24th December 2000
By M.T.L. EbellThere was trouble in Jerusalem. Not the on-going insurrection against the Roman authorities or their comprehensive counterattacks but trouble. And a name on everyone's lips. Muttered, mumbled, wailed or spat; Jesus, Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth.
I have come to conclude a deal and I hear the name. I am ten again.
I am ten, in a field. The cold dances through my clothing flicking my skin and I almost wish mother had not agreed. Day after day, I had begged for the night watch. She never agreed. Until today. And I was chilled and desperate. Desperate to hide it from the eyes of my father and my uncles. "Here," my brother's gruff voice, "Hold this fellow. His mother pushed him away." Into my arms came a lamb bringing with him a little warmth like a loaf newly taken from my mother's oven. He licked me and settled against my chest, sighing softly. I think he thought I was helping him. It was all right then, until the stranger came. How he came I did not know. But suddenly he was there, not of our tribe, not a neighbour. My father who had killed wolves with his bare hands and my uncles a match for any, were stunned. They shielded their eyes; they fell back. He shimmered there, and not there. He glowed. My lamb opened his eyes and looked at the stranger. He was not afraid. I was not afraid.
"Fear not," said he. A ripple ran through the flocks of sheep. They all lifted their heads. His voice was like a mother's love and a father's strength. Slowly the men looked up; listened.
I looked at the stranger and marvelled at him. My brother was tall, my father strong, but when I looked at him they were nothing. He spoke again but I didn't listen. I wanted to touch him. I came closer and closer but suddenly I felt I was whirling, flying. There was a sound so sweet and so much light that I couldn't see my stranger but a host, countless strangers. Like the birds of the morning and the swirling of the river, they sang and this time I heard the words, "Glory, God, Heaven, Peace ...." I fell down.
"Can you walk?" my brother shook me. "Can you walk? Or have I to stay here with you? I want to go."
"Can you walk?"
We walked to Bethlehem, a little hamlet. I was still dazed. We had left the sheep. We never leave the sheep.
"Didn't you hear? The Prince is born. Tonight. In Bethlehem. The angels told us."
I scrambled along, the cold long forgotten. It was now still and clear. I had my lamb with me. No angels in sight. How would we know where?
"There," said Uncle Jeb, "the star points us." And when we saw him he was not in a palace, not even in a house. He was in a stable. There was hay and the soft lowing of cows. A woman, a man and a baby. The others knelt but I wanted to see. I went closer. Could I touch Him? But I felt shy and suddenly held out my lamb. The lady smiled; the man took it from me. The baby opened his eyes. He looked at me. I stared at him.
"What is his name?"
I had not thought of Jesus for many years. I was too busy, tending my flocks, which were ten times as large as my father's had been. I was in town today to buy more. People rushed to Jerusalem for the festival, but there were other businessmen like me, any day would do for a deal. I had letters with me, and money. Holding my satchel firmly, I walked towards the city. I had to pass the turn up the hill towards the gibbets; I could see by the crowd that there would be some killings today.
Had I kept my eyes lowered I would have made it. But I looked up. And I saw in the midst of the crowd, a poor wretch carrying with him, almost crawling under it, his cross. Who was it needed his own personal cross? I bent. I stared at him. He looked at me.
"What is his name?"
This was Jesus, who had settled in Nazareth? This was that baby? I inched my way up the hill. You were supposed to be a prince!
My kingdom is not of this world. Who said that? Pushing through the crowd I noticed my hands were free. The satchel was gone but I did not care.
Have you forgotten the night I first saw you?
Have you remembered?
Whose voice was that? Then other voices came back to me. Words. All the words. Glory to God in Heaven. And on earth.... Peace.... to men.
And other words, my mother's voice. Like a lamb to slaughter they will lead him. And I looked at those eyes and thought of my lambs, my sheep, the yearlings I sold to be offered in the temple; their look as they were trussed and carried away. But Jesus. His eyes are different. I try to see more clearly. He falls. Is kicked up. The way is steeper and he looks down at where he places his feet.
I had seen those eyes in my ewes. Long ago, when I tended them myself. Lambing time. In their birthing pangs, in their suffering acceptance of the present misery, there was also hope, trust. This is what they had worked for and through their pain they would triumph. And the result? New life.
The road curved. I would not see him close again. I slipped. He turned his face. I crouched, looking at him.
This is why I was born.
And he was gone, the crowd between him and me. I walked slowly, on to
Jerusalem. There was trouble in Jerusalem, but I had hope in my heart.
I. The partridge will be retained, but the pear tree, which never produced
the cash crop forecasted, will be replaced by a plastic hanging plant,
providing considerable savings in maintenance;
Overall we can expect a substantial reduction in assorted people, fowl, animals and related expenses. Though incomplete, studies indicate that stretching deliveries over twelve days is inefficient. If we can drop ship in one day, service levels will be improved.
Regarding the lawsuit filed by the attorney's association seeking expansion to include the legal profession ("thirteen lawyers-a-suing"), a decision is pending.
Deeper cuts may be necessary in the future to remain competitive. Should that happen, the Board will request management to scrutinize the Snow White Division to see if seven dwarfs is the right number.
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