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kept in His hands
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The Christmas Story
by Real Live Preacher

Part Seven
The Shepherds

The shepherds hit the town at about two o'clock in the morning, and you can be sure there was confusion at the next council meeting where there was some dispute about exactly what happened. According to some, they had banged on doors and dragged decent folk out of their beds. They were running up and down the streets singing strange songs and babbling about angels, babies, and peace on earth.

Admittedly, these were the more extreme accounts.

Others said the shepherds had been drinking heavily that night, and things had just gotten a little out of hand. As one man put it, "Shepherds will be shepherds."

The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. What is known for sure is that a dozen or so shepherds came rushing into town sometime in the middle of the night. They were mostly young men, which was understandable since the younger shepherds usually had the night shift.

It seems clear that some of the shepherds did bang on doors and try to awaken people, though it's doubtful that anyone was actually dragged from bed. They had a difficult time explaining themselves to the few sleepy citizens who were willing to come outside. Shepherds are not exactly known for their verbal skills.

Apparently some of them thought there was an army of angels singing on the hillside. One or two said there was one angel with a message, but agreed that a whole gang of angels joined in later. There was some mention of a baby, but no one ever made sense of that part. They denied accusations that they were simply drinking and brawling, though the mud on their robes and the straw in their hair certainly made it look as though they'd been rolling on the ground.

There was one older man among them, a shepherd named Mordecai who was supposed to have been watching the boys that night. He might have shed some light on these events, but he was unable to speak, having lost his voice back on the hillside where something terribly frightening had obviously occurred.

They made quite a commotion in town, that much was certain. And they never backed down from their crazy story either, though no one ever figured out exactly what that story was. In the end, everyone cursed them soundly and went back to bed. And, as mentioned before, the subject was addressed in some detail and with no small amount of passion at the next town council meeting.

On the night in question, after the failed attempt to arouse and alert their neighbors, the shepherds gathered at Mordecai's home to decide what was to be done. Mordecai was unable to join in the discussion, but he pounded on the table and gave exaggerated nods whenever a good point was made.

In the end they managed to agree on a few things. First, there had indeed been a stranger among them. Initially they had not realized he was an angel, but his voice cleared up all doubts on that point. It was around this time that Mordecai lost the ability to speak.

Second, the angel told them about a savior, or a messiah, or a king, or at least someone very important. There was heated debate on the details of this message, but they did agree that this important person had been born in Bethlehem that very night. For reasons not made clear by the angel, this child was lying in a sheep trough somewhere in town. There was complete agreement on this last point.

Third, a choir of angels sang heavenly songs to close out the evening. The sheer beauty of this singing had reduced them all to blubbering idiots.

Apparently the bawling had wiped out whatever was left of Mordecai's already strained voice.

Finally, they agreed that they needed to find this child and see him for themselves, if only to make sure they hadn't lost their minds. As they understood it, they were looking for a baby boy who was lying in a manger somewhere in town.

Unfortunately, they had no idea where this manger-boy might be. After some discussion, they decided they probably shouldn't knock on any more doors.

They were flat stumped for a few minutes, then one of the younger shepherds, a boy named Lemuel, spoke up. "Doesn't old Elias have a manger in his house that he and his wife used as a baby bed?"

"That's right," said Hamran. "My cousin Sarah lives near em. She says they been puttin babies in that manger for years."

"That Elias is a strange bird," said another. "Always was. It comes from growin up around Jerusalem. They don't know mangers from menorahs up there."

There were vigorous grunts and nods of approval. Mordecai thumped the table enthusiastically.

Hamran looked thoughtful, then he spoke again. "You know, I heard Sarah talkin right before I left for the fields tonight. She was sayin somethin about some young couple havin a baby at Elias' house. Esther was helpin, along with some other women. These folks was from WAY out uh town. Up Nazareth way, I think. Knowin Elias, I bet that baby's lyin in their manger right now."

It was their one and only lead, so they followed it. The whole gang poured outside and ran straight to Esther and Elias' house. When they got there, they found Elias awake, sitting outside his door on a bench. He was understandably startled by their appearance at that hour.

"What are you gang uh boys doin here at this time uh night. Ain't ya supposed to be out watchin them sheep?"

There was a pause, then all the shepherds started speaking at once. There was a lot of arm waving and exaggerated gestures. Certainly they were all very excited.

No, he was right there, and…
Heard anything like it. He was loud…
Singing like you never…
Baby's in a trough or maybe eatin out of a trough…
Swaddling clothes and…
Most beautifulest thing you ever heard…

Elias listened for a moment, trying to knit it all into something that made sense. Then he shut his eyes tightly and shook his head. "Be quiet, all uh ya; I can't tell a word you're sayin. Not a word of it when you're all talkin at once."

He grabbed Lemuel by the shoulders and pulled him forward. "You there, what's your name? Lemuel? Tell me what happened and be clear about it."

"We saw angels when we were with the sheep. They told us about a baby in a manger, that he was a savior and a king. If there's a baby in your house, we come to see him." He paused. "If he's in that manger uh yours, that is."

Elias was stunned into silence. He stared at the whole bunch for a few seconds before he spoke. "Well I never heard anything like that, I must say. Angels? With the sheep? Are you out of your minds? I got a young couple here, just had baby, got all kinds uh family problems and nowhere to stay, and you think I'm gonna let you inside just because you say…

"Did they say they saw angels?" interrupted Joseph, who had opened the door and was listening.

Elias whirled around, startled by Joseph's presence. "Well, yes, but I don't think…"

"An angel appeared to me in a dream and spoke about this child," announced Joseph calmly.

Elias's mouth hung open a second. Then he clapped it shut.

"And my wife saw an angel too, telling her about our baby. Elias, let em in, if you don't mind. I think they need to see this little boy."

The shepherds filed apologetically past Elias. He mutely watched each of them disappear through the door, which shut behind the last one, leaving him alone outside. He stared at the door for a moment before speaking.

"There ain't one thing's happened here tonight that makes a lick uh sense to me."

(to be concluded in Part Eight - The Question)
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