Hope of a Shepherd

Kneeling at the tomb, Isaac tells the story of finding the Christ Child in the manager to his son.

Kneeling in the garden, I gazed at the tomb, which now lay open. All that I had seen as a boy flashed within my mind, reminding me of the knowledge God had given to me and the other shepherds. I turned to my son. “Now He has risen, the boy I once saw lying in a manager.”

“Abba,” my son’s curious gaze fell upon me. “You really saw Him as a babe?”

The winds swept past our feet that night, the cool breeze causing us to build small fires. Like most nights, I stared into the flames, the warm amber tinted with reds and blues. Drawing upwards, they danced with the air currents, the dry wood popping beneath them.

“Isaac, she peeks at you again.” My father tapped my foot with his staff. “You should say hello.”

Though I refused to shift my eyes to the pretty daughter of my father’s partner, Benjamin, I couldn’t help the small upward curve of my lips. Attention from such a pretty and smart girl would make any boy’s ears tingle with excitement.

I winked at my son, who plucked a flower from the ground. Nearing the age I had been then, he too, had a young maiden who peered at him with longing in her eyes.

“Abba, the story. Speak of Liza another day.”

“But such a pretty young thing, humor me, my son. Your mother once made me pluck flowers from the ground.” I chuckled and clasped his shoulder with my hand, squeezing lightly.

I prodded the coals, forming a place for our pot to warm the evening stew. Then a warm sensation from somewhere other than the fire entered my heart. Light brighter than the flames soon surrounded us. The sheep, though usually suspicious of change in the environment, remained still. My father stood beside me. I had never seen such brightness at night, and I shielded my eyes as I searched for the source. When my gaze discovered a man dressed in white floating above the ground, I joined my father and the shepherds of the field and we stumbled backward, frightened, until the being spoke.

“Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”

The warm sensation, which had entered my heart earlier, pushed outward, and I felt none of the coolness of the breeze, nor did fear remain within me.

The incredulous look in my son’s eye reminded me of myself before the experience that night. It reminded me of some of the looks strangers gave me when I told them my story, too.

“Son, we kneel at the edge of the tomb for one who is no longer there. Do you question my words?”

“A man floating above the ground? Was it a dream?”

“No, not a dream. An angel of the Lord.”

He raised his hands outward and said, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

“Where?” my father questioned.

“How will we know Him?” Benjamin asked.

“And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”

The angel who had spoken dropped his arms as hundreds more joined him.
Each heavenly host sang an anthem. The notes are a soft memory, but the words remain fully ingrained in my mind. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

“Christ the Lord, my son. We had heard the stories—read from Isaiah in the synagogues, but dare we believe? Dare we hope? The Saviour of the world. How much could He do for us? Some believed He would save us from bondage as Moses once had. But my father taught He would save us from something far greater.”

“Our sins?”

I nodded. “Our sins. Temporal and spiritual death.” I studied his eyes hoping to see understanding. “Without Jesus, we would be lost to everlasting darkness. Only He could pave our way to God. With His birth came hope.”

“So what did you do?”

None of us would wait to find the Christ Child. Gathering together, the men decided to trust the flocks to the dogs. If the Son of God was born, then certainly, the Father would watch over our flocks as we went to worship at His Child’s feet.

With haste, both man and woman, boy and girl left the fields, rushing into the town of Bethlehem. Inn after inn, we searched the stables. Families, there to be counted for the tax, crowded into each dwelling, but the stables held no Christ Child.

Forlorn, I looked toward the sky. A star shone toward the earth, brighter than any I’d seen before. Following its gleaming light, I took a step forward. Then another. In our search, we’d missed perhaps the most humble dwelling of them all, a small inn, hidden in the shadows of the rock.

I heard my father’s footsteps first, then the rest as they trailed behind me. Entering the inn, I asked the question we had asked so many times before.

“Does a new child wrapped in swaddling clothes reside in your stable?”
The owner peered at me, his eyes widening in wonder as he nodded and showed us the way.

“My son, the dreary stable, carved out of rock held sheep, donkeys, cattle, and all that one usually finds in such places. As you might imagine, it was no place for a babe. But He lay there, in a stone manager, with nothing but loose linen, swaddling clothes, to keep him warm.”

“How did you know it was the Christ, Abba?”

We immediately fell to our knees as the mother and her husband welcomed us into the single corner of the stable. The Babe’s eyes fluttered opened and He studied us as we gazed at Him. The animals made no sound. And the warmth I had experienced as the angel spoke reentered my heart, telling me we had found the Christ Child. The one who would save us.

His mother was Mary, who named the child Immanuel—God is with us—Jesus. We had read Isaiah, and we knew the rumors of a Joseph who had wed an expectant woman claiming to have known no man. We could not deny what we had seen and heard in the fields. The prophesies were true. Before us, lay the child prophets had proclaimed would come.

There, in that stable, I knelt next to the same pretty, young girl my father had teased me about and gave her little thought. I only wondered at the child foretold to carry the weight of the world on His shoulders. None of us really grasped what that meant, but we knew it meant something beyond anyone’s understanding—except God’s.

As we left the stable, my heart still soared. I couldn’t stop myself from telling everyone what had happened. Those who knew me well, they listened and wondered. We watched together as the child grew. He grew as most any other child—first babbling, then forming sentences. But once taught a rule, He never, ever broke it. As perfect as I thought I was, I soon learned differently.

I chuckled as my son smirked at the thought of my perfection. We both knew better.

“I think Eema plays a part in your perfect, Abba.”

“Perhaps.” I grinned wryly.

The stick I used to draw in the soil stilled, and I dropped it. Grasping my son’s hands I held them tightly. “All these years, your mother and I have watched Jesus and have seen proof of what the angel told us while in the fields. His works. The healings He performed. You witnessed five loaves of bread and two fishes feed a multitude of five-thousand people at His hand. We all listened to His words of peace and love.

“Now we kneel where His body was laid, and it is gone. Peter said He has risen.” I paused searching my son’s eyes, looking for the spark I knew he held within. “The faith and hope your mother and I discovered that night as we knelt next to a stone manager in a rock stable… I cannot question it. I’ve seen so much more. You asked if I saw Him. I did. Son, I did, and so did your mother.”

My son’s hands tightened their grip on mine. “The hope you had at His birth is fulfilled. Now we celebrate His life.”

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A Christmas Prayer

With Bria gone, Christmas dulled my life, but then I discovered she still lit everything around me.

Loosely based on a true story. A Christmas Prayer remembers grief while celebrating life.

A Christmas Prayer is loosely based on a true story.

A Christmas Prayer

The blaring beep from my alarm sent waves of stress through my body, and I slammed my hand against the off button. My pillow soon dampened as sobbing wails found themselves lost in its fluff. No one should expect me to get out of bed, not today. Not this month.

“Why Christmas?” The words slipped past my lips though no one listened. Lights and baubles, reindeer songs, and happy wishes adorned the world outside. Everyone else forgot. Not me. I couldn’t. With only dry laments remaining, I crawled from my bed and sank to the floor.

Slurred words and stumbled steps filled my memory. Bria had left her bedroom expecting an exhilarating Christmas only to find herself rushed to the hospital instead. We lived a nightmare that day.

Pulling myself from the rug, I dressed without worry of what I wore and staggered to my car. With the steering wheel in my hands, I repeated the same mantra I had for several weeks: work will force my mind to other things. I never believed the lie.

At work, happy faces blurred as I walked past co-workers. I bowed my head and clutched my purse. Smiling hurt when my sincerity failed.

Bria always knew when I faked smiling. She would never have forgiven my sallow behavior. The year I lost my job, she forced me through the front door and down the street. Pointing at every light we passed, she’d mentioned something that made her happy. Then, after a block, she looked at me.

“Your turn Mom.”

I shook my head and backed away. “We should go home.”

“Not until I see you smile.”

My lips parted and I flashed my teeth at her. It probably looked like a grimacing growl. “There.”

She rolled her eyes. “Nice try. Look,” she pointed, “what do the lights on that house remind you of?”

“I don’t know… The electric bill I can’t afford.”

Her head flung back and she stared at the sky. “M-o-o-m.”

“Okay.” I stomped my cold feet. “It reminds me of…tucking you in at night.”

“That’s better.”

A few houses away, I pulled her into a hug, a genuine grin on my face. “Bria, I’ll forever be happy as long as I have you.”

“I still expect a big Christmas gift.”

A snort escaped me but was accompanied by a smile. “I’ll get right on that.”

“Good. And I suppose I can give up cinnamon rolls and hot chocolate for breakfast.” She nudged me with her shoulder. “But don’t burn the oatmeal, okay?”

The office relaxed through the holidays, and once the party started, I slipped out. I might not get away from all the celebration, but I wouldn’t ignore the presented escape either. Leaving my car in the lot, I walked down the street. My fingers reddened in the cold breeze, and I slipped my gloves from my jacket pocket.

The city always set up an ice rink in the winter. It was right around the corner. Ice skating was Bria's favorite winter activity. As she and her friends got older, they went without parents, but Bria still found time to drag me onto that ice. She twirled and skated. I shuffled and fell.

People said the pain would wane. They were wrong. I missed her more each day.

Recent snow lined the walks, and I listened to it crunch under my shoes as I passed the rink. The local churches had set up nativities under the picnic ramada for the week, and a vendor cart with warm drinks greeted people at the park’s entrance. I joined the queue.

My eyes fell on a young girl dressed in a worn coat dancing in the distance. Her long ponytails swirled behind her with every graceful pirouette she made. The woman with her heartily applauded. She could only be the girl’s mother. With a drink in my hand, I found a bench and sat, captivated. How many times had I watched Bria the same way? My eyes burned and I blinked rapidly, then followed the crowd of people toward the nativities.

A year of pent-up anger surged within me, and I clung to it with all my might. How could I celebrate without Bria? God could have stopped it. She would still be with me if He’d allowed it. But He hadn’t.

Blinking no longer satiated the burning in my eyes. I swept tears away with my gloved hand, then stilled as a quiet voice spoke in my mind. Listen.

I stepped down the aisle, gazing at the various nativities. Porcelain. Wood. Some were Precious Moments. One was Peanuts—Woodstock played the Christ child.

Listen.

I tried but heard nothing.

I took another step.

Listen.

The crowd buzzed quietly among separate groups. I waited.

“Why?” a young voice asked.

“We can’t afford it this year,” an older voice answered.

“But we always have a tree.”

I spun. The same mother and daughter I had seen before stood near the nativity behind me.

“I want one too.” The mom bent down, holding her daughter’s shoulders. “What if we take old boxes, color them green, and make a tree?”

Bria would have loved that.

The girl bounced on her feet. “Okay. Can I color ornaments on it too?”
“That’s a great idea!”

As they passed, the girl met my eyes and smiled. I smiled back—not a fake smile—a sincere one. A warmth surrounded my heart, and I reached for the mother’s arm. She turned.

“I heard your conversation.” My fingers dug through my purse. “Something told me to listen. I think God placed you in my life today.” Money slipped from my hand to hers, my chin trembling. “My daughter died on Christmas day last year from a brain aneurysm. She still lights up my life when I let the happiness in. Please buy a tree.” I bowed my head. “But will you do one thing for me?”

The mother’s eyes glistened. “I can’t take this.”

“You can. It means everything to me. Please.”

She nodded and squeezed her daughter’s hand.

“One thing, though. Buy an angel ornament, too, and hang it on the tree.” I tilted my head as my face crumpled. “Say a little prayer for my Bria.”

The mother reached her hand toward mine. “We will. Thank you.”

As I headed toward the office parking lot, I smiled sincerely for the second time. “God, please send me a family to help every Christmas. Bria would like that.”

Read more short Christmas stories on kameomonson.com, where you can also download your free copy of Sometimes a Bird has to Fly.

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