once more. Boaz seemed to want to tell him something, to show him something he needed to see.

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