Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Shepherd Named Shimi

by Sharlyn Guthrie

Shabby shepherds hugged quivering lambs to pounding chests -clutched tangled wool with trembling fingers. Moments ago the black sky had hung silent. Now shepherds lay strewn across the hard ground where they fell, shielding unaccustomed eyes from blazing brightness.

Shimi spread the fingers of his grimy hands just enough to peek through them, afraid of what he would see, but also of what he might miss. Winter shepherding was a new experience in this, his twelfth year. Still, the frightful angelic appearance seemed to amaze even well seasoned, ordinarily unflappable shepherds.

The angel was speaking now. “Do not be afraid.” Easy for him to say! “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” Why did they choose us? “Today in 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.”* A feedbox? Surely the Savior deserves a bed.

The lone celestial being was suddenly joined by a whole company of angels shouting, singing, and praising God. Shimi wasn’t certain when his fear turned to wonder, only that it had. “On earth, peace…” the choir sang in blissful harmony before silently slipping behind ethereal, star-studded shades.

Mesmerized shepherds hesitated briefly, then scrambled to their feet. “We must go and find this infant. If true, this is very good news, indeed!” Two elderly herders agreed to guard the flock while the others gathered their cloaks and began running toward Bethlehem. Shimi’s youthful legs led the pack. Three miles, most of it uphill, was no small distance to cover.

Unlike most of his comrades, Shimi was educated. His father, while living, had insisted he memorize long passages from the sacred scrolls. As he ran, Shimi recalled the foretelling of a king coming from Bethlehem. Would this child fulfill the ancient prophecy?

Shimi had grown up fast. Upon his father’s death, he was obligated to care for his mother and younger siblings. Hireling was the only available job for one so young. Mother would be chagrined by the crude stories that assaulted his ears. Then there was the matter of thieving. Shimi was expected to assist in the unlawful sale of lambs being groomed for temple sacrifice. His refusal to do so resulted in daily ridicule.

The unsavory group slowed as their feet found the cobblestone streets of Bethlehem. Stealthily, in search of a stable, they darted down alleyways. If discovered, their presence near the stables in the middle of the night would certainly be suspect. In general, shepherds were considered mean and untrustworthy characters.

“Over here!” Shimi’s hoarse whisper drew immediate response. A dozen pairs of feet descended upon him. The stable door creaked open a bit, alerting the occupants.

“Who’s there?” A young man protectively wrapped his arms around the young girl beside him.

“It’s just as the angel said,” a shepherd announced. “We’ve found the Christ.”

“Angel, you say?” the young father inquired.

“Yes. An angel appeared in the field…nearly frightened us to death. We have come a good distance to see this for ourselves.” Quietly, respectfully, the men filled the space inside the barn as each gave an account of all they had witnessed. Joseph explained to the shepherds how he and Mary had also been visited by angels.

Shimi knelt by the baby. “May I touch him?” he asked.

“Of course,” Mary replied. “You are but a boy yourself.”

Shimi wiped his dirty hands on the inside of his cloak. Then, ever so gently he traced the back of his finger around the baby’s delicate face. "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times."** His whispered words did not go unnoticed.

“How is it that you know the Scriptures?” Joseph asked.

“My father taught me. Your son is the long awaited king of Israel, and I…I am one of the first to know.” Shimi swiped an unbidden tear from his cheek. “We must spread this good news!”

Though their hands remained calloused, the adoring shepherds’ hearts were permanently softened. Their thieving ways and ridicule of Shimi ceased, and they told all who would listen of their encounter with the angels, and the good news of the Savior born in Bethlehem.

*Luke 2:10b-12 (NIV)
**Micah 5:2 (NIV)

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