Old Micah sat in the sun, a pile of wood shavings spilling over his sandal-shod feet. He turned a small figure in his hand, shaping and smoothing it as he hummed softly. He smiled as voices and laughter interrupted his song.
“Come, look! Old Micah’s carving!” A curly-headed boy bounced up to Micah’s knee. “Is it another lamb, Micah?”
“Yes, Philip, it’s always a lamb.” laughed Micah. “You know that’s all old Micah ever carves! Sit down, children.” Micah motioned to the grass around his bench. “What have you been doing this fine day?”
“I’ve been playing with my new baby sister,” crooned Elisabeth. “She’s beautiful. Mama says she’s the most remarkable baby in all Israel!”
“I’m sure she is…” Micah began.
“Tell us a story, sir. Please?” It was Reuben with the dark eyes. He looked up at the shelf behind Old Micah’s head. Many lambs were there. Each was carved with Micah’s sure hand and was either sleeping sweetly or stood with head raised to the sky. Reuben took one from the shelf and cradled it in his hand.
“Have you chosen your lamb yet, my son?” asked Micah.
“Almost.” answered Reuben. “Almost. Could you please tell us about him, Micah?”
“The very first one, Micah! The first one!” Philip held out his hand. “This is the lamb I chose. It’s just right!”
Micah smiled and began his story.
“The story of God’s precious Lamb begins long ago when I was a small boy. Like you, Philip. My mother and father had died of the plague and the innkeeper, Eli and his wife, Elisabeth, had taken me in. They took me on as stable boy, but treated me as though I was the son they never had. Eli was a good man and Elisabeth became a wonderful mother to me. I had shoes on my feet, clothes to wear and food to eat. In return, I did all I could to help out; especially at times when the inn was extra busy.
And when my story begins was just such a time! Everyone whose family could be traced to Bethlehem had come back to be counted because the Caesar in Rome had commanded it. I’ve never seen a town so busy! People kept coming from everywhere. Soon, the rooms were full and I was all but run off my feet trying to keep up with errands and caring for the animals.
One evening when the crowd had settled and the guests were inside at their meal, I went out to sweep the courtyard. I saw a man enter, leading a donkey. He stepped up to the door and knocked. I was about to tell him it was no use when Eli came to the door.
“I’m sorry,” I heard him say. “We have no more rooms to rent. The whole town is overflowing.
“Please sir,” said the man. “We’ve traveled so far and my wife must have a place to rest. I think her child will be born before the night is over.”
“I felt sorry for Eli, for I knew how big his heart was. I heard him say, “Wait. It isn’t much, but you are welcome to sleep in the stable. I won’t charge you for it and there is fodder for your donkey.” He motioned me over to them. “Young Micah here will show you where and help you get settled.”
They followed me to the cave where we kept the cattle and pack animals. I cleared out a stall and threw down fresh straw for their bed. The only light was the moon shining into the entrance and the shadows were deep in the stall. I asked the man if he would like a lantern from the inn.
“That would be very kind of you, Micah.” said the man. “Thank you for your help. My name is Joseph and this is my wife, Mary.”
I hadn’t really looked at the woman before, but now I saw how tired and pale she was. She smiled at me, murmured her own thank you, then suddenly leaned heavily on her husband’s arm. “Joseph,” she sighed, “my time is so near!”
“I’ll be right back!” I cried, and ran for the inn. I told Elisabeth what was happening and asked for a lantern.
“Oh, the poor dear!” she said, and gathered up some cloths, a lantern and a water jug. “Hurry now; fill the jug from the rain barrel. It will be warmer. Tell the woman I’ll try to check on her later.”
I filled the jug and moved as quickly as I could, trying not to spill the water. Shadows chased one another as lantern light touchedd the path, then the cave. Joseph rose to meet me as I came in, smiling his thanks. He took the cloths and water and I hung the lantern high, then stepped back trying not to intrude.
Suddenly, I heard a soft cry. His first cry, little ones, and I was there! I couldn’t help but look, for my heart was filled with joy and the snug stable seemed full of the light of many lanterns! Joseph had laid the babe in Mary’s arms and she used one of the cloths I’d brought to dry him. I didn’t know I had crept so close until Mary looked up at me and smiled. So much joy and wonder and sadness were mixed up in that smile! A cow lowed softly in the darkness and a baby lamb nudged the back of my knee. The lantern glow was a warm circle around us all.
I had never seen a baby born before, and the miracle of his newness was a wonder to a child of six. All at once I thought, ‘I shouldn’t be here! This is not my family.’ But before I could leave, Joseph looked up and asked. “Micah, is there a feed box we could use as a bed for our son?”
“Oh, yes, sir!” And I rant o find one. With a switch of hay I dusted it out and put an armload of the same sweet hay inside. When it was ready, Joseph took a length of swaddling cloth from their pack and handed it to Mary. She wrapped the little one in the soft cloth, kissed his softly and laid him in the box beside her. She and Joseph looked at him for a long time as he lay there sleeping. They would look at him and each other in wonder, and they didn’t seem to mind if I was there. Joseph even put his arm around me and I almost felt as if they were my family and this sweet one my brother.
“He’s come,” Mary said softly, “Emmanuel has come.”
“Please, Sir,” I whispered, “could I get you some food?”
“We have no need of food tonight, little one,” he said, “but thank you, anyway.”
I moved away then, and leaving the cave, I started back up the path. I saw figures moving toward me and I heard the bleating of sheep. Crooked staves marked them as shepherds. “Sirs,” I tried to turn them aside. “We’re full for the night and…”
The one nearest me spoke, “We are looking for the Christ Child, the Savior, is he here?”
Another spoke, “We’ve seen angels! They told us to come!”
“Christ Child? Angels?” I stammered, “What do you mean?
“Just tell me, lad, if there is a newborn child within,” the first shepherd asked kindly.
“Yes, sir, just born tonight, but…”
“Thank you! We must worship him!” And they hurried by me into the cave.
All thought of sleep and weariness fell away as I ran after them. I will never forget what I saw then. All four shepherds were kneeling before the little family, and Joseph was holding the baby for them to see. He seemed strangely calm and not at all surprised that rough men smelling of sheep and the night fields were worshiping his new son. One of the shepherds was speaking.
“We were terrified by the angel! But he said, ‘Fear not, for I bring you wonderful news! Today a Savior ahs been born to you. Christ the Lord has been born in David’s city.’ Then that angel was joined by a great crowd of angels. They sang of glory to God and Peace to men of earth. The angel told us we would find the child wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. We came to the edge of town and saw the light down here…”
The shepherd’s voice trailed off as he continued to gaze at the baby. The little one’s eyes were open and he stretched and yawned. His tiny hand closed over Joseph’s finger. I realized I was kneeling also and it did not seem at all strange to me. It was a though the angels they had seen were all around us and the whole world was praising this precious little baby.
“Did you get o hold him, Micah?” cried Elisabeth. “Did you get to feel how soft he was and how good he smelled?”
“Not that night,” sighed Micah, “but later I did.”