The Youngest Shepherd
This is a children's story, set on the night that Jesus was born.
It is a fictional event which emphasizes the spirit of giving from the heart.
“Goodbye.” Jonathan turned and waved to his mother as he left the house.
He had a new shepherd’s staff in his hand. A package containing bread, cheese and figs was strapped to his back.
Jonathan also had a beautiful new blanket to keep his warm. Mother had made the blanket from sheep’s wool that had been dyed blue like the sky.
“So, is the youngest shepherd ready for his first night out in the field?” Jonathan’s father asked.
“Oh yes.” Jonathan walked proudly beside his father. He kept a tight grip on the staff his father had given him the day before.
“We will not stop on the way,” said his father. “We will eat our evening meal in the field, while we watch the sheep.”
“I love watching the sheep,” Jonathan said. “And especially the lambs.”
“The lambs do need careful watching,” said his father.
Jonathan watched his father hook the crooked end of his staff around a lamb’s neck. He gently guided it back to the flock.
It was a long walk to the field where their sheep would graze for the next few weeks. Jonathan was hot and tired when they arrived.
Stretching out before them was a great field of fresh green grass for the sheep to eat. A stream carried fresh water across the field from a spring up in the hills. Jonathan sniffed the air. It smelled fresh and sweet.
“I can smell the grass,” he said.
“Yes. Fields like this are scarce,” said his father. He laid his pack down beside a large rock at the edge of the field. “It has been a long, hot walk and you must be hungry. We can eat now.”
“I am thirsty first.” Jonathan dropped his pack beside his father’s and ran to the stream. He lay face down on the grass and cupped his hands to drink the clear, cool water.
Soon after they had eaten, Jonathan lay down to sleep. He wrapped his soft blue blanket around him.
“You must promise to wake me,” Jonathan said. “I want to take my turn on watch, so you can sleep too.”
“I will wake you,” his father promised. “Go to sleep now.”
It was dark when Jonathan’s father woke him up.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” his father asked. “You were very tired when we arrived.”
“If I am going to be a shepherd one day, I must do the watch,” Jonathan said. The field was different now as Jonathan looked around. He could not see the colour of the grass but he could still smell the freshness. He could smell the perfume of the wild flowers, too.
The sheep and lambs were just dark shadows, moving around now and then. Once in a while the soft bleat of a lamb broke the silence.
Jonathan leaned back against a large rock and watched the shadow sheep.
Suddenly, Jonathan’s eyes flew wide open. He stood up straight and gripped his staff. Something was wrong. Something had changed. Then he realized what it was.
He could see the sheep. They weren’t just shadows anymore. Was it morning already? Had be fallen asleep on his first watch?
Slowly, he looked up at the sky. A great star was shining in the East. It was so bright that the night was almost like day.
“Father, wake up,” Jonathan called.
“What is it?” his father asked. “Morning already?” He sat up and rubbed his eyes.
“No,” Jonathan said softly. “Something strange is happening. Look at that star. See how bright it is? What does it mean, Father?”
Suddenly, an angel appeared before them. He was dressed in pure white and surrounded by beautiful, glorious light.
Jonathan’s father fell to his knees and bowed his head. Jonathan knelt down too, but he couldn’t take his eyes off the angel’s face. He had heard stories about people who saw angels and had visions. He did not want to miss anything.
“Do not be afraid,” said the angel. “I have good news for you. Your Saviour, Christ the Lord, was born in Bethlehem tonight.”
“The Messiah,” Jonathan’s father whispered. “The Son of God.”
Then a great choir of angels appeared in the sky. The brightness around them was almost blinding. Still, Jonathan could not take his eyes off the wonderful sight.
“Glory to God in the highest,” they sang, “and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men.”
When the angels were gone, the light faded too, but the great star was still shining brightly.
“Father,” said Jonathan, “can we go to Bethlehem?”
“It is a long walk,” said his father. “There will be many people travelling there.”
“I want to see the Messiah,” said Jonathan.
“We will take a gift,” said Jonathan’s father. “We will take one of our finest sheep.
His father picked up his staff and carefully chose a plump sheep with a kindly black face. He coaxed it away from the flock.
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“What will happen to the rest of the flock if we leave them here?” Jonathan asked.
“No harm will come to them while we visit God’s Son,” said his father.
“Let’s go,” Jonathan said eagerly.
“Keep your blanket around you, Jonathan,” his father said. “It is night and the air is cool.”
Jonathan and his father walked side by side. They followed the star.
“It does not feel like night,” Jonathan said. “It feels very different ... and kind of strange.”
“It is a very special night,” said his father. “Christ the Lord is born.”
The closer they got to Bethlehem, the brighter and larger the star appeared to be.
Jonathan and his father met some other shepherds. They, too, were following the star to Bethlehem. They, too, were going to see the Messiah. They, too, were bringing gifts of sheep and lambs.
Jonathan was the youngest shepherd among them and he felt very proud to be with them.
In Bethlehem, the streets were crowded with people. There was great excitement over the birth of this baby.
Jonathan and his father moved carefully through the crowded streets, keeping their sheep close by.
“Father, look over there,” Jonathan said, pointing with one hand. “The star is over that stable. It looks like someone just hung it there in the sky.”
“God hung it there,” his father said. “But a stable? Would the Son of God be born in a stable?”
“We must go and see,” said Jonathan.
Large gatherings of people stood around the stable entrance. Some were shepherds like themselves. Some wore the fine robes of the wealthy.
Jonathan saw three men with golden crowns on their heads. They carried expensive- looking gifts.
“Who are they, Father?” Jonathan whispered.
“They are Wise Men,” his father answered. “I think they have come from Judea, in the East. It is a very long journey.”
As they waited for their turn to see the Christ Child, Jonathan began to feel a little bit sad.
“The parents of the Messiah must be very poor, Father,” he said.
“Yes, they are,” his father agreed. “But they are good, honest people. God will watch over them and bless them.”
“I wish I had a gift for Him,” Jonathan said.
“You are just a boy,” his father said. “They will understand.”
Suddenly, the crowds were gone. Jonathan and his father knelt on the rough dirt floor.
“We were in the fields with our sheep when the angels told us the good news,” said Jonathan’s father. He pushed the sheep forward gently. “We brought a gift for the Messiah.”
“Thank you,” said the Baby’s father, “God’s blessing be on you.”
Jonathan moved closer and looked at the sleeping Baby. He looked so tiny, all wrapped up in swaddling clothes. His bed was a manger filled with sweet-scented hay. Yet, Jonathan felt in his heart that this was a very special Baby. If only he had a gift to offer.
“He is beautiful,” Jonathan whispered softly. Suddenly Jonathan smiled. He did have something to give the Christ Child. It, too, was special.
He took the blanket from his shoulders. Mother would not mind. She would understand. He held the blanket out to the Baby’s mother.
“Please wrap Him in my blanket,” Jonathan said. “It is very soft and warm. I want Him to have it. I am not yet old enough to have sheep of my own. The blanket is all I have to give.”
“Your gift comes from the heart,” said the Baby’s mother. “That makes it a special gift.” She smiled at Jonathan as she took the blanket.
She lifted the Baby in her arms. Then she wrapped Him in Jonathan’s new blue blanket and laid Him back in the manger. “May God bless you, young shepherd,” she said softly.
Jonathan looked down at the Baby. And the Messiah smiled up at him. It was the most beautiful smile, and Jonathan knew he would never forget it.
When Jonathan and his father left Bethlehem, they went home. Jonathan was very excited as they told his mother all that had happened.
“Everyone brought gifts, even the youngest shepherd,” said Jonathan’s father.
“Are you angry with me for giving away my lovely blanket, Mother?” Jonathan asked. “I wanted to give Him something that was mine.”
“I am very proud of my youngest shepherd,” said his mother. “I will make you another one, just like the fresh, green grass.” And she gave Jonathan a big hug.
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© 1998 F. Herridge
Published in Newfoundland Herald, Dec 1998
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