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Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Shepherd

PLEASE READ FIRST: The following is an excerpt from a book of short stories called Perspectives. At the bottom of this post, you will have the chance to purchase this entire short story for a small fee, as well as The Incarnation in its entirety. And just in case you're wondering, purchasing these short stories helps feed my kids!! LOL

© 2010. J. Chad Barrett, Sr. All Rights Reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without permission
in writing from the author, except in the case of brief quotations
embodied in critical articles or reviews.

It must have been the cool air that woke me up. It was the third watch of the night, and I was the only one awake. The sounds of the night echoed in my waking mind. The silence of sleeping sheep, the snoring of the other shepherds—all was well. All was calm. I loved moments like this. So peaceful—I felt like I could float on clouds with no worry of falling.

Lying on my pallet, I could feel the wind barely blowing, and I could see the tops of the field grass gently moving to its command. I could faintly hear the bristling of the nearby brook, and I became thirsty for its cool, refreshing water. Trying not to wake my friends, I carefully rose to my feet and made my way outside the circle toward the brook. My body felt tired and sleepy, but my mind wanted to stay alert. It was times like these when I would sneak off during the night, climb on top of a large rock, lie on my back, and look up into the big, black sky. I have done this many nights—letting my mind wander from star to star.

In my mind’s eye I could fly into the vast blackness, past constellations and shooting stars. I would close my eyes and dream of flying so fast and so far that I would finally approach heaven’s door—where dwelt the Dream Maker, Himself. I would dream of landing gently on His front step, and the great door would open. I would walk through a large golden corridor and into a magnificent arena of every color and blazing light and wonder. It appeared as if the walls of the arena were made of light and color. In the middle of it all was the throne. And on the throne sat He—Elohim, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

As my mind would wander, I would walk to the side of His throne, not feeling worthy enough to approach the front. He was too bright for my eyes to gaze upon, so I would cover my face with my hands, and I could see through them the color and light being thrown from the center of the arena. I could hear deep sounds, vibrating and ricocheting off the walls of color and light. I could faintly make out a figure like no other. His head was like fire, but His eyes were even brighter. As my dream always went, His head would turn toward me and His flaming eyes would begin to pierce right through me. I could feel my heart pounding with excitement and anticipation of something marvelous. Something celestial—something supernatural was about to occur. Through my hands, I could see all this. Then the Dream Maker would open His mouth as if to speak, but my dream would end.

It is times like these when my mind would wander so far, but not this night. In fact, I had not had this dream for the past week. Something was changing. Something was growing. I was sad that I couldn’t dream of this flight, but I was growing mysteriously anxious for something I knew not.

Drinking the cool water from the brook made the rest of my body wake up. My hands were cold from lapping the water to my mouth. I stood to my feet and looked back toward the circle of sheep surrounded by my fellow shepherds. It always amazed me how we shepherds can fall in such love with animals that smelled as bad as these. But we would give our very lives for these sheep. We had named each one.

My father used to tell me being a shepherd was the lowest job on earth, yet the most meaningful. No one could understand the overwhelming emotions had by a shepherd as he watched the birth of a lamb. The lamb’s mother cherished him, nurtured him, protected him, and caressed him. She helped him learn to walk until he could run on his own. And we, shepherds, would watch these little lambs grow to become fully grown sheep, providing for their own little lambs. And we were the ones to lead them to green grasses and gentle waters.

We nurtured the nurturers. We provided for the providers. We protected the protectors. They knew us and loved us, because we loved them.

As I walked back toward the circle, I pondered these things in my mind. I thought of the stories told of how Elohim led my ancestors out of Egypt and, eventually, to the green grasses and the still waters. I remembered the stories of King David as a young shepherd boy and heard his poems read at our gatherings. Oh, how he loved the Lord, Adonai. To think that he sat underneath these same stars, his mind’s wanderings making their way to the writings we cherish today, is thrilling to me. I laid back down on my pallet, closing my eyes, trying to fall back into my dreams.

Morning came quickly. The breakfast, the daily washing, and the first guard had been accomplished, but not by me. I overslept again. My best friend confronted me with a very familiar question.

“The dreamer finally awakes?” His smirk was sarcastic, but pleasing. The two of us grew up together, playing in these same fields and woods. “You were up during the night, again, weren’t you?” He said with one eyebrow raised.

Tying my rolled pallet together, I responded, “The tax farmers count. The sowers sow. But dreamers dream, my brother. I am what I am. Can’t change that.”

“You definitely are what you are! But you need your rest. Your eyes are like crimson.”

I finished tying my pallet closed, sat there for a moment, then shared my concern, “But something is not right. I can’t dream anymore. My heart is afraid.”

“Afraid of what? Are you talking about your dream of Adonai and His grand arena?”

“Yes. And I don’t know what I fear. I feel something is coming for me.”

“Something is coming?”

I can see concern on my friend’s face. He must think I have gone mad.

“My friend, you do really need your sleep.” At that, I rose to join the others in the daily duties of shepherding.

This day was not unlike any other day. The same chores done. The same games played. But something deep inside me—something unusual—kept nagging at me. I was anxious, and I didn’t know why. It was like something was coming, and I felt I needed to go hide. Something great and terrible and mighty was fast coming my way. I couldn’t eat during this day. The trouble I felt robbed me of my hunger. My fellow shepherds sought to comfort me, knowing that if a shepherd loses his health, he could easily lose his life. I continued, though, tending to our flock underneath the mid-afternoon’s blazing sun.

The long day was finally nearing its end. We had crossed over a lot of land, and our feet were sore and dirty—crusted with dried mud. One of my friends built a nice fire, and all of us simply stared at its glowing flames.

There’s something about a camp fire that makes a person settle. We were tired of talking, tired of walking, and just wanted to sit near the warmth of the fire. The cracking and popping were like rhythms that soothed and calmed our weary bodies. Staring at the fire brought me into a trance, forgetting about my surroundings. My heart beat slowed. My breathing deepened, and I closed my eyes and began to wander again. I prayed that I would see Him.

When I opened my eyes it seemed everything around me had vanished, yet I was still gazing at the flames. But these flames were different. These were His flames. His eyes were so powerful. They flashed and sparked and consumed me as He looked in my direction again. I was near asleep, sitting by the fire with my shepherd friends, but I was actually inside the heart of heaven—the deepest place in the universe—witnessing the greatness and wonder of the limitless color and blazing light that seemed to gush from the center of the arena. The center was the Dream Maker.

I grew sad knowing that as soon as He opened His mouth the dream would be over. And He did open His mouth, but something different happened. This time He spoke! I heard a voice coming from the throne. I tried, but couldn’t comprehend the words. It was a language I had never heard, but the beauty and majesty of that sound was breathtaking. My feet and legs trembled as my hands were over my face. The sound flowed through me and all around me like quilts swimming in the wind. My breathing was shallow—I felt as if my lungs were collapsing. And I saw His eyes which were piercing right at me grow more intense—brighter and brighter with each passing second. His face dimmed just enough to where I was able to recognize the features. It seemed as though He dimmed His own light just so I could see Him. And what I saw
sparked a transformation in me unlike anything I’ve experienced before. A flood, like a surge, overtook my heart as I saw a smile like a great canyon form across His face. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing—Elohim was smiling at me! And I heard His voice again, like rushing waters. This time I understood clearly what He said.

It was my name.

Suddenly, the blaze from His flaming eyes consumed the entirety of His person. Radiant beams splashed out from His center and filled the arena. Smoke lashed and swirled all around, and the ground beneath my feet shook. Flashings of light ricocheted off the crystal walls, seemingly passing right through me. Each time it did the nagging, anxious anticipation I had in my heart intensified to the point that I thought my heart would burst.

The Dream Maker saw this happening to me and, now bursting with laughter, turned His head forward and shouted, “Now!”

Immediately the arena burst open with brilliant white flame. The crystal walls of light and color shattered into billions of sparkles revealing an innumerable host of beings on the other side. My eyes were blurred. I faintly saw one large being hover in front of the Dream Maker, then escape like a flash of lightning and was gone. I was striving to make out what happened next, but it appeared to be angels exiting the now-open arena. The roaring sound of the huge wings boomed, and I almost couldn’t bear the pain in my ears. The entire space was now turning and flowing and twisting with every color dancing and bouncing all around. All the while the Creator never left His throne.

In a flash, it ended. The angelic beings were gone. The arena was back to its original state. And the Dream Maker’s head bent downward.

I slowly opened my weary eyes and saw the glowing coals of the once flaming camp fire. My friends were asleep on their pallets, but I was still sitting near the smoldering coals. They must have given up on me and turned in for the night.

I rose to my feet, my heart beating fast. I was so exhilarated by the dream. I walked over to my pallet, knelt down, and began untying it when all of a sudden the sheep began to squirm. Something was waking them—something in the distance. A sound was coming toward our circle.
It is only the wind, I tried to tell myself, but I knew what was happening. I had felt this time coming. Suddenly, one of the shepherds woke and immediately rose to his feet. His breathing was fast and shallow. It seemed he woke from a nightmare. He looked at me, then in the direction of the approaching sound. The wind picked up fast, blowing wildly. We saw above the mountains in the distance a small flashing speck of light. The speck grew larger as the sound grew louder. Amazingly, it appeared to be an opening in the sky, and brightness and radiance were seeping through from the other side. Suddenly, the opening burst and magnificent lights of all colors danced all around us. The other shepherds jumped to their feet. We were ducking and dodging the moving lights afraid of what they might do to us. The glory grew in intensity, and we were blanketed with brilliant color and blazing lights.

The sheep were running in circles, bouncing into one another. We, shepherds, fell to our knees—our faces to the ground. We were petrified. Suddenly, I heard a word spoken. It was familiar to me. I looked up and saw a being walk through the lights, which were tremendously whipping all around us. It was glorious! The being was magnificent in size. His face was like chiseled stone, and stood with powerful demeanor.

The glory of it all!
Towering over us, he looked down at us. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! This wasn’t a dream! Or, was it? The being opened his mouth, and we heard glorious sounds rushing like a river out of his mouth. It was amazingly comprehendible.

“Do not be afraid,” he said. I didn’t think that command was possible for me. My stomach was wreaked with knots. My heart was in my throat.

He continued, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.”

I adored what I heard! The voice, the words, the moment were all overwhelming my emotions. I wanted to kneel here forever and just keep listening. I was grateful when he kept speaking.

“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger.”

My mind was blown. My nerves were nearing destruction. If I would have heard these words spoken by a mere man, I would have listened with great joy. But this was more than what my inner self could contain. The Savior! The Messiah! The shock of the reality of this moment was petrifying and exhilarating at the same time. For hundreds of years our people have been waiting for the Promised One. Now, He is here! He is really here! Could it really be?

As I was trying to breathe in enough air to speak to my fellow shepherds the night sky lit up with incredible brilliance! There was no sun, for it was the middle of the night. But the sky was brighter than it normally would be during the brightest part of the day. Suddenly, painted all across the sky were multitudes and multitudes of blazing beings, all looking right at us! It was like the whole earth was full of this most amazing, unimaginable light.

They looked directly into our eyes, opened their mouths, and white flames shot out as they spoke words like nothing I’ve heard before, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests!”

They didn’t sing it. It was more like shouting. It was obvious that what was occurring this night caused an explosion that heaven, itself, could not contain. An explosion of great joy burst out of the heart of heaven and flooded the earth. Then, just as the way they all came, they left.
The sky was black. We couldn’t see for several minutes as our eyes needed to adjust once again to the darkness of the night. It was again silent. The sheep were strangely asleep back in the circle. It was like they never even awoke. We looked around to see if the largest being was still here, but he was gone, as well. It was just us—lonely and lowly shepherds who were chosen by the Dream Maker to hear the first news of the birth of the Chosen One, the Messiah.

I finally caught my breath and spoke, “We have to go! Bethlehem awaits us!”

“Bethlehem?” One of the shepherds was a little slow to grasp the words of the blazing beings in the sky. The others just stared at him until he understood, “Oh! The town of David! OK, but what about the sheep?”

“Do you not realize what just happened?” I said. “Did you not just see with your eyes what took place here? And you are worried about the sheep? If our God can do what He just
did with all those lights and colors and blazing figures shouting in the night sky, don’t you think He can take care of these sheep?”

We ran—our cloaks tucked into our belts. Our staffs were left behind us and glory was ahead. I had not sprinted like I did that night in all my life. I felt empowered, and I was far ahead of the rest.


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