The Stable Boy

Background Passage: Luke 2:1-20
People flooded Bethlehem
in answer to the governor’s decree.
Returning to their home town to be taxed.
Travel made them…
irritable.
Taxation made them…
irate.Boisterous.
Belligerent.
Bellicose. Families poured into the
 City of David from all directions of the wind.
Swelling the population of the sleepy village,
well beyond its capacity.

 

Hospitality ruled.
Family and stranger
open home and business to the weary travelers.
Considerate.
Courteous.
Custom.

 A stable boy.
Ten-years old.
All too skinny.
Almost skeletal.
A brush with a Roman chariot as a young boy
left him with a shattered leg that never healed properly.
Twisted at an awkward angle.
Weak and wobbly,
each step aided by a walking stick.

The stable boy
dodged through familiar streets.
Picked his way back and forth
from the town’s only inn
to the stable inside the rocky cave,
behind the mud-bricked building.

He spent his day…
Lugging belongings
to the rooms inside.
Leading beasts of burden
to the stalls out back.
Lifting water jars
to fill the troughs.
Laying fresh hay in the mangers
To feed the livestock.

Seen, but unseen.
Speaking, but never heard.

Long after the sun set,
The stable boy blew out a slow breath.
A sigh heavy with fatigue.
He leaned down.
Picked up a wooden bucket,
Turned it over.
Sat wearily upon it.
Pulled his knees to his chest.
Laid his head on his arms
Fell instantly asleep.

His mind registered the sound
long before his eyes blinked open.
The echoing clip clop of a donkey’s hooves
trudging through the rocky street.

A young man walked out of the shadows.
Broad-shouldered.
Brawny.
The flow of his robe could not conceal that he was
powerfully built by years of hard work.
Physical vitality betrayed only by the
exhaustion in his eyes.

The man led his donkey by a loose halter.
Upon the donkey a young woman.
Pregnant.
Pained.
Spent.
Jostling back and forth with each
labored step of her animal.

The couple stopped at the door to the inn.
The man gently braced the woman
as she slid from the donkey’s back.
A kind smile and a quiet word
let her know they reached their destination.
She leaned against the donkey as
he stepped toward the front door.
With a crooked grin,
he placed a heavy hand on the
stable boy’s shoulder as he passed.
Squeezed it in a way that said,
“We made it,”
Walked inside without another word.

The stable boy stared at the woman.
He could not help himself.
Saw how young she was.
Could not imagine the difficulty of her journey.
Knew enough of the world to know…
she was ready to deliver her child.

She greeted the boy with a wave.
“Good evening.”
After the chaos of his day,
her words sounded like the melody of a meadowlark.
Wistful.
Welcoming.
Warm.

Before he could answer,
Her husband came out of the building
followed on his heels by the apologetic innkeeper
They spoke in whispered and urgent tones.
The stable boy listened to the muted conversation,
deliberately kept quiet and low to
avoid alarming the woman.

“Look at her,”
the man pleaded.
“She is due any day. I must find her a place to stay.
We’ve been everywhere else.
I can find no bed for her rest.”

“We have no room,”
said the man in sympathy,
all too aware of his unfulfilled responsibility as host.
 
The young man looked again at his wife.
Nodded his acceptance of a bad situation.
Shook the innkeeper’s hand.
Stepped toward his wife,
fatigue etched in his face and
his fallen shoulders
All too aware of his unfulfilled responsibility as husband.

“Wait,”
said the innkeeper.
The young man turned back,
a faint glimmer of hope in his eyes.

The innkeeper pulled the stable boy to his feet.
“Go, child.
Quickly.
Clear a stall in the stable.
Lay down some fresh hay.
Make them as comfortable as possible.
They can stay in the stable until they find a room.”The young man.
Grinned in gratitude.
The stable boy limped to the back of the building,
followed by the man,
his wife and
his donkey.The couple waited patiently as the boy worked.
Introduced themselves.
Joseph.
Mary.
The stable boy cast his eyes downward,
unaccustomed to the friendly conversation.
“I’m Daniel.”When the stall was cleared of its debris,
Joseph and Daniel
prepared the area for Mary.
Late into the evening,
at long last,
Mary rested her back and neck
against the cool wall of the cave.
Drifted to sleep to the
sound and smell of the stable.

Joseph watched her for a moment of
love and compassion.
He placed a small coin in Daniel’s hand as he shook it.
Thanked the young stable boy for his kindness.

Daniel took the coin in the palm of his hand,
amazed at the generosity seldom seen.
Walked deeper into the cave
to an alcove where he lived.
Small by any standard.
Its roof so low Daniel had to bend to enter.  
A hole eroded into its roof extended to the outside,
The hole hidden amid the brush on the rocky hill
above the entrance to the cave.
As he warmed himself by the fire,
the smoke drifted through the natural chimney to the open sky.

For two days,
Joseph attended to business while Mary rested.
That evening as darkness began to fall,
the time came for Mary to give birth.

The attending mid-wife arrived,
pushing Joseph outside the stable with matronly authority.
Shooing Daniel to his pallet deeper in the cave.

Unable to sleep.
Daniel crawled up through the hole in his roof.
Laid on his back on a large boulder above the stable,
Listening to the muffled sounds of labor
lasting for hours into the night.Clouds obscured the stars,
leaving the night darker than usual.
Daniel drifted toward sleep just an hour or so before sunrise.
The sharp cry of a newborn baby jolted him awake.
At that moment,
 the clouds above parted to reveal an unusually bright star
shining directly above him.
Brighter than anything he remembered.Above the cry of the child,
Daniel heard the soft sound of music,
growing louder by the second.
Its source toward the hills outside of Bethlehem.
Daniel shook his head and rubbed his eyes.
Appearing in the distance…
A host of angels in the sky.
Heard them singing“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
And on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
 
As quickly as they appeared,
They were gone.
 
Daniel’s feet felt as though they were lead.
He could not move.
Fearful.
Confused.
Disbelieving
what he saw and heard.

He slid down the slope,
rounding the corner to the entrance of the stable cave.
“Joseph!
Did you see…
Did you hear…

Joseph.
Stared at the child in Mary’s arms.
“See what?”
Hear what?”

Before he could explain,
Mary motioned to Daniel.
“Come. 
“Come and see.”
Daniel hobbled hesitantly to the stall
where the family gathered.
Mesmerized by such tiny hands and feet.
He reached out.
Lifted the baby’s hand and let it go,
embarrassed by the soft touch.
The baby’s hands feel limply to his side.
Daniel laughed quietly.
Did the same thing a second time.
Mary giggled.

“What his name?”
Daniel whispered.

Mary and Joseph
glanced at each other with a knowing look.
Joseph sat up a little straighter.
No hesitation or doubt.
“His name is Jesus.”

Daniel.
Caught up in the excitement of new life,
fetched a bucket of fresh water.
He looked around.
Realized they needed a crib for the child.
He dragged a manger from the next stall.
Dumped its matted contents on the floor.
Refreshed it with new straw and a blanket from his pallet.

The stable boy watched with a degree of pride
as Joseph carefully laid the baby inside the makeshift cradle.

Sensing their need for privacy,
Daniel turned toward his room in the cave.
Joseph called out to the boy, stopping him in his tracks.
“We could use your help over the next few days…
if you’d like.”
Looking back at Jesus,
Joseph said,
“I think he likes you.”

Daniel beamed.
 Nodded his head.
Continued to his room,
suddenly aware that his cheeks hurt from smiling.

Throughout the night and
amplified by the acoustics of the stony chamber,
the parents voices drifted back to Daniel’s ears.
He heard them murmur with soft voice of…
God’s Gift.
God’s Promise.
God’s Salvation.

Heard them offer prayers asking God to make them
fit for the task ahead.
To help them be…
Devoted.
Faithful.
Worthy.

As he listened,
Daniel wondered more and more about the…
baby’s birth.
Angels he saw.
Song he heard.

Later than afternoon,
he heard a commotion outside.
Too much noise for the baby.
He hurried as quickly as his deformity could take him
to quieten the conversation.
Protective of the little one as an older brother.Seven shepherds.
Animated in conversation.
Hands waving in excited gestures.
 
He heard them tell the story…
An angel.
Do not be afraid.
I bring you good news of great joy for all people.”
Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you;

he is the Messiah, the Lord.

This is your sign:
You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

A heavenly choir.
An anthem of joy.
 
The eldest shepherd stared at the baby in the manger,
unable to divert his eyes.
 “We had to come to see this thing that has happen
which the Lord has told us about.”

As quickly as they came,
the shepherds left.
As they passed through the streets,
Daniel watched them…
stopping those who passed by.
Sharing their story.
Shouting in gladness and joy
about what they had seen and heard.

The days passed.
Mary and Joseph left the inn a few days later,
moving to an available home.
Daniel visited often.
Playing with the child as he grew
until one day…
he watched them leave just as they came.
Returning to their home in Galilee.

The man led his donkey by a loose halter.
Upon the donkey a young woman.
Pregnant with their second child,
jostling back and forth with each
labored step of her animal.
Now, holding her firstborn,
Who looked over his mother’s shoulder,
Offering a child’s delightful wave,
as Daniel shouted his goodbyes.

*

The days of Daniel’s life passed by.
For years he thought about that baby
and all that he saw and heard.
About…
God’s Gift.
God’s Promise.
God’s Salvation.

Time dulled a memory.
Buried, but not forgotten.
 
Daniel’s physical condition worsened through the decades.
Most days he sat at the Shepherd’s gate outside the Jerusalem wall
Begged for small coins.
Hoped for human generosity.
Eked out a daily existence.
 
As the days passed,
Daniel began to catch fragments of conversation
from travelers entering his gate.

Stories of a…
Galilean carpenter
with unnatural power.
Prophet
of unusual insight.
Physician
of unequaled gift.
Preacher
of unsurpassed power.

Messenger.
Master.
Messiah.

Jesus.

The day came when the crowds ran from the city
to the path leading up to Bethany.
Jesus, they said, was coming to Jerusalem.
Daniel waited by the gate…
Curious.
Hopeful.
 
Daniel watched as the people parted along the path,
The man moved easily among them,
Shaking hands with many.
Smiling at the children.
Stopping to whisper a word of encouragement.
 
Daniel saw the woman long before she closed
on his position by the gate.
He would know her smile anywhere.

Mary.
Amid a cluster of women.
Walked comfortably ahead of the man he knew as an infant.
Daniel stood.
Leg twisted uselessly to the side,
leaning heavily on his walking stick.
 
As she neared…
He balanced himself on one leg.
Waved his walking stick in the air.
 
“Mary! Mary!
It’s me, Mary!”

The woman searched the crowd,
looking for the voice that called her name.
She saw him waving.
Cocked her head in question.
Searching her memory.
He pointed to his cane.
Folded his arms and rocked as if holding a baby.
Her baby.
 
A light of recognition gleamed in her eye.
Stepped toward him,
Grasping his hands.
 
In the unheard conversation that ensued,
Mary looked back at Jesus,
motioning for him to come.
 
The three stood closely together,
Jesus’ arm draped naturally around his mother’s shoulders.
 
With a tear in her eye,
holding Daniel’s hand,
Mary made the introduction.
“Jesus, this is the Daniel,
the stable boy,
 who was with us on the day you were born.
The Daniel who took care of us.
Prepared your bed.
Comforted you when you cried.”
 
Daniel turned to Jesus.
Bowed his head for a moment.
“The angels.
The song.
The shepherds.
It all makes sense now.
You are the good news.
The Messiah.”
 
Tears rolled down his face.
Jesus embraced Daniel,
ignoring the chaos of the street.
Whispered quietly in his ear.
“Thank you for what you did so many years ago.
Thank you for your faith.
Come with us today and tonight
we will share a meal.”

They began walking together
through the streets of Jerusalem.
So caught up in the moment,
Daniel failed to notice…
he no longer needed his walking stick.

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