Before the birth, it was all angels and light,
but when it came time for the birth,
the wings and accompanying brightness
vanished like butterflies before frost.
I could have used a midwife
or a woman to wash the baby
or at least cook me a bowl of soup.
So when I heard the knock, I rallied.
When Joseph answered the knock,
he saw them standing there,
not all meek and mild
but roughhousing among themselves,
shoving each other for the best view
between the cracks in the wood frame.
They were snotty-nosed, unkempt little beggar boys,
sent away from home to watch sheep
until they grew up and were fit to be trained
in one trade or another.
Joseph could have turned them out.
Just one “Scat” would have sent those boys
scurrying back to their sheepfold.
But even though we had little ourselves,
we knew those boys had less.
If they wanted to share this evening with us,
we would share with them.
Our bread stretched a bit further,
the broth thinned until there was enough for all.
We took a risk letting them in the stable.
They could have stolen our few belongings,
or made a mockery of our poverty,
so little removed from theirs.
And when their unwashed hands cradled our son,
he could have caught cold, or worse.
And yet, something told us that—while there was risk
in letting the shepherd-boys into the stable
(and into our lives) that night—there was even more
risk in shutting them out.
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Bobby Temple, thank you for asking the question: Is this a contemporary Christ story?
In thinking of the Christmas story and Jesus’ birth this year, I had an epiphany that the little Nativity figurines, with the tall shepherds, likely don’t tell the full story. As a teen, I spent four years in West Africa and the shepherds there were usually older boys or young teens who had dropped out of school, or never attended. Where I live now, in northern New Mexico near the Navajo Nation, children might help care for sheep in the summer when school is out. The rest of the year sheep are likely to be cared for by a Navajo grandma. David was a shepherd boy, too, and although we remember him as strong and courageous, his father and older brothers did not consider him king material. Looking at shepherds from this perspective, I realized that the shepherds in many ways stand in for people we ignore–poorly educated, younger and older than workers at their prime, and perhaps non-English speaking–marginalized people with potential.
2015 was a difficult year. In terms of world events, I realize it is easier to “shut the door” than to try to think of possible solutions. Likewise, on a personal level, each positive step we take in life involves risk. In short, the difficulties of our present situation can help us to see Bethlehem.