He wasn’t the littlest shepherd, or the biggest shepherd, or the anything that ends in -est shepherd. He was just Ariel. And Ariel had had quite a shock the other night when the angels sang “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” With the rest, he had run to find the baby in the manger wrapped in cloths. He had stopped long enough to recognize the sacredness of this moment. The birth of a baby, though routine, was also something sacred, and it always made him stop. But this one… this one was different. He didn’t look different. No halo appeared over his head, and when he’d awakened and cried, he cried just like any other baby.
“So you’re Messiah, eh?” he’d asked. “You’re gonna have to get a lot bigger than that before you can take on Rome, kid.” He’d smiled at the boy’s mother.
“His name is Yeshua,” she’d said.
“Our Lord saves. A good name for a Messiah.” And with the rest, he’d spread the news of what he’d seen and heard.
But now it was the day after. The morning after; sometime a bit before the dawn, to be more exact. The angelic host was gone, the babe in the manger – who knew whether he was still in the manger, or if the inn had cleared out some, or the happy couple who acted like newlyweds had rented a place in town?
“Why is this night different from all the rest?” he said aloud. No one heard but the sheep that were laying all around, like little… sheep laying on the ground. He wondered if this was how his ancestors had felt when they had come out of Egypt. He stared at the sky and said a prayer. “God, thank You for remembering us.” And Ariel felt hope. This was a beginning of something. If The Eternal willed it, he would one day see the boy called Yeshua defeat the greatest enemy his nation had ever faced. For a while, every now and then, he remembered that hope. And for a while, people rolled their eyes when Ariel found a new person who hadn’t had the story of the angels and the Messiah named Yeshua worn out from having had it told and retold.
I would like to say that that evening changed everything for Ariel, but that would be dishonest. It did change one or two things, though: He had more hope, and he had begun to understand what that Messiah would one day say, about the poor being blessed, and the meek inheriting the earth. It’d be a while, though, before the babe in the manger would be coherent enough to say “Abba.”
They say Christmas is a time for hope. I agree. Not hope in the abstract, but real, tangible hope. Maybe not hope like a grown Messiah… but hope like a baby Messiah who, one day, really WILL defeat the greatest enemy. Hope may take a while to be fulfilled… but listen for its whisper.
Or maybe it would be more accurate to say to listen for its cry.