No Ordinary Lamb: A Shepherd’s Tale

I was a young boy then. It was my first night in the fields, that cold, crisp winter evening. My father woke me early that morning. I quickly rolled up my straw bed mat and placed it in the hand woven basket beside the stucco wall. From the small hook on the same wall, I pulled the warm wool tunic Mother made for me and draped it around my shoulders. As I rushed from my small back room, from the corner I grabbed the olive wood staff Father and I had been whittling together. The aroma of roasted grain and freshly baked bread permeated the air as I ran into the kitchen. Mother handed me a small bundle containing the bread and a small block of goat cheese in addition to a skin filled with water to carry to the field for Father and me. I stopped at the door to quickly lace up my leather sandals, still a bit too big for my feet, gathered my bundle and staff, and then ran to quickly catch up with Father. As we walked along the dirt road to the field, Father shared some of the secrets of his trade. “Keep your eyes on the lambs,” he said, “some of those little lambs are born for a very special purpose.” The closer we came to field the more excited I became.

We finally reached the field and Father introduced me to the other shepherds. I watched as they each led the sheep from their pens, counted them one by one, gradually inspecting each one to make sure they were healthy and whole. Eventually each of the shepherds positioned themselves throughout the field, settled down, and watched the sheep. After a while, Father called me over to him. In his arms he held a little lamb. “Adriel, keep your eyes on this lamb. He is a special lamb born for a special purpose. Make sure he grazes well and drinks plenty of water. Do not let him stray too far off or wander into any danger. Whatever you do, do not take your eyes off the lamb.” He then handed me the little lamb and I held it carefully in my arms.

I carried the little lamb to the edge of the field. I sat down beneath a small tree and ran my hands through his coarse, yet soft, pure, white wool, warming my fingers from the crisp winter air. As I stroked his silky ears they began to twitch and he let out a soft bleating, which made me chuckle to myself. He looked up at me with his small, but deep brown eyes. “He is a special lamb born for a special purpose.”  Father’s words replayed in my mind as I looked at Little Lamb. I knew deep down the purpose he was referring to. Little Lamb was among the lambs of the flock that would be taken to the Temple. He would be one of the sacrificial lambs, offered for the guilt and sins of a family he may never even meet. He must remain absolutely flawless. My heart hurt as I looked down into Little Lamb’s beady little eyes knowing what was yet to come. He never did anything to hurt anyone. He was a perfectly, innocent little lamb who didn’t deserve that kind of death. But that was the purpose for which he was destined. For now, though, he was just a lamb. I bent my head down and nuzzled his warm wooly cheek, to which he returned a kiss with his rough little tongue.

Throughout the afternoon, I kept my eyes on the lamb. He would skip through the field back and forth between his mother and me. Once a butterfly fluttered by and he chased it frivolously, baaing and bleating all the way. When he became bored with the butterfly, he returned back to me. I then hoisted him over my shoulders and walked around the field, observing the shepherds tending to the flocks.

As the sun was beginning to set, the temperature began to drop. Several of the younger shepherds began building fires for both we and the sheep to keep warm. Father leaned over to me and told me this is the time when we must be extra vigilant. “The wolves come in the night to steal the sheep. Stay close to the flock and stay alert. And remember…” Before he could finish, I interrupted, “Keep your eyes on the lamb.” He laughed and nodded, “That’s right son.”

Within an hour the sun had fully set, above us was a clear, dark, velvet sky, sprinkled with a billion diamond like stars. That night, however, there was one star far more dazzling than the rest. As I sat huddled close to the fire, Little Lamb in my lap, we both gazed, eyes wide, at this beautiful new star. All seemed so much more still than ever before. A few moments later the crisp gentle breeze billowing over the Bethlehem hillside, shifted, becoming more intense. The shrubs speckling the hillside began to rustle intensely beneath the weight of the wind. Little Lamb began to tremble and bleat in my lap, I picked him up and grabbed him close to my heart. Soon the rest of the flock began stirring together, and all the shepherds were quick to their feet to settle them down. One gust of wind swept across the hillside extinguishing all the fires we had lit. For a moment, we all stopped dead in our tracks, uneasy due to both the darkness and the silence.

All at once a warm glow appeared on the horizon. We all quickly turned to face it. Then we saw him. He was at least seven feet tall, but he wasn’t really standing, it was more like hovering. The robe he was wearing was whiter than any lamb’s wool I had ever seen.

It seemed whiter than fresh fallen snow. From his back protruded two stunning wings, which glistened like gold, but brighter still. His face was glowing. All in all he was equal parts beautiful and terrifying to look at. We couldn’t wrap our minds around what was happening. We were stunned and terrified. Then with a voice mighty and melodious, he said, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

Suddenly the sky was ablaze as a whole company of angels like the one who had just spoke to us appeared. Together in perfect harmony they sang out, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men.” In a moment, they all vanished and the star filled sky appeared once more. Our hearts racing, minds reeling, we sat there stunned, attempting to process what we had just seen, heard, and experienced. My mind flashed back to the words of the sage rabbi in our village. He taught of the prophets of old who spoke of a Promised Messiah who would save our people. Could this be who they were referring to? As I sat there attempting to sort through it all, Father’s voice snapped me back to reality; “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” Each of us stumbled to our feet, gathering our staffs, shaking our heads, still attempting to process. I was still clinching Little Lamb close to my heart. In one swift motion, I hoisted him over my shoulders and joined our unlikely, ragged, processional toward Bethlehem’s city center.

One of the shepherds was familiar with a stable outside one of the inns there in the village as he had sold lambs to the keeper before. He led us to the stable where the special star seemed to be perfectly gleaming directly above. We walked timidly toward the entrance where a dim fire was the only light illuminating the inside of the small stable. A large ox stood in the corner feeding in a small trough. A donkey was roped in a stall to the right. Chickens pecked the ground near the entrance. But there, smack dab in the middle of the hay and the animals, there they were. The young couple looking worn from the journey and the birth, yet jubilant and joyful as they looked into the little wooden manger.

The other shepherds stopped short at the door, but I pushed through to see past them, Father right behind me, Little Lamb still on my shoulders. I stood about a foot away from the manger, peered in, and there He was. I had younger brothers and sisters, so I had seen newborn babies before, but something was different about this baby. My heart felt so many different things when I saw this baby. My heart rejoiced when I saw this baby. I loved this baby. I was grateful for this baby. I felt somehow indebted to this baby. I looked up and met the gaze of his mother. She didn’t say anything, but her eyes seemed to. Tears began to well in my eyes as I looked at her and back at her baby. Little Lamb began to bleat. I pulled him from my shoulders, back into my arms, and held him close to my heart.  I nuzzled my head once more into Little Lamb’s warm wooly head as a tear rolled down my cheek. Father then leaned in and whispered in my ear, “Keep your eyes on the Lamb. He was born for a very special purpose.” This was no ordinary lamb.

Now both I and Little Lamb are fully grown and stand here amidst the chaos of the Jerusalem city center at Passover. I have brought several lambs to be used for the sacrifices, but in my journey to the Temple I have been stopped. A vicious mob has thronged the streets, blocking all progress. Over the heads of the onlookers, I see the glint of the sun off Roman centurion helmets. The deafening crack of whips and heart wrenching cries of agony mingle amidst the insults of the crowd. I finally find a break in the crowd, and see what the source of activity is. A man mangled beneath the weight of the heavy, wooden cross he carries and the whips that slice into his skin is being led to that dreaded hill where he would soon be crucified. Something within urged me on to follow in pursuit, rather than turn away.

The dreadful processional finally reached the hilltop. The mangled man was thrown down upon the cross. Nails are pierced into his wrists and ankles, resulting in blood curdling screams of agony. He is then hoisted into the air for all to see. A woman pushes her way through the onlookers to the foot of the cross, tears streaming down her face, as she reaches out for the man on the cross. My heart feels as if it is being ripped from my chest as I witness her sheer agony. As I see the longing in her eyes, I am hit with a paralyzing realization. I know those eyes. I know this woman. It can’t be. Deep within me, I let loose a cry unlike any I had ever known. This was no ordinary man. As I looked up to the cross, the words of my Father again echoed in my mind, “Keep your eyes on the Lamb. He was born for a very special purpose.” He was no ordinary Lamb.