Rather than share a regular weekly devotional, I thought I would share a Christmas short-story that I wrote last week. It is my hope that you would find something devotional in it.
The young shepherd girl sat against a tree in the wide green pasture. Her uncles and cousins were singing with each other and strumming their instruments while the sheep ate grass and clover under the orange ribbons of sunset. It was a peaceful evening. Ruth had never been out with the flocks at night and, despite this peaceful atmosphere, she was a little nervous. Her uncles often told stories about wolves or bears coming out from the woods to steal sheep; they would wave their staffs about dramatically and tell how they clubbed the predator right on the snout and it darted away as fast as lightning. As she contemplated the stories, her head resting against the tree, she saw the stars grow to spread across the night sky as the sun finally sank behind the hills of their village. She clutched her own newly carved staff and assured herself, “I’m every bit as capable of watching my sheep.”
While the older shepherds wandered around, it seemed that they were leading their sheep further up the hill and into the neighboring pastures. Ruth realized that she had better get up and follow them before they got too far. As she collected herself she noticed that one of the unblemished lambs, those considered to be quite valuable, had wandered past the tree while she was resting and was now headed down the hill into a patch of brambles. Ruth scrambled down the hill, losing her scarf and her staff in the process. She tripped on her tunic and rolled several times before she finally skidded to a halt. She stood up and brushed off all the dirt and grass she gathered in her tumult and scanned the area. The brambles were only a little ways away, so she ran toward them, leaving her scarf and staff in her haste. When she got to the brambles there was no sign of the lamb. “Now what will they say? If only I had been more attentive. If only I hadn’t rested under that tree!”
Franticly she rushed around the brambles and went further along the side of the adjacent hill. She listened intently hoping that she would hear something, but all she heard was the sound of singing off in the distance. She figured it was her family. “How could I let them down? What will I tell them?” She shook her head deciding that she better not sulk, but instead go find her family and then they could search together.
Seeing how it hadn’t been an awful long time, Ruth climbed back up the hill and expected to see flocks off on a nearby pasture where her uncles instructed they would normally spend most of the night. She had heard the faint sound of singing and assumed they must still be in their regular fields. However, the further she went the more anxious she got. She thought she would at least see a couple dozen lying around or grazing while the rest were led over to the next hill, but it was as if they all just vanished. No sheep and no shepherds as far as she could see. At that point Ruth was ready to panic. Not only had she lost an important lamb, but now her family left her alone in a field in the middle of the night. She was losing hope in her ability to handle the situation. She resolved to go after the sheep; if nothing else she would not fail to find her lamb.
Since she knew the lamb had passed through the brambles she figured it must have gone further down the hill into village. Their sheep were use to being led toward the village so maybe the lamb noticed none of the other sheep were around and headed in that direction. She quickened her pace.
The stars brightened the sky as she made her way to the streets. She saw oil lamps in each window that helped cast a glow all through the place. People were heard having all sorts of conversations in their homes and she wondered how it could be so busy even at this late hour? It was going to be very difficult to find the lamb. Ruth, in her anxiousness, began to worry that someone could have made off with it since it was unblemished and therefore of great value. Tears were welling in her eyes as she passed through the alleys, walking faster and faster. “Tonight of all nights? The town is crowded and the animals are everywhere. Tonight of all nights… what am I going to do?”
Ruth finally slowed to a stop. She leaned against the dry brick wall and sat with her head in her hands. Because of the atmosphere of the evening and the hustle and bustle that had finally been winding down it would have been a strange sight to see a young girl curled up against an alley wall sobbing. But someone took notice of her and came to try and help. “It may be none of my business, but are you alright?” Ruth looked up with a reddened face. “My name is Moses. What is yours?”
“I am Ruth, and I have no idea what I am doing.” She apologized for her shortened breath that was causing her to stutter. She never let herself get like this, especially in public. But Moses didn’t seem to mind.
He helped her up and continued. “What has happened that brought you to sit here sobbing in the middle of the street?”
“I have lost my lamb. I was up there,” she pointed past the buildings into the fields, “tending flocks with my uncles when I noticed a lamb had wandered off. I couldn’t find it anywhere so I thought it might have passed through the village. It is my first night shepherding and look what has happened.”
“Would it be alright if I were to help you search for the lost sheep?”
“You would do that?” Her eyes lit up at the prospect of help as she simultaneously dried her face with her sleeve.
“Of course I would!” Moses smiled at her and motioned toward the street.
The two immediately walked back through the glowing street toward the pastures. They talked of where each of them thought the lamb might have gone. Together, the two spent over an hour looking atop the hills and crawling around large stones and bramble patches. Moses even ran through the nearby creek to see if he could frighten any sheep that might have fallen asleep on the banks. He was determined to make sure Ruth wouldn’t lose hope in what he now considered to be their shared quest.
After all that time, as the two became tired, Ruth was no less upset. “We’ve looked everywhere. Maybe a wolf took off with that poor lamb.”
“No, I wont believe that. Come on Ruth! We still should check the village again. Now maybe the people have gone to bed it will be easier to check the streets.”
Since there was nothing left for her she went along with his plan. At least he was by her side. And maybe he was right. At least she could tell her uncles the next morning that she really did search high and low for the lamb.
As they passed through the way leading into the village they saw an elderly man sitting under a tree with a small staff. Ruth noticed right away that the staff looked familiar. It was hers. She whispered to Moses as they got closer that she thought so. It was somewhat odd that he would be sitting there with a staff and no flock of animals near him. Moses was going to say something to him about the staff when the man suddenly looked right at them.
“What are the two of you doing out here?” He questioned them.
Moses was quick to answer, “my friend has lost a lamb and I am helping her to find it.”
“I see that you must be the one who lost this staff, perhaps you would like it back?” He reached out to them, offering the shepherd’s staff so that they would come closer.
Ruth took it in her hand and was speechless. She looked back at him and after a short pause finally responded. “How did you find this? Have you seen my lamb?”
“I saw it as I took an evening walk among the fields. No one was around so I figured I would hold on to it until someone passed through who had need of it.”
Moses spoke up again, “And as you took your walk…did you happen to see a lamb wandering on all alone?”
“Well, as it would happen, I did see a beautiful lamb dancing through the field headed toward the village.” The elderly man raised his arm and pointed to the far end of the village where many of the cattle were kept.
“Oh thank you, thank you. You have no idea what a relief it is just to hear nothing has harmed it since I last saw it last.” Ruth spoke quickly and grabbed at Moses’ arm to lead him to the village again.
They made their way through the grassy area behind the bordering walls. The streets were somewhat quieter now, but Ruth didn’t want to wake any animals that may be sleeping against the buildings. Moses pointed toward a passageway into the next block. As they entered the village they smelled the leftover aromas of bread and vegetables. But not even the thought of food entered her mind as Ruth worried over how she would explain herself if she was unable to find the lost lamb.
By the time the two reached the other end of the rectangular shaped town they still weren’t exactly sure what to be looking for. Would the little sheep be in someone’s home? Would it be asleep in the street? They paced around and noticed a man sitting on a stoop just outside of a home on the corner. He sat wide-awake possibly having a time of evening prayer. Moses approached him.
“Have you, by any chance, seen a sheep wandering through here? We were told that one might have passed this way.”
“I haven’t paid much attention to anything passing through here. This whole place is filled with all sorts of people and animals visiting from all over. I even have a stable in the back that people are using for lodging. But if you are looking for sheep, a number of shepherds just came through here a few hours ago and maybe they found your missing lamb. They’re still back there, if you want to talk to them.”
All at once Ruth was completely distraught. She knew those shepherds had to be her uncles and cousins. She would have to explain to them how she lost the sheep and hadn’t followed after them when they came all the way over here. “What are they going to say to me? I’ll never be trusted again. Moses, please, what am I going to say?”
He looked at her with an compassionate smile, “Ruth, surely they will forgive you. How could they have left you all alone on your very first night watch?”
She straightened her posture, composing herself for what she knew would be ridicule and interrogation. She took a moment to look at Moses, assuring herself that this new friend of hers would support her, and she took the first step through the doorway that led behind the wall to the stable area.
A light was emanating from the small wooden stable and as her eyes adjusted she realized that there were dozens of sheep all around the adjoining field. And there among the animals she saw her family members all facing the strange light. And the song that she heard before, she heard voices singing it again.
“What kind of a lamp is that,” she asked Moses. But he was too busy staring at the stable to notice anything else.
Even through the marvelous glow her stomach was turned over and her throat was growing sore as if she was ready to bawl all over again. She knew she couldn’t face them like this, all of them at once. But with Moses next to her she kept her pace.
Suddenly she realized that not all those around the stable were her family. She saw people that looked almost like they were radiating light, but it wasn’t as bright as the lamp that everyone was crowding around. She didn’t know what was going on but it all just made her stomach grow that much heavier.
She was now close enough to her uncles that she had no choice but to speak. Her voice came out shaky and almost in a whisper, “I lost you in the fields.” Tears rose in her eyes as she began to admit her failure. “I lost my lamb.” And at that she began to weep, but even through her tears she tried to tell them, “I have been searching…”
Her uncles, the shepherds, turned to her, but there was not one single frown. They didn’t even speak. They looked at her with smiles of a kind she had never seen. The shepherd girl took confused steps closer to the men and realized Moses had stopped. She turned to look at him, trying to hold on to his encouragement, but he stood there without even a glance in her direction. Ruth hesitated, but then her oldest uncle nodded to her as he took a step to the side. He parted the way so that she could enter the stable and see what was holding all of their rapt attention.
There in the center of the stable she saw her white lamb curled up and peacefully sleeping against a feeding trough. That was where the strange light had come. An infant was wrapped and lying there fast asleep, but glowing bright. She couldn’t control herself at the sight of her lamb.
She turned and looked to her uncles; they were still smiling and they showed no frustrations or anger toward her at all, only peace. The singing continued and then she recognized that all those other people surrounding the stable, they were the ones who had singing all along. A man came forward from where her uncle had just led her through the crowd. His voice was that of the elderly man, but now he was glowing with light. He pointed his arm toward the trough and spoke with love in his voice.
“Ruth, there was never any need to worry. The Savior has found your lost sheep.”
And her eyes filled with joy as she fell to the ground, burying her face in the soft wool of her precious lamb.
Pastor Chris Osterbrock