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I Am A Shepherd

I am a shepherd. A lonely man…No one
welcomes a shepherd. All I have is my time
for sale. Smelly and dirty I watch rich men's
sheep on the hill overlooking Bethlehem.

Last night I was in the fields watching the
 sheep doze in the grass with a few of my 
Shepherd buddies. I like to tip a few now and
again and at times get a little soused but last
night we had nothing to drink. There was no
cheer for us in the fields while the rich were
snug in their warm beds.

Suddenly the skies lit up, we heard sounds
Voices Singing It was if all of the earth itself
was singing Our hearts leapt in fear and wonder.
What was happening? A vast sound of singing
praising the God of David was heard. I turned to
 the other shepherds and  from the trembling I
could tell they heard it too. "GLORY TO GOD
  IN THE HIGHEST. PEACE AND GOODWILL
ON THE EARTH."

Now I'm not a religious man. Who has the
time for the scriptures? The Pharisees and
their long faces No. Not me, Give me a warm
fire and a good flagon any day but this this was
 something different. This sound never fasted,
never wept, and never stoned anyone. This was
nothing less than a choir of absolute joy.

 A great light fell from above and rested on
a stable behind the inn. For one unforgettable
moment the stable blazed in the night like a
crystal swan in a sky of suns. We fell to the
earth and knew no more.

When I awoke I was alone. God alone knew
where my friends were. The night was silent
again as if nothing had happened at all. The
skies were dark. A dog barked twice in the
distance, dreaming in his sleep.

Drawn irresistibly to the place where the
light fell, in fear and trembling, stinking
of sheep and dirt, feeling less than nothing
having been sharing coarse stories and jokes
with my friends in the field. I felt compelled
to go there. To that place, that cave in the
bank, that stable where the light had burned
brighter than the heart of the blacksmiths
fire when he makes a sword.

There wasn't even a door, just a saddle
blanket hastily nailed over the entrance.
It didn't even reach to the ground. This
door is open to all, I thought as I nervously
cleared my throat and said, "Uh… Is anyone
 there? Can I… Come in…? Please? Is anyone
there…?" A young man with tired yet excited
eyes pulled aside the blanket. "What do you
want?" He said. "I just came to see… To…
I heard singing and saw a light… I… I am
torn in half inside, what's happening? I fell…"
I fumbled and stammered, trying to put my
feelings into words.

The young man said, "Yes… I understand.
Come in." Stepping inside I saw darkness
and dirt, animals quietly shifting  in their stalls,
the musty smell of feed and manure everywhere.
I felt right at  home, this stuff I knew very well.
I live with the sheep.

There was a flickering candle in a stall in
the corner. In that pitch dark cave the tiny
yellow  light drew me like a moth. There was
an exhausted  looking young  girl there and a…
child. A new baby lying pink and still in a manger.
A manger, the feeding  trough rough and splintered,
chewed into a fuzz by the animals as they feed.

The young man said to me, "Here This is my
wife Mary and this…" Gesturing with obvious
pride toward the manger, "This is our son Jesus.
You are the first to see him, we honor you." My
eyes were riveted on this child. He saw me
and smiled at me. "Hey" Said Joseph, " I think
he likes you. My name is  Joseph. We are here
for the census.

We really do have a house in Nazareth. I'm a
carpenter.  It's not much bigger than this stable,
but I built it myself. There was no room at the inn
 I hate that my son must be born in this place but
when the Romans whistle we Jews must come."

I mumbled something in return, I don't know what.
I was transfixed by the baby's smile. I'd never really
looked at a baby before, preferring to leave child
rearing to the woman and speaking to children after
the bar mitzvah when they become men but something
was different about this baby.

Joseph stood beside me busting his buttons with
pride. "Would you like to hold him?" He asked
suddenly. Mary started alarm at this but Joseph
gently touched her cheek, "It's all right sweetie,
It will be OK. I like this Shepherd." Joseph took his
son and placed him in my arms, my rough chapped
hands on that perfect new skin. From the crook of
my elbow, (as I stood there praying I wouldn't
drop him) he gazed straight into my eyes and 
smiled his toothless smile again.

Something awoke within me and I shifted my
rigid arms finding a comfortable`spot' for the
babe close to my heart. "Kootchy Kootchy Koo."
I said thoughtlessly like I had seen my sister say
to her children at her breast. The infant began to
laugh, a musical, formless, wordless laugh.
Incredibly encouraged I began to make faces at
the boy. I stuck my tongue out at him and crossed
 my eyes and he went off in a wild peal of glee. I
felt as if he were actually entering into my eyes
with his laughter.

Mary visibly relaxed and said, " Wow…He Really
likes you, look at him!" His eyes were totally
focused on me as I stood there foolishly grimacing
and grinning, laughing as I shared this boy's newborn
joy. Suddenly I began to dream awake. I can't explain
 it any other way. I was still in the stable yet… The
baby seemed to remain in my arms, a chalice or clear
 glass of light and laughter, his peals sounding
continuously  laughing at me now as if I were the
most absurd, friendly clown in the world.

The chalice of life began to leak, or overflow 
as it  erupted in laughter and joy and out of the
 `cup?'  liquid joy spilled onto the floor. Even as
the laughter in my arms near my heart continued
a shape began to arise out of the `pool?' of
`being?' on the floor. A mighty shape began to arise.
A young Grandfather with feet like solid gold. He
wasn't laughing but his eyes were as merry as the
child filled with light still laughing in my arms.

This figure grew and grew until His arms spanned
the  entire valley, the limits of my life. Still He
grew and I saw HIM step off of the Earth itself
and hang among the heavenly lights, His great
hand around the world itself. Still He grew and
began to juggle the moon and the planets. Still
He grew! He swallowed the Sun itself as a joke.
I was not afraid, the baby still was laughing
uncontrollably in my arms.

Very quickly the great Grandfather became much
too large for my eyes to see and all I was left with
was the baby in my arms, still maintaining eye
contact and enjoying my funny face, the absurdity
that is me. I knew that this baby and the great
mystical Father were somehow the same,
somehow linked.

The little boy's joy grew and grew until He
was not able to contain it and he began to
dissolve… To turn into a mist or smoke, still
laughter and joy permeating all. This mist
or smoke dissolve into me! Right through my
skin it entered.

Then I felt it. I began to laugh also.
 "GLORY TO GOD IN THE  HIGHEST" I shouted
in triumph. I felt a strong hand touch my arm
then, I realized my eyes were closed and I had
been dreaming while awake. When I opened my
eyes I  found I was gently rocking the baby in
my arms as He continued to explode with that
infectious laughter.

All of us were laughing so hard we could
barely  catch our breath. Reluctantly I handed
the precious child back to His Daddy. Joseph laid
the boy back in the manger and we wiped the tears
from our eyes. Joseph warmly embraced me, "You…
 are welcome in our house anytime my friend…  Anytime."
I will never be the same again.

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