Saturday, December 24, 2005
A Christmas Story
The Singing Shepherd
Whenever he was afraid, Jareb sang. Singing made him feel better.
But his singing made everyone else feel worse. Jareb’s singing was dreadful.
Jareb was a shepherd. He helped his older brothers Ariel, Samuel, and Simon tend their father’s sheep on the hillsides of Bethlehem. Jareb loved the calm, quiet sheep.
But a shepherd’s life can be frightening. Nights were filled with dark shadows and eerie noises. The rumble of thunder, the howls of jackals, and the hooting of owls caused Jareb to sing a lot.
Ariel and Samuel hated Jareb’s squeaky songs. “But the sheep like them,” Simon pointed out. “They know no wild animal would come near us while Jareb is yowling. Let him sing.”
So Jareb sang day and night. He even hummed in his sleep. His brothers stuffed wool in their ears.
One cool night the shepherds settled their flock and lay down to rest by the campfire. Ariel, Samuel, and Simon fell asleep. Jareb hummed off-key as his eyes grew heavy. The velvet darkness of night wrapped around him, and Jareb yawned.
Before he could close his mouth, the sky flashed brighter than a thousand campfires, and an angel stood right in front of Jareb. His clothes glowed with a blinding blue flame.
Terrified, Jareb tried to sing, but his mouth wouldn’t move. He heard his brothers gasp.
“Do not be afraid,” the visitor said. “I bring you good news of great joy for all people. This night a Savior has been born in Bethlehem. He is Christ the Lord.”
“Wh-wh-what?” Ariel asked. “A Savior?”
The shining man smiled at Ariel. “Here is a sign to help you find him. The baby will be wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Immediately the whole sky blazed with light, and hundreds dazzling visitors filled the pasture and the hills. “Glory to God in the highest!” their voices rang through the night, “and on earth, peace to all people everywhere.”
The angels shone brighter and brighter until they seemed to melt into a burning sky. Jareb and his brothers shielded their eyes. Then, in an instant, all was as dark as before.
“This is wonderful!” Ariel jumped to his feet. “The Savior has come. Let’s go and find him!”
Samuel brushed grass from his clothes. “How many babies in a manger can there be?”
“The prophets said he’d come to Bethlehem,” Simon added, reaching for his sandals. “Can you believe an angel came to us?”
Jareb didn’t move. He began to sing.
“Come on, Jareb,” Samuel urged. “Are you afraid? Too afraid to find this Savior?”
Jareb hung his head. “I’d rather stay here with the sheep, that’s all.”
Ariel, Samuel, and Simon hurried to Bethlehem. Jareb stayed with the sheep and sang in the dark.
When they returned, Jareb’s brothers couldn’t stop talking. “You should have seen him,” Ariel said.
“You should not be such a coward, Jareb,” Simon added. “You were invited to see the Savior, too. If God can send angels to invite you, can’t He also give you a little courage?”
Jareb thought about the baby for many months. The more he thought, the more ashamed he felt. Why was he always afraid? Why did he spend all his time singing to silly sheep?
One evening after the sheep were settled, Jareb put on his cloak.
“Where are you going?” Samuel asked. “It will soon be dark.”
“I am going to find that baby,” Jareb answered. And off he went to Bethlehem, singing on the way.
Jareb had no idea how to find a child who had been born so many months before. He didn’t even know if the family still lived in the city. He asked God to guide his footsteps.
A rich caravan of men and camels crowded the road, and Jareb had to stop and wait for it to pass. Suddenly a young camel slipped away from the others and bolted straight toward Jareb.
“Quick! Stop that camel!”
Without thinking, Jareb caught the rope dangling from the animal’s neck.
“Thank you, young man,” the servant said, taking the camel from Jareb. “My masters would be angry if I lost their prized camel. Although--” the servant scratched his head-- “since we left the child’s house, my masters have not stopped smiling.”
“Oh?” Jareb asked, hardly daring to hope. “What child is that?”
The servant smiled at Jareb. “A child who will be a great king some day, my masters say. We have come a great distance to find him.”
Jareb’s heart beat faster. Could that child be the Savior?
It was very dark when Jareb found the house the servant had described. No lamplight flickered from the window, and Jareb thought everyone must be asleep. Suddenly the door opened and a bearded man looked up and down the street.
Jareb stepped forward. “Please, sir,” he said, “may I see the child?”
The man frowned. “Who sent you?”
Jareb felt his cheeks burn. “An angel . . . many months ago. But I was afraid to come.”
The man pulled Jareb inside. “I am Joseph,” he said. “This is my wife, Mary. And this is Jesus.”
In the starlight streaming through the window, Jareb saw a young woman holding a sleeping child. The woman smiled at Jareb.
Joseph spoke again. “An angel has warned me that Herod will send soldiers to kill all baby boys in Bethlehem. Mary and I must take Jesus away, but there may be soldiers at the city gate. You must help us.”
“Soldiers?” Jareb felt his knees begin to quiver. “Killing? Herod?”
Joseph put his hand on Jareb’s shoulder. “We must leave tonight. Will you help?”
Jareb thought a moment, then he pulled a rough shawl from his shoulder. “This is a sling for newborn lambs,” he explained. “With it I could carry Jesus. No one would expect me to be carrying a baby.”
Joseph smiled. “Your plan is good, my friend.” he said.
Joseph and Mary carefully placed Jesus in the sling.
“There is a well outside the city gate,” Jareb whispered. “I will meet you there.”
Mary and Joseph slipped out into the darkness. Jareb shifted the sling onto his shoulder and peered down the street. He could hear noise in the distance—screaming and the clash of swords.
Jareb prayed the baby wouldn’t begin to cry, then he set out for the city gate, humming as he walked.
At the gate, a rough guard stepped in front of Jareb and squinted down at him. “We are looking for babies,” he growled, “baby boys. What’s that you’re carrying?”
“Please, sir,” Jareb stammered. “I’m . . . I’m only a shepherd. This is a sling for carrying lambs.”
Jareb fingers began to tremble. He squeezed the strap of the sling. “I’m famous for my sheep songs. Just listen.”
He burst into song. Fear made his voice louder and scratchier and even more out of tune than usual. The guard shuddered and covered his ears. “Arrgh!” he shouted. “Away with you, shepherd. Stop that awful racket!”
Outside the city, Joseph and Mary were waiting by the well. Jareb lifted Jesus from the sling and placed the child in Mary’s arms.
“Here’s your little lamb.” He laughed. “Look at how he smiles at the world’s worst singer!”
“You are a brave young man.” Mary smiled with tears in her eyes. “And your voice is a blessing from God.”
Jareb watched until the small family disappeared on the road, then he turned to the fields where his sheep waited.
The night had filled with dark shadows. Calls of owls and jackals echoed through the hills, but
Jareb didn’t notice. He began to sing—not because he was afraid, but because he had been brave. He had helped the Savior.
As he walked, his singing grew louder and stronger. The fearsome noises of the night vanished as owls and jackals fled to distant hills.
The only sound the waiting sheep heard that night was Jareb’s happy song.
(c) 1990, by Angela Hunt.
May the Lord use all our frailties to honor Him. A blessed Christmas to you and yours!