The velvet blackness of the sky was punctuated by brilliant starlight. The galaxies swirled above the men on the hill in the crispness of the night air. It was cold. Golden sparks danced above the flames as the fire crackled noisily. Jacob reclined on his side, warming himself beside the flames. He tilted his head back to gaze at the stars. Joachim and Reuben spoke in low voices. Eliakim approached, his brow furrowed. He tossed some kindling on the fire and it roared to life again. A lamb bleated across the field. Eliakim held out his calloused hands to the warmth.
“What troubles you, Eliakim?” Jacob asked, rolling over onto his elbows.
Eliakim grunted. He muttered something inaudible and Jacob smiled to himself. He had probably had an altercation with someone. Again. Jacob stroked his beard thoughtfully. His tunic was scratchy and he reached down to rub his leg. He then stretched and rose.
“I’m going to check on the lamb that was birthed today.” He spoke to no one in particular.
Shrugging, he began to walk off.
But a blinding light threw him to the ground. He couldn’t see anything but white. His eyes burned. Each time he tried to open them they pooled and he tried to blink it away. It was no use. He shielded his eyes with an arm. When things finally came into focus he saw a large glorious being quite unlike anything he’d ever seen before levitating in front of him. An inexplicable fear gripped him and he shuffled back in the grass, quivering in sheer terror. He didn’t notice the other men also prostrate before the being.
Then the being spoke. The voice was filled with immense power.
“Do not be afraid!”
The richness of the voice stilled his thudding heart and peace and awe washed over him.
“I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today in the City of David a Saviour has been born.”
Although Jacob wasn’t quite sure of the meaning those words held, he felt an inexplicable excitement ignite in his heart.
“He is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign to you: you will find the baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
And then, his mouth dropped open in wonder. The sky lit up like daylight before him. Hundreds of thousands of splendid beings shone gloriously before him in the heavens. And they opened their mouths to sing. Their harmonious song was the sweetest thing he’d ever heard.
“Glory to God in the highest. And on earth, peace to men on whom his favour rests.”
All too soon, the glory and splendour of the angels’ song ended and the night was dark once more. Jacob felt tears coursing down his cheeks. He did nothing to stop them. For a few minutes there wasn’t a sound. No lamb fussed, no man spoke. Nothing dared break the sweetness of the air.
And then, slowly, all the men turned to one another. Each man had tracks from the tears that had washed through the dirt on their cheeks. Their eyes shone in the starlight.
“Let’s go!” laughed Eliakim in delight as he smeared the dirt across his cheeks with his arm, brushing away his joyful tears, “Let’s go and see this thing that has happened!”
The shepherds joined together in joyful laughter as they scrambled to their feet.
“Come on!” Joachim beckoned to them as he started to run down the hill towards the dotted lights of the sleepy town.
The small company of scruffy men raced across the fields to find the baby. Little did Jacob realise that he was about to meet the Lamb birthed that day.
Benjamin lay awake with his back to Eli. He saw something in his father’s face that he had never seen before when he had helped the man and his wife settle in their lowly stable. It was troubling him. Was it happiness? It couldn’t have been because that was something foreign to Eli.
He shook his head in the dark to himself. It wasn’t happiness. Compassion, perhaps?
Whatever it was, Eli was moved. And somewhere, deep inside, Benjamin felt hope. Hope that his father’s hardness was melting. That maybe, just maybe, he would change.
There was suddenly noises outside. Shuffling; crunching of rocks beneath feet; hushed voices. At first, he thought it was in his head. But then he definitely heard voices whisper again. Who could be rummaging around outside at this hour?
He sat up slowly, straining to hear.
“This way,” murmured a voice, “Hurry!”
With that, Benjamin was up. He crept to the door and slipped out quietly so as not to wake Eli.
But Eli was not asleep. He too had heard the voices. And, like Benjamin, he too had been lying awake troubled by his thoughts. His son, his young son, had pierced his heart. It was like he had been run through with a sword. Benjamin’s words played over and over in his head, haunting him. He was convicted. Much to his shame, he realised that he did not believe what his wife had believed. It was one of her many strengths and something he’d grown to love in her: the quiet submissive belief and faith she had. Even from her grave, he was convicted by her unwavering faith that Yahweh was faithful to His promises.
He had been blinded by his anger for so long, he no longer saw the beauty and majesty of Yahweh he had once known. Eli had put up strong walls around his heart many years ago and had closed himself off from any belief in the God he once professed to know.
Now, his young son, who knew little about life and knew only a small portion of the Torah put him, a learned man, to shame by his simple yet deep faith.
Just as he was about to roll over to look at his son in the dark, he had heard the hushed tones outside their home. And, when he saw Benjamin leave, he got up to follow him.
The air was bitterly cold outside and Eli pulled his cloak around himself. He looked around for signs that foot traffic had moved. A small light shone in the corner of his eye and he turned to see the shaft of dim light shining from the doorway of the stable. His heart leapt into his chest and his throat became tight.
Had a child been born amongst the cattle in the stall? Shadows moved in the stable. Eli momentarily forgot about the voices and Benjamin and was drawn to his stable. He let out a sharp breath of anticipation and he rushed over the uneven ground. He slowed considerably as he neared, hearing the low voices of many. Confused, he edged closer and cautiously peered around the doorway. He saw unkempt men dressed meanly in course tunics. Shepherds. Just out of view, the head of the woman showed – her headdress gone and her dark hair falling messily across her forehead. Her husband knelt beside her with his hand resting on the back of her head. Benjamin stood off to the side, his face glowing.
“…it was just like every other night. We were sitting alongside the fire when…”
Another shepherd interjected,
“There was this blinding light. We couldn’t see a thing!”
Another began to speak at the same time.
“…not a thing! And then, there before us, was an angel. His clothes shone like the sun. And his voice…”
“…gave me such peace. He told us not to be afraid. Every bone in my body was shaking!”
“But then he told us of the child – the Christ child – born this night. He told us that we would find a baby lying in a manager.”
“…we didn’t know where we would find a babe in a manger…”
Eli felt a lump form in his throat as he craned to see. A boy! A baby boy lay amongst them! He couldn’t see much as he tried. Then he heard a small wail. He saw the mother lean down amongst them and she lifted a bundle wrapped in strips of cloth. His tiny, dark head of hair peered out and one arm flailed loose as she pressed him to her chest.
Eli fell back against the cold, stone wall and squeezed his eyes shut as they warmed with hot tears. A son. She had birthed a son. He sighed heavily, opened his eyes, looking at the starlit heavens that glittered through his tears and a smile broke across his face.
Someone scrambled out the door and ran straight into him.
Benjamin gasped in fright and reeled backwards. Eli grabbed his arm to steady him.
“Father! You’re here!” Benjamin face depicted his changing emotions. First shock, then confusion and then joy.
“Father, you must come!” Benjamin grabbed him by the hand, “Come and see the Christ-child!”
Eli shook his head. How could he go in?
But Benjamin persisted. Eli followed meekly, refusing to make eye contact with anyone. As he neared the crowd huddled around his manger – the place where this tiny new baby had been placed – he lifted his head to the mother. The serenity in her face reflected in her dark eyes. She smiled gently and pulled back the swaddling cloths that bound the baby in a cocoon. It was then that Eli beheld the face of His Saviour. He fell to His knees and swallowed hard. He clapped his hand to his mouth, swallowing sobs as his eyes brimmed with tears. Slowly, he reached out his shaky, burly hand and gently rested it upon the dark mop of hair. His hand covered the little boy’s head. Gently, he stroked his hair, tears coursing down his cheeks.
“Forgive me…” he whispered through shuddering breaths, “Forgive me in my unbelief.”
The mother tenderly held the sleeping baby towards Eli. Eli met her eyes, questioning her with his. She smiled warmly at him and pressed the baby into his arms. Eli cradled the tiny bundle caressing his head with his fingers. He knew, in that moment, that Yahweh saw him. That Yahweh knew him. And that Yahweh loved him. His stable was the place where He chose to bring His Son into the world. And he held the longed-for Messiah in his arms. Yahweh had been preparing his heart for a long time to receive His love and His plan to redeem. And now, as Eli beheld the face of his Saviour, he believed.
Tags: birth, Christmas, Christmas time, innkeeper, Jesus, Joseph, Mary, narrative, nativity, nativity story, story