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What about the one who stayed behind?

By December 26, 2014 No Comments

And what about the one who stayed behind while the rest of the shepherds took off for town? They had to leave some poor soul back in the hills to tend the sheep. Maybe it was the rookie–the last one hired, the kid. 

I bet it was the boy. I mean, as compelling as all those luminescent heavenly robes and all that divine music must have been, someone had to stay back and mind the store.

Every last one of them must have wanted to go to Bethlehem. After all, angels didn’t mince words–it was the Messiah. We’re not talking about some media star, but the savior of the world, the Messiah, the one the books are written about–that Messiah.  Someone had to stay with the sheep that night, probably the boy who’d came on the job just this December.

So there he sat alone, that incredible star’s intensity never waning. There he sat, listening to the sheep rustle and some occasional bleating. Nothing else out of the ordinary that night, I bet. Peace on earth and all of that. No wolves on Christmas Eve. He never had to lift that cudgel because that night for sure there were no assaults. Joy to the world.

Maybe a birth or two. And maybe this young kid who stayed behind attended when it happened, not that he had to. Normally, the sheep did well all by themselves anyway; but maybe when the kid heard that one ewe’s frantic crying, he took off across the hills to find her because he figured on this night it would only be right for him to be there.

When he found her, he wasn’t surprised that there were no complications. How could there be?–it was Christmas.

But the whole time the boy sat there beside her, watching that brand new little lamb come into the world and get all that royal treatment from his mom, he probably couldn’t help thinking of what he was missing in Bethlehem and how everlovin’ strange it was for all those heavenly angels to mention, as if in passing, that a sign of this grand Messiah’s birth was swaddling clothes and a hayseed feed trough. Give me a break.

And it couldn’t have been a hoax either because a company of angels doesn’t show up every night on the Judean hills, an entire choir making music no one could ever believe. Scared the bejeebees out of ’em, first.  Suddenly, poof!–they were just there.

Still, a manger? It was not to be believed really–the actual, in-the-flesh, long-promised Messiah, the king of absolutely everything in a barn? Seriously?

It had to have been an exceptionally peaceful night out in the country, absolutely nothing going on, post-angelic revelation. He must have wished he hadn’t been the rookie. He must have told himself he could have left the whole flock alone that night anyway, that no one had to stay behind, that it was the boss’s fault he’d missed the biggest night ever, because the boss was way too attached to his blessed sheep. Maybe that’s what he couldn’t help thinking in the darkness of early morning. 

And right about then probably he’d have to have heard the whole gang a mile off on those hills, maybe two, sound traveling the way it does on the open plains. He’d hear them all right, the whole crew making enough noise to wake the dead. That star shed glory over everything, I’m sure, so that soon enough he probably spotted them, a mile or so off, the whole bunch walking back to the flock. They weren’t running, but they weren’t at all quiet. 

He probably looked at his watch and wondered about whether he was getting overtime for being the only one left behind. They can’t shut up either, he might have thought, even though it’s after three in the morning. They’re actually singing.  He’d never heard a bunch of low-life shepherds singing before either. Never. Not bad either.

I bet he told himself that even if the only birth he saw was the one delivered by this sweet ewe still cleaning up the lamb just now getting up on all fours, even if he didn’t get to go to that blessed town barn in Bethlehem with the rest of them, even if he got snookered out of seeing the Messiah, this night would something to remember forever anyway. Two concerts in the hills after all, one of them actual angels with real wings–he still couldn’t believe it–and the other the guys he worked with, day-in, day-out, coming home from town, coming home from a blessed barn, coming home from the Messiah singing “The Hallelujah Chorus.”

Here they come now, he thinks. He couldn’t help but hum along himself. It never dawned on him they could do a whole lot better than just hold a tune.

How about this? All the way back to the sheep, those shepherds sing like the angels. And the kid is smiling, just to hear it, another concert. Finally, the boy breaks into song himself once they come up close. He joins in.

And then the most amazing thing happens, something he wouldn’t have believed if he hadn’t been standing right there, something only he saw. Just like that, that brand new little lamb, still wet from birth, just now up on all fours, joins in too. Really. That little lamb sings too, sings along, doesn’t miss a beat. The boy tells himself that they’re all in it together now, all in their own heavenly choir.

It’s not to believed, he tells himself, the music filling all around. How could he ever explain?

He can’t, he knows. But then, it’s Christmas.

James C. Schaap

James Calvin Schaap is a retired English prof who has been something of a writer for most of the last 40 years. His latest work, a novel, Looking for Dawn, set in reservation country, is the story of two young women joined by their parents' mutual brokenness and, finally, a machine-shed sacrament of reconciliation. He writes and narrates a weekly essay on regional history for KWIT, public radio, Sioux City, Iowa. He and his wife Barbara live on the northern edge of Alton, Iowa, the Sgt. Floyd River a hundred yards or so from their back door. They have a cat--rather, he has them.

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