The Gift of the Shepherd
As the shepherd was praying, thanking God for his family, a bright light appeared before him. It was brilliant, like the sun, but so sudden he knew that it was not the sunrise. A gentle voice spoke from the light: “Do not be afraid. Your faith has been rewarded. Your son Joel will prepare a special gift for the Lamb of God.”
The shepherd was so surprised that he could not speak. The angel disappeared before he could ask about this Lamb of God. He ran back to the house to tell his wife of this wonderful promise.
The next day he returned to his quiet place, wondering of the angel and promise had been a dream. As he turned to leave, he felt something under his foot. It was a curious-looking seed, about the size of a small stone. As he picked it up, his doubts about the night before disappeared. He took his knife from his belt and dug a hole where he was standing. As he planted the seed, he asked God to help him and his son understand this puzzling promise.
As Joel grew, the old shepherd watched for signs of a special talent. A gift for the Lamb of God would certainly have to come from a talented craftsman. How would they recognize the Lamb of God? Would it look different from the other lambs? Would it be at the temple? So many questions. And yet the shepherd found no answers in his son. Joel was a good boy who loved to go with his father out into the fields. The sheep trusted him and followed him just as they followed his father.
“Will the Lamb of God need a shepherd?” wondered the old man.
As the boy grew, so did the tree that had sprung from the seed planted in the quiet place. It grew tall with spreading limbs that gave shade in the hot summers. Joel knew that this tree was connected with the night of his birth. He had heard the story of the appearance of the angel to his father and the promise of the gift for the Lamb of God. Sometimes, out in the fields under the starry sky, he would wonder what it meant. But his first duty was always tending his sheep.
As the years went by, Joel grew into a man. His father was too old to stay out in the fields with the sheep, so Joel took over the duty alone. He returned home every week to pick up supplies and to see his father, who had lived alone since the death of Joel’s mother. One of these trips home followed a fearful wind storm the night before. The old shepherd and the small house were unhurt, but the tree growing in the quiet place had been blown over by the winds. Joel and his father decided to use the wood from the tree to build a shelter for the sheep. Maybe God’s Lamb would need a home.
Joel was not trained as a carpenter, but he did know what sheep needed. The shelter was strong and the sheep felt safe inside. When the shelter was finished, there was a small stack of wood left over. Joel did not want to waste any part of the tree. From the last pieces of the tree, he built a manger for the sheep to eat from. It was not very big, but Joelwas pleased with the work. On one end of the manger, Joel carved a sign as a reminder of the promise.
Many more years passed. The little town grew until the house that was now Joel’s was crowded close to others. Joel’s flock of sheep had gotten bigger and bigger. He had to hire other men to help him care for them. The shelter he had built was not big enough to hold his sheep. He gave the shelter to his neighbor, who had built an inn next door. He and his men lived in the fields with the sheep. Joel had not forgotten the promise of the gift for the Lamb of God, but he had other sheep to care for until he found this mysterious Lamb.
One night as Joel and the other shepherds were settling down for the night, a sudden bright light appeared around them. The other shepherds were terrified, but Joel felt an odd excitement, as if he knew what was to come. Out of the brilliance a gentle voice spoke to them: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today is the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly the shepherds were surrounded by angels saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
The sound of the angels filled Joel’s heart as well as his ears. He had been waiting for this moment since the day he was born. He knew that he must go into Bethlehem to see what the angel of the Lord had told them about.
As the band of shepherds came to the edge of town, Joel recognized the old shelter he had built from the fallen tree. He knew in his heart that this was the place that the angel had spoken of. He thought of the sign the angel had described: a baby in a manger.
A manger . . . his manger? Could it be?
Joel and the others approached the entrance to the shelter and looked in at a young family. The infant was wrapped in cloths, lying in a manger, just as the angel said. And there on the end of manger was the sign that Joel had carved so many years ago. Could this tiny baby be the Lamb of God of the promise? This night the angel had called him “Savior.” Joel was reminded of the Passover and how the lamb had saved his people so many generations ago in Egypt.
Instantly Joel knew that the promise made to his father by the angel had been honored. The Lamb of God had needed a shepherd and a shelter. Joel had made the manger that cradled the infant Savior.
Unaware of the shepherds at the entrance, the new mother was speaking to her husband. As well as being exhausted, she seemed to be puzzled.
“Joseph,” she sighed, “I just didn’t think it would be like this. What are we doing in this place? What is He doing in a stable? He should have the throne of David, like the angel said. Not this sheep pen.”
“Mary,” her husband replied, gently touching the baby’s face, “remember that David was a shepherd before he was a king.”
“But no one even knows that He is here!” she cried.
“We know,” smiled Joseph.
“And we know,” said Joel, coming forward with the other shepherds. He told them of the words of the angel and tried to explain the song of glory and peace and goodwill. Then he told them a story of another angel’s visit many years before. As they looked at the sign on the manger, the infant, God’s precious Lamb, stirred in His sleep.
When the young mother looked at her son, Joel saw her smile and nod. She thanked the shepherds for coming to welcome the Lamb of God. In her heart she thanked them for bringing her the news of the angels and their wondrous song.
Joel saw the joy on her still-tired face. He was reminded of more of the angel’s words. The good news of great joy was for all the people. But the angel had brought the news to only a few shepherds. How were all the people to hear the good news? He called the other shepherds to him. Soon they left to spread the word about all they had seen and heard that night.
And that is still the way that people hear the news about the Savior today: People who have heard the Good News spread the word to those who haven’t.