Glory of the Ordinary
- BC 6
- Bethlehem, Province of Judea, Palestine
It is late. Amos, Benjamin, and Jesse head toward town with their sheep.
Their clothes are crusted along the bottom with mud and who knows what else. Because of the precarious places they have to go to find and bring back straying lambs, their clothes are ripped. It is just part of the job.
The three have been shepherding together for seven years and are tight. They need each other. Not so much out in the pasture, but when in town.
People there don’t really like them. They’re inferior and can’t hold a decent job. They’re dirty and smelly. May as well be with other animals that are dirty and smelly. After all, no one makes them live in squalor. They could do better if they wanted to. They just don’t want to.
Low wages is better than no wages, though. Everyone says so. Keeps them off the streets begging in front of the proper people. The educated. The refined. The holy people.
Speaking of holy, you never see them in the temple. When you do, they have to stay in the outer courtyard with the women and Gentiles. They wouldn’t understand what was going on if they did go into the men’s courtyard. But then, they don’t try. Let’s face it. They’re losers. Always have been. Always will be. Just losers.
Amos, Benjamin and Jesse, each in charge of a herd of sheep, stop just before they arrive at the sheep gate into the holy city. There are corrals there for night-time confinement and final count. They’d better deliver the right number of sheep to the temple this time. Last time they were short and their pay was docked.
- Jerusalem, Province of Judea
The priest fills the temple courtyard with righteous indignation.
Priest Eli is tall, middle-aged with a little gray at his temples and much grayer in his thick eyebrows and long beard. He holds a clay tablet on which is kept a tally of sheep for slaughter.
“We are low on sheep to sell for sacrifices,” he shouts. “This is twice in as many months!”
His face turns red and the veins in his neck stand out, making his eyes look smaller and piercing.
“Your holiness,” Levite Aharon replies. “They were due to have been brought into Bethlehem just this evening and should be coming through the Jerusalem sheep gate first thing in the morning.”
Aharon is one of the younger Levites and is often seen rushing around the temple grounds on missions assigned to him by various priests.
“If those shepherds want to be employees of the temple,” Eli grumbles, shoving the clay tablet back at the Levite, “they must always put God first. They must set their priorities lest Jehovah rebukes them.”
“Maybe we should pray for them, sir,” Levite Aharon replies.
Eli glares at the young man a moment, turns and walks away.
- Bethlehem, Province of Judea
“Hey, Benjamin. You got your quota for tomorrow?” Jesse asks.
Each shepherd has his own personality. Jesse, definitely the leader, is stocky, broad nosed, with a receding hairline and big grin on his face most of the time.
Although Dandy Amos would like to be leader of the threesome, Jesse is the real leader. Amos talks too much and loses credibility. Jesse has the common sense needed for leaders. Besides, he outweighs both of them put together.
“I sure hope so,” Benjamin replies briefly, trying to keep track of the number of sheep entering his corral.
Benjamin, on the other hand, is tall with a thin face which is disguised with a bushy beard. He has big feet and often finds himself tripping. However, he is so nimble, he can fit into tight places like small cave openings to drag out stray lambs. He entertains the others sometimes with his flute which also keeps the sheep calm.
Amos joins them. “I lost five just last week. Things are getting bad. Lions got two of them.”
A short muscular man, Amos has curly hair which he loves to flaunt by running his fingers through it, supposedly to push a stray lock off his forehead. No beard for him. He likes to show off his good looks. The other shepherds call him a dandy. That’s okay with him.
“What happened to the other three?” Benjamin asks, tripping over a rock jutting out of the ground but not enough to be seen.
“Robbers. We’re just not getting enough protection.”
“Can’t ever get an appointment to talk to the priests so we can explain how bad things are,” Amos says.
“I managed to get in to see them a few months ago,” Jesse says. “They said that, if I couldn’t handle the job, I should say so and allow someone else to raise God’s sheep. And, besides, they couldn’t believe there were that many lions in such a civilized area.”
His sheep continue to file into the corral, and are nearly all in.
“Man, I’m short two,” Benjamin interjects. “What am I going to do? I can’t afford another pay cut.”
“They’re supposed to be our bosses, but none of them ever comes out to see what kind of working conditions we’re really up against,” Amos says.
“’Well, good-night guys.” Jesse waves to the others and heads for home.
- Jerusalem, Province of Judea
As the sun opens its dawn eyes, the temple workers check the pens out in the courtyard holding sacrificial sheep and doves near the main gate. They must have enough for all the travelers who daily come to the temple to worship and sacrifice to God.
Others sit at their tables and count out their temple shekels which they will sell to these same travelers in exchange for their Roman currency.
Amos, Benjamin and Jesse make their way into the capital city through the sheep gate. The one next to the prison house. The one where they keep the debtors. The sight always makes them nervous.
Being full daylight, they are edgy. They have every right to be. They had promised to be there at dawn. They would slip in a back way if there were a back way. But the courtyard with the temple store is right in front.
“Excuse me! Coming through!” the three say sporadically as they maneuver their flocks through the outer courtyard.
“Pardon me! Sheep for the slaughter. Sheep for the slaughter. Excuse me! Coming through!”
The first worshippers of the day hurry out of the way of the hired help. Some are not quick enough, however, and their worship clothes are slightly touched by the beasts.
Some bring out handkerchiefs to put over their nose, and wave their other hand while coughing, “Get away from me, you swine.”
“Where have you been?” Priest Malachi asks as he rushes over to the shepherds, smiling superficially.
“The pasture we were assigned to could not support this many sheep,” Jesse explains. “We had to go out farther.”
“Why wasn’t this reported months ago?”
“We did report it, sir,” Amos explains. “We sent a message to the temple requesting someone come out and look over the land and maybe set aside larger areas for each of us.”
“I’m sure you understand that none of us has time to go running around the hills inspecting the grass supply,” Priest Malachi responds, his smile now gone. “Not with all the responsibilities we have to our worshippers here at God’s temple. Perhaps you should pray about it.”
“But when you hired us,” Amos interjects, “you told us…”
“I would love to stay and chat, but in just a few moments I have to counsel one of our troubled worshipers who habitually breaks one of Moses’ great laws.” He turns to leave, then turns back.
“By the way, we won’t be able to pay you until next week, seeing as your deadline was yesterday. You understand, of course, that we have to keep our budgeting on schedule.”
An hour later, Amos, Benjamin and Jesse make their way back through the crowd. “Excuse me. Coming through. Excuse me.”
A righteous worshipper looks away from her friends, holds her nose in an obvious gesture of displeasure, then turns back to her friends, proud of her show of smugness.
Out through the front gate and past the prison. Out the sheep gate. Down Mount Zion and farther from the eternal city. Across the plain back toward Bethlehem with empty hands, hearts and hopes.
“Probably God doesn’t even notice us anymore,” Benjamin mumbles. “He’s busy with the holy people.”
They must now go home and face their families. Without their pay. What will they do? How will they feed their families? Does anyone care? Does God even?
- Bethlehem, Province of Judea
Morning of a new day. It starts in a haze of hopelessness. It will end with a burst of glory such as the world has never seen.
For the temple leaders? Not them. The temple worshippers? Not them either. The citizens of Zion, the great Jerusalem, perhaps? A thousand times no. It will be for the overlooked, the neglected and the forgotten. It will be for these smelly, dirty shepherds.
Amos, Benjamin and Jesse, having been assigned their new herd of sheep, head once more out of town. It is mid-afternoon, but they must go ahead and start. People are glad they are leaving. Can’t go soon enough for most. They can take the smells with them. Dirty, smelly sheep. Dirty, smelly men. It’s better they be out of sight. And out of mind.
The three shepherds hope their newly assigned pasture will be better than the last. It will take them four days to arrive there.
Back on the trail. Walking. Circling the sheep to make sure they do not stray. Rescuing the little ones from shallow precipices they do not see. Pulling long thorns out of those that don’t realize the dangers of some bushes. Watching for signs of snakes in the grass. Carrying those too small or too hurt to keep up. Making their way back up into the hills. Slowly. Laboriously.
A few hours later the sun dims and warns them they must stop before night. Although the sheep of each of the three shepherds mingle, in the morning the shepherds will divide them up again. They know how. For now it is better that they all be together. Better for the sheep. Better for the shepherds.
They find a suitable place and drop their tents to the ground. For now, they sit on their tents until they have rested.
Each man goes through his food supply and selects something for an evening meal. Then they settle down to eat and wait for sleep that will not come.
They talk. Amos and Jesse do. Benjamin does not.
“Hey, Benjamin. What’s wrong?” Amos asks while getting out a hand full of dates.
He does not answer.
“Come on. Tell us what’s wrong.” Amos repeats.
“Yeah. You’re among friends. Spill it,” Jesse interjects.
“Well, you know that raise I was supposed to get, the one everyone gets each year?”
“They’re not giving it to me. They say they were happy to give me that big chance after I got out of prison. But I’ve made my quota more times than most.” Benjamin throws down an uneaten roll of bread.
“Man, I missed work a month to serve time for not paying the midwife for my last baby. But I got my raise,” Jesse responds, taking a bite of cheese.
“I was depending on it. I need it.” He picks up a rock near his hand and throws it at nothing. “I’ve been here without fail all year without being off sick once.”
“What are you going to do, Benjamin?”
“I don’t know. I just don’t know.”
Half way noticing what they are eating. Their ears constantly listening for the sheep. Thinking of families and jobs.
And existing. Only existing.
Amos jumps up. “What was that!”
The other two jump up. They look around. A lion on the prowl? A snake? A robber?
They hear shuffling. Shuffling of… The shuffling of…of wings? An eagle? A vulture? But where?
A strange man stands in front of them. Still. Like a rock. Strong. Like the wind. Not a word. Not a word from him.
The shepherds try to hide their fear, knowing deep down that they cannot fight whoever this is with just hand weapons. A standoff begins, one which they know they cannot win. They await their doom.
“Don’t kill us! We have families!” Amos says in a quaking voice. “These sheep aren’t fattened up yet! They wouldn’t be any good to you! Don’t…”
He cannot finish. It’s the light. The man is beginning to glow. Brighter. Flashing. Blazing. They see wings. No, that’s not possible. But indeed is possible.
The glow spreads, shimmering as it goes.
Brighter and brighter.
Now even the shepherds are engulfed in the light. They try to shade their eyes. But if they look down, the light is there. If they look to the left, the light is there. To the right, still, there. Everything in the circle of light bedazzled.
The stranger continues to stand motionless—the one they dare not defy.
The shepherds, too, are motionless.
Then the stranger raises his hand. Does he have a weapon? The shepherds raise their hands protectively in front of their faces. Instead, the stranger speaks. His voice is booming…
“Do not be afraid!”
His voice is thunderous…
“Please! Don’t be afraid!”
The shepherds slowly lower their hands, lower their puny weapons, and stare at the voice. They’ve never heard a voice quite like it. For a moment, they forget the light and focus on the voice. For now it is laughing!
“I bring you the most joyful news!”
His joviality cannot be contained. He struggles happily between his laughter and ecstatic words.
“The most joyful news ever announced!” he continues excitedly.
Despite efforts to resist, the mood is catching. The shepherds find themselves grinning, despite their determination not to.
“And this news is for everyone. Everyone, I tell you. Everyone. You and you and you. Your families. Your cities. Your nation. The world. The universe. Those who lived before you. Those who will live after you. Celestial news.”
News? What news?
“The Savior—yes, the Deliverer, the Lord…” he continues.
Yes? Yes? What about him? What about the Deliverer?
“…The Lord has been born tonight in Bethlehem, Judea! He’s here. At last he’s here.”
Our Savior and Deliverer has just now been born?
“Do you,” Amos gets the courage to blurt out. “Do you want us to go see him and guard him? Where is he? Just tell us where he is.”
The stranger actually hears. Now he’s answering. The wonderful, glorious, marvelous answer.
“You will find him wrapped up in cotton bands and lying in a feed trough in a barn.”
“Oh, now, wait a moment. Just hold on there,” Jesse, the bravest of the three questions. “What kind of joke is this? This is King Herod’s doing, isn’t it? He’s trying to catch us committing treason.”
As though their doubts serve as a signal, in a flash, the stranger grows even brighter. His light shatters and zooms up into infinite space. And seemingly this one man, if he is a man, multiplies into an army of others just like himself.
Everywhere wings. Everywhere angels. All along the grass. Up over the trees. Hovering closely over the shepherds. Leaning over clouds. Suspended from stars. A stream of holy angels that flash and zoom, flash and zoom up into space and beyond. The light, the blinding light.
As though a star has just been born.
This cannot be.
Oh, but it can be. He has given up everything for you. He has not only entered a human body, but he’s lying in a feed trough—for you.
Then the song.
The ears of the simple men, the dirty men, the smelly men, are now delightfully deluged. Engulfed with the uncompromising chords of a song bursting over the brink of eternity. Rushing like an out-of-control torrent to the hearts of simple shepherds. Though impossible, the song echoes louder and louder, as if gaining potency from the light itself. It is out of control. They’re praising God. It cannot be repressed.
“Glory. Glory to God. Glory to God in the highest heaven,” the angels sing over and over in jubilant triumph.
“Peace on earth!” Yes, singers of God, sing on.
Catapulting. Zooming. Through the corridors of the heavens. Through the hearts of ordinary shepherds. And into the soul of mankind.
“Peace on earth for all those pleasing him,” the angelic choir sings. “…pleasing him… pleasing him…”
The song resounds from galaxy to galaxy. The passion song of the universe. Eternity stops and absorbs itself in melodious divinity.
Then the light begins its return ascent. Slowly at first. Away from the lowly shepherds and the trees above them. The clouds above that. Away from earth’s atmosphere. Past the stars. Higher, higher, smaller and smaller.
The light is gone. Exploded in pride.
The heavens once more are black except for the tiny twinklings that have adorned the sky since creation.
The shepherds stare up into the heavens. Then at each other.
“Did you see it?” Benjamin whispers, his eyes still on the heavens.
“Did you hear it?” Amos adds in kind.
“We all did!” Jesse answers for them all. “What are we waiting for?”
“He said tonight. The baby was born tonight,” Amos says, now looking at the other two.
“Come on, let’s go in to Bethlehem.” It’s Jesse. “We’ve got to see him for ourselves.”
“We passed a cave just before stopping,” Benjamin remembers aloud. “We can take the sheep back there.”
The shepherds hurriedly round up their food, their un-erected tents, and their sheep, and rush them back to the spot where the cave is. The sheep are herded in.
“Our tents and supplies,” Jesse instructs. “We can pile them in front of the entrance. The sheep won’t cross over any of this. They’ll be okay.”
“Yeah!” Amos shouts. “We got a personal invitation. We have to go.”
Half an hour later they are on their way back toward Bethlehem. They can travel much faster without the sheep.
“Do you think we’re the first to know?” It’s Benjamin. It’s hard not to talk about it.
“Yup. We’re the first,” Jesse responds.
“Wonder why God chose us? No one even likes us.” Amos tries to brush dirt off his robe.
“Who cares? We have seen the light. Bright as a star. All that’s left is for us to see him for ourselves.” Jesse picks up his pace, glad he hadn’t had a chance to eat much.
They become pensive and concentrate on walking as fast as they can toward town. Two hours later they’re at the city gate. They speak to the guard.
“Let us in!”
“Who are you?” the guard in the tower calls out.
“Amos, Benjamin and Jesse,” Jesse responds. “We work for the temple. We’ve got a matter of great importance to take care of.”
“Having to do with the temple?”
“Yes, it is about worship. Let us in.”
Shortly, the bars are removed and the gate slowly creaks open.
Once inside, they stand wondering which way to go.
Where to start? So many people in town for the census. The crowds have thinned down considerably, though, for it is now past midnight. Only the unlucky ones are unsheltered.
They see a patrol of Roman legionnaires passing the next intersection, but decide against getting their attention. They see a man carrying a torch up ahead. They call out to him.
“Hey, you with the torch. We’re looking for someone. Stop a moment. We’re looking for someone.”
No, he hasn’t heard of any babies born tonight. “And what’s that smell? Get away from me.”
They see a man and woman with three children obviously looking for some place to spend the night. Obviously exhausted, the woman and children stop and slide their backs down the outside wall of a house, apparently unable to go any farther.
They are startled.
“We just want to ask you something, sir. Please, we don’t want to hurt any of you. We just want to know where the baby is—the Deliverer, the Savior.”
“What baby? What Deliverer?” the man replies, half-heartedly. “What Savior? We could sure use a deliverer tonight. There’s no place left to spend the night. Heaven help anyone having a baby in this town.”
They continue looking and asking.
“The town hostel, of course,” Amos exclaims, stopping in his tracks. “Why didn’t we think of that in the first place?”
They resume their search.
In short order they find it, for it is not located too far from the city gate for the convenience of travelers. The three men go inside.
“Hey, get out of here. You been playing in a dung heap or something?” the proprietor demands.
“We just want to know if you heard about a baby being born tonight,” Jesse asks.
The proprietor remembers someone coming by, saying his wife was having a baby. “I have no idea who it was. I didn’t have any room anyway. Maybe someone in the tavern knows something. Now, get out of here!”
They go out into a courtyard where the revelers are. The celebrators. Celebrating the big nothingness that comes out of their liquid courage.
“Is the baby here? Is the Deliverer here? Is that what you’re celebrating?” It’s Jesse again.
“Baby? Deliverer? You King Herod’s spies?” one of the drunks responds.
“What are you talking about? You’re crazy. Get out of here. You stink to high heaven.”
The crowd laughs in derision, some too drunk to notice any smell at all.
“No, it’s true,” Jesse reassures them with his charismatic smile. “The baby, he is the Deliverer. The angel told us!” It doesn’t work.
Derision arises amidst the counterfeit laughter and drowns out the frustrated shepherds.
A hand rests on the shoulder of Amos. He turns.
“There’s no baby here,” the stranger explains half seriously while holding a handkerchief over his nose. “There were a lot of families around town with babies, but none born today that I heard about.”
“Well then, pregnant women.” The shepherds just won’t give up. “Did you see any pregnant women?” Benjamin asks.
“Come to think of it,” a second stranger nearby responds, “I was asked by a young man on the street this afternoon if there was a room anywhere because his wife was about to deliver.”
“That’s the one!” Jesse’s big grin is back. Amos’ too. Can’t see Benjamin’s for his bushy beard, but he’s smiling too. “Where are they?”
“Uh, I think I was over by the market when I saw them.”
“Thanks, man.” they yell almost in unison over their shoulders as they rush out the gate.
Back in the darkened streets, they hurry over to the market place. It is near the middle of the night. Not a single light. Everyone has long ago closed up and gone to bed. All but the unlucky ones. They sleep in the city square or lean against the wall of a stranger’s house.
Frustrated, but not deterred, the three shepherds make their way up and down the streets, though occasionally ducking into dark doorways to avoid questioning by the Roman patrols.
“Look for a sign. Any kind of sign. The angel wouldn’t have told us about the baby if he hadn’t wanted us to go honor him.” It’s Amos.
Up and down the street. Block by block. Nothing. Nothing but darkness.
“We will search all night if that is what it takes,” Benjamin says. “Angels wouldn’t lie.”
“Look! There’s a narrow seam of light, Jesse announces. “Where’s it coming from?” They follow the light. It’s coming from under the wide door of a small barn.
They know. Without a word they know. Their silence envelops their awkward thoughts in holiness. They stop. The rush is over.
One by one, quietly so as to not disturb the neighbors, they walk toward the door. On the other side lies the Deliverer, the Savior of the world, announced by angels. In their heart of hearts they know.
Should they knock? They pause. Should they or shouldn’t they? They’re suddenly aware of jitters.
“Do you really think he’s in there?”
“Do you think he’ll be like us?”
“Think he’ll have a halo and all?”
“Do you think he’ll go directly to the palace and have servants and all?
“The angels came to us, didn’t they?” Jesse reassures them. “Do you see anyone else they went to? He must be like us. He’ll understand us.”
They knock on the gate.
Scuffling. Shuffling. Muffled voices from within.
“Who’s out there?” A man answers. “It’s late. Who are you and what do you want?”
“Uh, sir, we’re just shepherds. But the angels. The angels told us,” Amos calls as quietly as he can through the closed double doors. “Our Deliverer. Is he in there? Please, can we just take one little look? We won’t hurt him.”
“No one else could have known,” comes the muffled reply.
The hinges rattle, the door is unbolted, and brave Joseph opens it a crack, a broken piece of ox yoke in the hand behind his back.
Straw is mingled in his hair. His clothes look like he had slept in them. His eye lids droop in exhaustion.
The three visitors wait while Joseph scrutinizes them.
“Please, sir,” Benjamin whispers.
Joseph opens the door wide enough for the night visitors to enter.
Crude shepherds walk into a rough shelter of holiness. Their hearts beat rapidly, beating with the pulse of the universe. The pulse of divinity.
Joseph picks up a small lamp hanging from a peg by the entrance and leads them over to one of the stalls. There Mary is, lying on the straw with an old smelly blanket over her.
“Sweetheart, wake up. Wake up. There are some people here to see baby Jesus. We must show them. Wake up, sweetheart.”
Mary blinks her eyes, looks up into Joseph’s face, then beyond him.
“Please wake up, sweetheart. They’ve come to see Jesus.”
Mary blinks again and nods.
Joseph helps her sit up. She smiles weakly, yawns, and resumes her smile. Next to her is a feed trough filled with straw.
Inside is a tiny baby. And sure enough, he is all wrapped up in swaddling bands, just as the angels had predicted.
The three smile. God smiles. They’ve found each other. The simple in heart have believed.
Baby Jesus is sleeping, but wakens and looks up at the humble men. Their eyes glisten.
“He did this for us?” Benjamin whispers, not really expecting a reply. “He came down from heaven to this for us? But we’re sinners. He cared this much? He loved—this much?”
Amos nudges Jesse and whispers.
“What do we do now? Do we bow?”
“Yeah. We’re supposed to bow.”
Awkwardly, not used to society’s formalities, they drop to their knees, then bend low until their heads touch the ground in polite humility. They wait.
Mary looks over at Joseph and he picks up her signal. He clears his throat. “You may rise.”
They look up. Another mutters under his breath. “Make a speech, someone.”
“Not me. I flunked out of school.” It’s Amos. “You do it, Benjamin. You were named after the tribe of King Saul—Benjamin.”
Benjamin clears his throat in embarrassment.
“Sir. Ma’am. Baby. God’s angels appeared to us. They told us the Deliverer, the Savior was born tonight. Why’d they do that? All those religious people at the temple. Why didn’t the angels tell them instead? Some of them go to lots of religious feasts. We can barely afford to go to the three required ones. They’re so good.”
Realizing his speech has stalled, he looks at Mary and shifts gears.
“Your baby, ma’am. Your baby is going to save us. Man, oh man! He has heard our prayers. No more soldiers and war chariots and cruel kings like Herod. Peace on earth. That’s what the angels sang. Peace at last. In my lifetime. Praise God for your baby.”
Joseph speaks for both of them. “He’s not just Mary’s baby. He belongs to all of us—me, you, people everywhere—and to God.”
Joseph leans over and carefully puts baby Jesus in his arms. “Come. See God’s Son up close.”
“Oh, well, we’re not really very clean.” Jesse slaps his hands on his robe to wipe off some dirt.
Come, young man with not much education.
Come, you who are not noticed by the important.
Come with dirty hands and shoes with holes in the bottom and hand-me-down clothing.
You who have no importance. No big officium and secretary and name engraved on your door.
All with run-down camels and yards with no flowers in them and beds made only of straw.
Look into the eyes of God.
Once again the baby opens his eyes a moment, stretches in a miniature show of strength, then returns to sleep.
“Look at those long fingers,” Amos comments.” He’ll be able to throw quite a spear.”
“Oh no,” Joseph corrects. “Not a spear. Peace. He will fight war with peace. And he’ll win too. Peace on earth, remember?”
“Look at that jaw. What a man he’ll grow up to be,” Jesse quips. “Determined. Maybe even stubborn.”
They all grin. The baby seems oblivious to all the attention. Or is he?
“He’s pretty tired,” Joseph explains. Half-jokingly, he adds, “He’s had quite a trip.”
Indeed, Lord Jesus, you have.
From throne in heaven to feed trough. From mansions in heaven to a stable. From streets brilliant with gold to a dark narrow street in the middle of somewhere. From bed of heavenly clouds to wrinkled cotton bands and sticky straw.
Oh Son of God. It’s all wrong. Go back and do it again. Unwed mother? Dirty stable? Unwanted? No one told but uncouth, underpaid, unnoticed shepherds?
Where’s the queen? The holy wedding? The temple? The palace? The crowds waving banners? The choirs singing manicured anthems with a world class-orchestra?
It’s all wrong, God. You’ve got it all mixed up.
The shepherds look over once more at Mary.
“You’re so blessed, ma’am, to be the mother of our Deliverer,” Amos says.
“God bless and keep you, ma’am,” Benjamin adds. “God protect you and your family in this wicked world. May he deliver us all.”
Mary nods in tired appreciation
They take a few steps to Joseph, and one by one clasp his hand.
“Well, so long,” they each repeat in almost a whisper, not knowing quite what else to say, and also not wanting to awaken the now sleeping baby.
Joseph leads them to the double doors.
The insignificant men leave. The men holy people hardly ever approve of.
Back out in the dark street, they turn in the direction from whence they had come, and head toward the edge of town. Slowly.
All thinking. All pondering. All absorbing.
It begins to rain. They do not care.
Benjamin hears a stray puppy whimpering as they pass. He pauses, reaches down, and puts the puppy under some trash nearby for protection, but it runs back out, afraid of the unknown.
Rainwater from farther up the street streams down in this direction faster now. Benjamin puts the puppy back, but once again it runs out and in the path of the faster flowing water. It is frightened. It does not understand.
The other men have paused to watch him, but then resume their journey down the street. Benjamin catches up with them and says, “If only I could become a dog just like him. I could show him how to crawl under the shelter so he can be saved. If only I could become just like him…”
The rain ceases as suddenly as it had started.
Amos pauses, then stops all together
“Guys, what are we doing? We can’t keep this a secret. We must tell it! Despite dangers of King Herod’s jealousy, we must tell it.”
“You’re right,” says Jesse. “Let’s go back over to the hostel tavern. People will still be there.”
The men take off in a run through the streets. But this time not quietly. How, indeed, can they be quiet at a time like this?
“He’s here!” they call out as they run. “The Deliverer is here. He came tonight!”
“Hey, be quiet out there. People are trying to sleep, you know.”
They run and shout anyway. Back at the hostel. They pound on the gate. “Let us in, let us in!” Jesse shouts. “We found him. It’s true, it’s true.” The latch to the gate rattles and the gate is opened. “Get in here. You’re going to waken all the guests and attract Herod’s soldiers.
“Then wake the guests and alert the soldiers. They’ll be glad. He’s here.”
The proprietor prods them through the gate and into the soggy courtyard where nearly the same crowd as they had seen an hour earlier is still there, celebrating the world’s nothingness.
“We found him!” Jesse continues. “We found him. Our Deliverer. He was born tonight. We know it was him.”
“Come on, guys. You expect us to believe that? What’s that smell anyway?”
“It’s true,” Amos interjects with the most serious and authoritative voice he can muster. “Angels appeared to us. We saw them with our own eyes. Our Deliverer is here. Right here in our own town. He’s here. He’s come at last. At last.”
“People don’t see angels anymore.”
“We did. It’s true.”
One of the patrons calls out amid the objections. “I know this guy, Amos. He’s never lied to me yet. Amos, you say you actually saw angels?”
“I swear it. We all did. We saw the angels. They announced his birth.”
The discussion continues a little longer. But gradually the people return to the nothingness that entertains them so. Strangely, no one asks where they can find this baby, their Deliverer. What does it have to do with them?
Their divine mission completed, the shepherds leave the little town of Bethlehem through the gate. In silence, they work their way back out through the hills until they arrive where they left their sheep.
The sheep are safe in the cave. There have been no problems in their absence.
It is an hour before dawn. They pull their bed rolls out and try to sleep. But how can they? Angels actually appeared to them tonight. Right on this very spot.
They etch every moment, every word and every gesture in their minds. They must never forget.
“Remember when the first angel appeared?” Benjamin inquires softly but happily. “I nearly jumped out of my skin. What did you guys do?”
“Remember when all the other angels appeared? And the light? I thought the sun must be exploding.”
“Or a star was being born,” Amos adds.
“Remember when we saw him?”
Yes. Remember. Always remember…
Day dawns. Amos, Benjamin and Jesse wake up out of a sleep that did not ever really come. And return to the dream they had lived only hours before. They talk quietly among themselves.
Benjamin gets out his flute and plays a haunting melody that drifts past the sheep onto echoing hills and valleys below.
“Man. The angels appeared to us,” Amos says softly. “No one else tried to see the baby. Why didn’t everyone in Bethlehem go looking for him after we arrived? Everyone knows that’s where the eternal king of the Jews is supposed to be born. Why didn’t people look?”
“Maybe they got the announcement in Jerusalem,” Jesse decides. “We must return.”
“Do you think they’ll believe us?” It’s Benjamin, wiping the tip of his flute on his sleeve.
“We’ve got to try.”
The men return their sheep to Bethlehem and the corrals, then make their way to Jerusalem. In through the sheep gate. Past the prison. Around to the front entrance of the temple.
“Excuse me, sir. Did you see or hear anything unusual during the night? Light or singing?” Jesse asks.
The worshiper scowls, puts a handkerchief over his nose and turns away.
Jesse asks another worshiper.
“Uh, no. Didn’t see or hear a thing. Slept like a baby last night.”
“But the Deliverer. Isn’t he supposed to be born in Bethlehem, Judea, the home town of King David?” Amos adds.
“Hey you, there. Let’s not bother our worshipers. Let’s go along home now. They have important things to take care of today.”
So the unimportant shepherds turn back toward the outer wide-swung gate of the grand temple. The temple where they know they will never really be welcome. Slowly. Confused.
On their way out they hear a scholar. He is making a speech to whoever will listen to him.
“…Yes, God will be our Great Deliverer. He will deliver us some day from our enemies. He will deliver us from wars and rumors of wars. He will bring us the Prince of Peace. Jerusalem will rise again. Holy Jerusalem will reign with the Lord of all lords, the King of all kings.
“No more Herods. No more Caesars. No more soldiers and legionnaires and swords. Our God will deliver us. God is indeed the Great Deliverer. And when he comes, we will all stand and salute him as our Savior. We will bow and submit to him as our Ruler. All praise to God, our Deliverer!”
“Oh, yes. Praise God.” his listeners declare almost in unison.
Then, as the shepherds leave out the gate, they hear the great choir of the great temple break forth in song.
- He is our Deliverer,
- He is our Deliverer,
- He is our Deliverer.
Shivers up spines. Arms raised to the heavens. Triumph. Glorious triumph.
And in their blind zeal, they missed him.