VII. Jesse's turn
Little Jesse didn’t hear his brother and the rest of the shepherds return that morning, even though they were singing as they came up the side of the hill, even though they were full to the brim with joy and song, merry as children. Jesse was sleeping. It had been a long night for him on the hills, and once he fell asleep beside that troubled ewe, he didn’t wake until he felt his brother’s toe in his ribs.
Ezra was in no mood to scold him for anything. “I’m so sorry,” Ezra said, looming over his little brother almost mournfully. “I was out of my head last night after the angels came.” He slapped his forehead. “I should not have let you stay with the sheep—that was my job. I should have let you go with the others because what we saw, Jesse, my little brother, what we saw in the city of David was something you and every last human being should have seen.”
“The King?” Jesse said quickly.
“The same—in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
“Just a baby?”
“And yet a king—and yet to be a king.” He shook his head. It was not to be believed. “You hear me? In a manger, wrapped in scraps, yet to be a King—our King.”
“Praise God,” Jesse said.
Ezra's face was bright red in the morning light, as if he’d been looking into the sun all night long, a smile wide as the Judean hills swarming over his face.
“How did you know it was him?” Jesse said, pulling himself up to his knees.
“The angels were there—the angels, but this time in reverent silence, just as we were—all of us, even his mother, Mary. Just a girl, too, Jesse, not much older than you. The king is the child of a child.”
“And you were there?”
Ezra wiped away the sweat from his forehead. “When we got there, his mother had him in her arms.” His curly hair fell over his shoulders when he shook his head in awe. “There were only rags around, nothing for him because. . .” he couldn’t help but laugh, “. . .because they were in a barn—in a barn, Jesse.”
“And how did you know? It seems impossible—“
“It was just as the angels said.” With his shepherd’s crook he pointed at the sky, now nakedly blue. “Right there, wasn’t it?” he said. “‘Glory to God, glory to God.’”
“How could anyone forget?” Jesse said.
Brother Ezra took a deep breath. “I should not have let you stay. You’re too young—there are things you don’t know yet—you’re just a kid.” His dusty robe danced beneath his long hair when he shrugged his shoulders. “But I wanted so badly to be there at the birth of our King.”
“No, no,” Jesse said, “it was a good thing that I stayed—“
“It was good of you to volunteer," Ezra said, crouching beside him, "but I failed you as a leader and as your brother.” He reached out a hand. “And that’s why I want you to go now, by yourself--go back to Bethlehem, to see for yourself,” he said. “My little brother needs to see the King.”
“Now?” he said. He could hardly find the words. "Just take off running now, really?”
Ezra shook his head. “I'm telling you,” he said, helping him up from the ground. “Go,” he said. “With your own eyes, you must see what the angels wanted us all to see.”
Jesse's heart was hammering. There was so much to tell Ezra—the wolf, the stranger, the ewe who was dying. He looked around and quickly realized that sad mom sheep was no longer beside him. Maybe what had happened had all been a dream. No, it really did happen, he told himself.
“So what one earth were you doing way over here?” Ezra said.
“There was an ewe here,” he said. But it would be too long story, too long. “A baby lamb died, Ezra—and the mother. . .”
Once again he looked around. There was no trace of anything anywhere near. “I was with the mother,” he said. “I was lying here with the mother because the man—“
There was so much to say, but no stories so big the Bethlehem king. “I was here with the mother.” He stopped and stuttered because an explanation seemed impossible. “Here,” he pointed, “because the baby, the little lamb, was already gone.”
The dusty earth around him was thick with tufts of sharp desert grasses, but there was no mother and no baby.
“Just go,” Ezra said. “Go and see what has given all of us such joy. You can tel me later.” He reached into his rucksack and took out some jerky and berries, then bent down, and Jesse felt his brother’s kiss on the top of his head. “To us a child is born, to us a King. Just go."