This morning, I woke early with “The Reluctant Shepherd” running through my mind. I had intended to tell it at the Fenelon Falls UCW Christmas gathering. Instead I was in Montreal. Today it feels necessary to share the story on my blog. Some of you have bought my Christmas book, Can I Hold Him?, and therefore will have read this story. That’s ok. It’s good to read stories and whole books more than once. I think I will share several of the stories over the next few days. For today, sit back, take a rest, and enjoy the story.
THE RELUCTANT SHEPHERD
It’s Christmas Eve. The church is packed with strangers, and I’m wearing Dad’s old bathrobe. Mom’s tea towel is fastened on my head with a rope. You guessed it. I’m a shepherd in the Church Christmas Pageant. I scanned the crowd and spied Eddy from my class at school. Why is he here? Oh no, I thought. I’m too old for this and too tall! I turned 13 last summer. How did I get myself into this mess? It’s a long story.
Last September, I was ready to quit coming to church. It’s not that church is awful or anything. In fact, I kinda like it. At least, I like Mr. Woolacott. He’s my friend Jamie’s
grandpa. He always seems to find time to talk to me on Sunday mornings. He likes to tell stories just like my Papa. I miss my Nana and Papa. We moved here two years ago. Now, my grandparents live three hours away. We don’t see them very often, so it’s nice to talk with Mr. Woolacott.
Anyway, as I was saying, last September, I decided that I was too old for Sunday School and not old enough to sit through the adult service. I planned to stay home with Dad. He hardly ever goes to church, so why should I?
Then Mr. Green, the chair of property, called and asked to speak to me. That was a surprise. He’d never called me before.
“Kevin,” he said, “the Harper’s have bought the church a digital projector. Would you be willing to run the power-point during the church service, please? You won’t be the only one. We plan on having several people take turns. I’ll be drawing up a schedule. Now that you’re a teenager, I thought you might be willing to stay in church for the whole service.”
I was pleased to be asked, but nervous about it, too. “Ummm,” I said, “I dunno.” I didn’t want to tell him I had decided to quit coming to church altogether.
“I’d like you to think about it, Kevin, and pray about it,” he said. “Talk it over with your parents as well. It is a big commitment. Our committee thinks you’re old enough to take on the responsibility. Tell me on Sunday what you decide, okay?”
“Okay,” I stammered. “I’ll talk it over with my parents. See you on Sunday.”
That was last September, and I’ve been running the projector ever since. There are other people on the list, but I like doing it, so I do it most of the time. I like being considered a grown-up. I feel as if I’m making an adult a contribution to our church family. Besides, I like sitting at the back in the sound booth with Mr. Woolacott. I was sure this job would keep me safe from being in this stupid pageant. After all, I’m never in Sunday School.
Two weeks ago, Mrs. Rintoule, the Sunday School Superintendant, came and talked with me while I was putting the projector away.
“Kevin,” she said, “I need your help. We’re don’t have enough older children for the Christmas pageant. I know you no longer come to Sunday school, but we need a shepherd, one who can take care of the other two shepherds, the Kingley twins, Sam and Shelley. They turned three last week.”
“But Mrs. Rintoule” I started, “I already have a job, I’ll be running…”
She interrupted, “Greta Franklin said she’ll run the projector for you. I really need you, Kevin. Please.”
“What about Jamie? Can’t he lead the twins down the aisle?”
“I’ve already asked Jamie to be Joseph.”
What could I say? I like Mrs. Rintoule. She’s fun.
So here I am, with a twin on each side, walking down the church aisle and listening to the people sing, “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night.” Sam’s yanking on my hand. “What is it?” I whisper, just as the Christmas carol finishes.
“Look,” he yells and points with his pudgy hand, “There’s a big star.”
The whole congregation laughed. I can feel the heat creeping up my neck. I wish I was someplace else, anywhere else but here in this overcrowded church. I stare at the screen.
A huge star is pulsating. How did Mrs. Franklin get it to do that, I wonder?
The angel Gabriel, little Susan Filbert, shouts, “Peace on earth, goodwill toward men. To you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour who is Christ the Lord. You will find him wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
Hey, I thought. She did that very well. That was a big speech and she’s only seven. Now, it’s my turn.
Shelley is yanking on my robe. She’s crying. I lean down to find out what’s wrong. “There’s too many people. It’s dark in here.” She sobs.
I pick her up and say with as much enthusiasm as I can muster, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place which the Lord has made known to us.” My voice sounds like thunder in the silence. We run right up to the front of the church. Well, Sam runs. I just walk fast because Shelley’s heavy, and besides, Mom’s never let me run in the sanctuary when I was a kid.
When we get to Joseph and Mary and the baby Jesus, Sam sits down right in front of the manger. I set Shelley down beside him, and then kneel.
The baby Jesus wrinkles up her little face and starts to cry. No, she wails… at the top of her lungs. She’s Jamie’s little sister, Melissa, born just a month ago. That’s the neat thing about being born close to Christmas. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you’re a boy or a girl. All you need to be Jesus is to be a baby. Anyway, Melissa is yelling so loudly that no one can hear the narrator talk about the kings.
I look at Ashley, our ten-year-old Mary, and whisper. “Pick up baby Jesus.”
“Oh no,” Ashley whispers back. “Mrs. Rintoule said I was just to sit here and look peaceful and beautiful.
Behind me, the chuckles ripple across the church.
I turn to Jamie, who didn’t want to be Joseph any more than I wanted to be a shepherd, and whisper a little louder. “She’s your sister. Pick her up.”
Jamie’s eyes are huge. His face is white. No, it has a greenish tinge. He swallows and stares at his hands. I’m not sure whether he’s afraid of his sister or the crowd, or he has the flu. It doesn’t matter. “God,” I pray, “make somebody do something. Make Melissa stop crying.”
Into my mind marches the thought, Pick her up. So, I do. I put her on my shoulder and begin patting her back. That’s what I’ve seen Jamie’s mother do. “Sh, Sh, Sh, it’s okay,” I say to her very softly. I sit back on my heels and then roll over onto my bum, so I can rock back and forth. I begin to sing the only thing I can think of, “Silent night, Holy night…”Actually, I’m a pretty good singer. At least, that’s what my mom says.
I’m all the way to “in heavenly peace,” before Melissa stops yelling. Sam reaches up and helps me pat. Three-year-old Shelley stands up and gives Melissa a kiss and then joins me with “Weep in hebbenwe pea.”
I start to hum, and then I realize that the kings are at the front, and the narrator has stopped talking. All eyes are on Melissa and me. I hear the choir humming, too. Oh no! My microphone is still on.
Melissa squirms, so I lift her down from my shoulder and cuddle her close to my chest. Her hands are so tiny. She feels so warm and soft and alive. I look at her and say, “Jesus, long ago, you were just like this. Wow!”
“Joy to the world” comes blasting out of the organ, and everyone stands, even me. I hold the baby Jesus and sing to her, at the top of my lungs. “Joy to the world, the Lord
has come.” My smile is so big it feels as if it stretches right around the church. Joy, yes, Joy, Jesus is born. I look over at Mrs. Rintoule. “Thank you,” I mouth. “I’m glad you asked me to be a shepherd.”
It’s all over, and Jamie’s mom comes for Melissa. “No,” I say. “We’re fine. You take care of Jamie. I think he’s going to throw up.”
Sure enough, the words aren’t out of my mouth two seconds when I hear him. What a mess! I shift Melissa back to my shoulder. I can’t help, I crow to myself. I’m busy with the baby Jesus.
There’s Mr. Woolacott heading my way.
“Merry Christmas,” I say to him.
“Merry Christmas, Kevin. Thank you for being a shepherd. They needed you. Baby Jesus needed you. You took care of them all. And you sing beautifully. You made the Christmas story real for me. I’m glad you’re my friend.”