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God & Me - Stories

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Ten-year-old Micah was running as fast as his legs could move. Just a short distance behind him was the merchant from whom he had stolen a knife, and the merchant was determined to catch the young thief. The knife was long, with a short handle, and made running awkward and dangerous, but Micah had a pretty good head start, or the story might have been quite different. The further they ran, the more winded and tired the man got, and the distance between them began to grow. When Micah reached the Essene Gate, he looked back and saw the merchant had stopped two blocks earlier and was walking back toward his store. Micah was glad he could catch his breath, but didn’t want to take a chance that the man might come after him again, so he started trotting along the road leading south.

He didn’t know where the road would lead him, but Micah knew he had to get out of Jerusalem. Finally, looking to his right, he saw a large rock a short distance from the road, he walked over to it and found shade on the west side of the rock. There he sat down, wiped the sweat from his face, and when he had completely caught his breath, began to think about what he would do next. Everything Micah owned was in his sackcloth. Putting his new knife into it and pulling out a small loaf of stolen bread, he began eating. He couldn’t go back to Jerusalem, he had stolen from too many people there. His father died when he was three, and he barely remembered him. His mother died when he was eight, and the uncle who let him live in his house kicked had him out six months ago. He was an only child, and a lonely child. The other kids told their parents stories about him, some of which were true. Micah learned to survive by sleeping in stables and stealing whatever he needed.

Since most of his shade was now gone, Micah figured it must be getting close to noon, so he decided to follow the road to wherever it would lead him. Soon he could see the outline of a village, so feeling hungry, he started thinking about how he could get some food. Passing a large field without walls he saw a large flock of sheep grazing on the dry grass, and he counted eight shepherds watching them. One of the shepherds, only a little older than Micah was slowly walking parallel to the road, and close to him, so Micah walked over and asked him whom the sheep belonged to. “They belong to men in the village,” the boy replied.

Pointing to the village, Micah asked, “What village is it?”

“That is Bethlehem, also known as the city of David,” replied the boy. “I guess you are not from around here,” he added. “My name is Jacob.”

“I’m Micah, and I’m from Jerusalem,” Micah answered. “But I don’t want to live there any more, the people are not friendly.”

“Did you run away from your parents?” Jacob asked.

“No, they are both gone,” Micah said. “I’m on my own.”

“Some of us are on our own too,” Jacob said.

“Do you get paid for shepherding?” Micah asked. “Not much, Jacob replied, “but enough to survive. You have to add some sheep to the flock to become one of us. We all were shepherding small flocks for different men in the town, and Daniel, our leader, came up with the idea of joining our flocks, working together and making our jobs easier. That’s Daniel coming this way now. You can ask him about joining us.”

The rest of the shepherds looked like teenagers. Daniel looked like an adult.

As Daniel walked up, Jacob said, “Hey Daniel, this kid thinks he wants to join us. I told him he has to bring some sheep to watch if he’s going to join us, but he’s from Jerusalem and has nothing to offer us. What do you think?”

Turning to Micah, Daniel asked, “So you want to be a shepherd? It isn’t as easy as it looks right now. It is long days and longer nights when we would rather be sleeping, but we have to stay awake. Sometimes it is really cold at night. Sometimes we have to fight to protect our sheep. And sheep are dirty and smell awful – not a job for a city kid.”

“I don’t want the job because it looks easy,” Micah answered. “I want it because I like to eat and I want a place to sleep.”

“Most of the time when it is warm we sleep out in the fields with the sheep.” Jacob answered, and when it is cold, we sleep outdoors too, just inside the door of a sheepfold.”

“I can do that, Micah answered. For the last six months I’ve mostly slept in stables and sheepfolds.”

“You don’t have a staff. All shepherds need a staff.” Daniel said.

“I’ll make myself a staff,” Micah said.

“You really do want this job, don’t you,” Daniel replied. OK, you go make yourself a staff, come back, and we’ll see. But know that the staff is used to protect the sheep from animals and thieves, so you have to show me you can use it for fighting. Be sure that it won’t break in a fight.”

“Thank you,” Micah said.

“Don’t thank me yet, Daniel replied. “When you return, if you return with a staff, you will have to show us you can use it. Then we will decide.”

Micah turned and started trotting up the road to an Acacia tree that he saw earlier. Taking his new knife out of his sackcloth, he climbed the tree high enough that he could get his hands all the way around the branches. Choosing a straight branch that he guessed was about twice as long as his own height, he began hacking it near the trunk. When it fell to the ground, Micah threw his knife down next to it, climbed down and began cleaning smaller branches from it. Standing it up, he saw that just a bit above his head, the branch split into two smaller branches, forming a Y, so he trimmed them about six inches from the split. Returning his knife to his sackcloth, he grabbed his new staff and walked back to the field of sheep.

When he arrived, Jacob met him and said, “That’s the strangest staff I’ve ever seen. I hope Daniel doesn’t laugh and turn you away when he sees it.” Then Jacob called Daniel.

Daniel came over and using the bottom of his staff, drew a square on the ground about 20 feet on each side. He called three of the other shepherds over, and posted Jacob and the other shepherds at each corner as line judges. Then he said, “Micah and I will fight. If either of us steps across your line, you are to come over and hit him with your staff four times. Understand?”

“Yes, we do,” they replied eagerly. “Micah, this is going to hurt!” Jacob said.

“I’m supposed to fight you?” Micah asked.

“Yes, if you still want to be a shepherd, Daniel said smiling. “Step into the square if you dare.”

Micah grabbed his new staff with both hands, swallowed hard and stepped into the square. Daniel waited. As Micah slowly approached, Daniel suddenly swung his staff from right to left. Micah ducked and raised his staff, and Daniel’s staff glanced off of it. As Daniel’s staff swung on by, Micah jerked his left hand forward, and his right hand back and struck Daniel a blow to his ribs. “Nice surprise!” Daniel exclaimed. “The boy has fight.” Now Daniel grabbed his staff with both hands and started toward Micah. Not wanting to back out of the square, Micah moved to his left and two of Daniel’s blows, one from each side, missed him. But when he raised his staff to ward off a third blow coming straight down, Daniel’s staff hit Micah’s hand right across his knuckles.

“Ahhhh!” Micah yelled, letting the staff fall from his right hand because he couldn’t hang on. Swinging his staff with his left hand, he missed as Daniel stepped back, but then, swinging too hard, he was off balance, and the next thing Micah saw was the lightning from Daniel’s blow to his head. Micah fell to the ground and didn’t move for about a minute. Then he heard the shepherds laughing, and when he opened his eyes, he saw them standing, still inside the square, not looking at him. Still holding his staff with his left hand, he grabbed it with his right hand and jumping to his feet he aimed the top of his Y staff at Daniel’s neck and rushed him. Catching him by surprise, he drove the Y of his staff onto Daniel’s throat, and pushed him outside the square. Then he backed off.

To his surprise, he heard Daniel say, “All right, shepherds, now you all get to hit me. Who’s first?” When all four had hit him with their staff, Daniel turned and said “Micah, I welcome you into the brotherhood of shepherds. You have proven yourself worthy. It is now time for us to count the sheep.”

As they all turned back toward the sheep, Jacob explained, “Before it gets dark we count all the sheep so if any is missing we still have enough light left to find it.” Micah watched as the shepherds separated the sheep into groups and counted. It seemed to be taking longer than it should, but he waited. Finally he heard Daniel say, “One is missing. Jacob you go north, Seth you go south, James, go east and Micah go west. Micah, you’ve not done this before, so start going straight west to the trees, then go south, turn west again, and then north, always keeping your eyes toward the west. Sheep normally don’t run, they just walk away, so if you don’t find it within three passes up and back, come back here. Now go.

Micah set out running west, then south as Daniel instructed. Turning to head north again after his second sweep, he heard the barking of dogs, so he ran toward the sounds. In the twilight he saw three wild dogs chasing a sheep. Now running faster he saw one of the dogs grab the back of the sheep’s neck, slowing the sheep down to a walk. The two other dogs were running toward the sheep to kill it when Micah arrived, swinging his staff. The first swing knocked a dog to the ground. The second one sent the second dog flying and yelping. The third dog still had the sheep’s neck in its mouth so Micah swung his staff down onto the dog’s head just as Daniel had done to him. Sure enough the dog let go and dropped to the ground. Frightened, the dazed sheep stood shaking. Micah looked closely at the sheep’s neck and found no wounds, just one exhausted lamb. Since this lamb was not full-grown, he was able to lift it up onto his shoulders, then holding onto to its two right legs, he picked up his staff with his left hand and started walking back to the flock.

As he approached the field of sheep, Micah saw that the shepherds had built a fire near the road in his absence, and the sheep were in a large group closer to the center of the field with two of the shepherds slowly circling around them. Most of the sheep were already lying down. As he approached the fire, the shepherds cheered him. Daniel took the lamb off his shoulders and walked it over to the flock. The shepherds were eating roast chicken and a vegetable stew sent to them by one of the flock owners in Bethlehem. “You deserve the biggest helping of food, Micah, you proved yourself to be a good shepherd,” Jacob exclaimed.

“Enjoy your dinner,” Daniel added, “When you finish, you and Jacob can begin circling the flock so those guys can eat too. You get the first watch tonight. After 10 slow circles around the flock, you come in and wake up Seth and James. They get the second watch. Cephas and I get the third watch, and we’ll wake up two more for the dawn watch.”

When he finished eating, Micah and Jacob walked over to the flock to start their watch. Walking by the shepherds on his fourth time around he noticed they were all sound asleep.
Four more times around the flock, as Micah walked between the sheep and the dying fire, the area just in front of him snapped from dark to brilliant light, terrifying Micah. Reflexively he covered his eyes with his hand, then as he slowly pulled his hand away he saw the light wasn’t shining on someone, it was light as bright as lightning coming through the skin of a brilliant being. Then he heard, the being say, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Micah turned to look at the other shepherds. They were equally panicked, jumping up from sleep, trying to cope with something never previously experienced.

Immediately, the whole field lit up with great light as a large crowd of lightning-bright beings appeared, praising God and shouting in unison, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” The sound of their praise sounded more like harmonious music than shouts or cheers.

Then, as suddenly as they appeared, they all rose straight up toward the stars and disappeared. Micah looked around. With all the light and shouts and sound, he expected the sheep to be running away frantically in all directions, but they were all where they had been, still asleep.

“We were visited by angels,” Daniel said in awe.

“We should go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about,” Jacob suggested.

“Yes,” Daniel agreed. “Seth, you and James start your watch now. The rest of us will go to Bethlehem immediately.” The shepherds started running toward Bethlehem. As they arrived at the edge of the village, Jacob said, “I think I know where this baby might be. Follow me.” After a row of houses, they turned right and Jacob stopped in front of the second house on his right, the rest of the shepherds right behind him. Jacob knocked and when a man opened the door, he asked, “Is there a new baby in this house?” “Yes, come in, all of you,” the man said, smiling.

There he was, the Savior Messiah, wrapped in cloths, lying in a manger. The shepherds silently walked by peeking to see the baby’s face. As Micah took his turn to peek, the baby opened his eyes, looked right into Micah’s eyes, and closed them again. Micah felt that look right down into his soul. He had seen the Savior and something changed in his soul.

Family Discussion Questions

A Field of Sheep

This story is fictional, based on Dr. Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth in Luke 2:8-17.

Q. What words did you hear in the story that you didn’t know?

A. Give your children the meaning of each word they remember but can’t define.

Q. At the beginning of the story, if you were a kid in Jerusalem, what would you want to ask or say to Micah?

A. Whatever your child answers, listen for what his or her concerns about Micah might be.

Q. Has anyone challenged you or dared you to do something you don’t think you can do successfully? If so, please tell us about it.

A. Much of life is about challenges. The best challenges are challenges by parents and teachers to learn something or try something important. This might be a good time to talk about the strength to decline or say “no” to a dare.

Q. Have you ever been terrified by something surprising and unexpected, like a very loud noise or an explosion?

A. Give your child an opportunity to talk about a terrifying experience, allowing it to be terrifying even though you think they may be exaggerating or inventing an experience.

Q. Have you looked briefly into someone’s eyes, and felt recognized or loved? Can you tell us about it?

A. Eye connection (a mother gazing into a baby’s eyes is called “attunement,” and is, along with touch, the beginning of bonding. It is important for parents to attune with each other, then with their kids, not just babies but all the way to adulthood. If your kids cannot hold your gaze at all, they may be experiencing fear, guilt, shame, anxiety – almost anything but love and connection. If so, practice gazing into your child’s eyes when you are feeling warmth, love and approval. Your eyes will show your feelings even if your child can’t describe them.

Q. Why do you think God would announce the birth of Baby Jesus first to a group of shepherds rather than kings or priests?

A. Remember the angel’s words, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Messiah, the Lord.”? Maybe kings and priests would not have been ready to receive the good news and spread it. Maybe also bringing the good news of great joy to shepherds demonstrated his love and concern for very ordinary people as much as for important people.

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Copyright © 2015 by Dr. Rex Johnson
All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used with author’s permission.