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Tue Apr 27, 2010 2:54 pm

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The green hills of Judea echoed with the plaintive melody of a shepherd's pipe as young Aram nestled onto his mat for the night. His father was out there somewhere, along with Aram's two uncles, tending the flocks. Aram wished he could be with them, but that was impossible. His right arm was withered from birth and had little strength. So he stayed in the cave that his father and uncles had hacked into the white stone that lay just below the soil, and helped his mother whenever he could.

The chill night of the Winter Solstice drifted through the cave. Aram raised up on his good arm and looked across the valley to Bethlehem. He knew the town was filled with people from all over Judea and Galilee -- even from Egypt -- ordered there by Caesar to be counted in the census. Aram could see the white stone buildings clearly, even though there was no moon. A very bright star had risen for the first time the night before, hung directly over Bethlehem, and was nearly as brilliant as a full moon. His father worried about the star. Could it be a sign of a coming calamity? Such things had happened before, he told Aram.

Aram was almost asleep when he heard a sudden commotion outside the cave. He looked out and saw his father and uncles hurrying down the path. Something terrible must have happened! Aram jumped up, threw his cloak over his shoulders, and ran to meet them.

"What is wrong, Father?" he shouted. "Where are you going?"

"To Bethlehem," came the breathless reply. "Where is your mother?"

"Asleep, I think," Aram answered. Then he asked, "Why are you going to Bethlehem. Where are the flocks?"

The three men paused a moment. "Back in the hills," his father said. He opened his mouth to speak again, but was distracted by two more shepherds running up a second path towards them. They both had wild looks in their eyes. Aram's father spoke. "So you have seen them, too?"

"Angels," one of the men answered breathlessly. "A host of angels came out of the sky. We saw this with our own eyes."

"So did we," Aram's father replied. "So we were not dreaming."

"Angels?" Aram asked.

"Yes, my son. Angels just appeared to us and said that the long-awaited Messiah had just been born in Bethlehem."

"In a stable in Bethlehem!" one of the strangers shouted in disbelief. "Why would a Savior be born in a place like Bethlehem?"

"Do you not remember the words of the prophet Micah?" answered Aram's father. "'But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.' We are going to Bethlehem now to see this thing which has happened."

Aram was beside himself with excitement. "Can I go too, Father?"

"Yes. Come with us. We will all go to see this child."

Bethlehem, basking in the silvery light of the bright star overhead, was even more crowded than Aram had imagined. Travelers were sleeping in every available space, their cloaks pulled up over their chins to ward off the biting air. The shepherds had to walk carefully lest they accidentally step on someone.

They asked a few people if they knew of a woman who had a new baby that night. Aram had been to Bethlehem once or twice in the past year. He knew that shepherds were held in low regard by the people. Shepherds were nomadic and had no roots. Furthermore, most of them were as dirty as their sheep. So most of his father's questions were answered by curt replies. One man, sitting outside a crowded hostel, began cursing when Aram's father asked about the child.

"Get away from me you filthy pigs," he shouted, disturbing the other sleepers. "Go back to your sheep. They're the only ones who can stand the stink of you!"

The commotion brought out the innkeeper's wife. "What is this?" she asked angrily.

Aram's father calmly explained they were looking for a woman who had just had a baby.

"There was a couple here earlier -- from Galilee, I think," the innkeeper's wife replied tartly. "We had no room for them so we sent the pair to a small cave that we use as a stable. You can find it if you follow the path behind the inn." Then she waved her hands in the air. "Now go, so our guests can get some sleep."

The shepherds hurried to the rear of the inn where they easily found the well-worn path. A hundred feet later, they came to an opening -- a man-made cave hollowed into the side of the hill -- just like Aram's home. A young man stood at the entrance and watched them as they approached.

"A thousand pardons for disturbing you, sir," Aram's father said, bowing low in the custom of Jews when intruding. "We seek a new born baby. We were in the fields with our flock when angels appeared and told us that the long-awaited Messiah had been born in the City of David."

The young man did not seem surprised at the news. In fact, he acted like he had expected their visit. "I am Joseph of Nazareth," he said quietly. "My wife Mary is inside, and she has just delivered a son."

"May we see the child?" Aram's father asked. "We wouldn't ask otherwise, but angels sent us here."

"Just a moment," Joseph said as he disappeared into the cave. In a instant he returned, holding out his hand in welcome.


Inside the cave a flickering oil lamp cast a yellow pall over the interior. The smell of sweet straw mingled with the earthy odors of animals in their stalls. Beside the lamp sat a young woman with long, dark hair, who could not have been more than 14 or 15 years old. She smiled at the visitors.

"The child you seek is in the manger," Joseph said.

Aram was thrilled beyond words. If this was the Messiah that God had promised Israel, he would be among the first to see him -- poor little Aram, the shepherd boy with the withered arm, was about to see a king.

The shepherds moved closer to the manger, a crude wooden box with chips and dents in the side where the animals had chewed on it. Mary stood up and reached into the manger, pulling back a mass of swaddling cloths to reveal a wrinkled, red little face. Aram and the rest of the shepherds fell down on their knees to worship the new king, but Aram remained standing. He was transfixed by the baby. Mary said nothing. Instead she reached into the manger and tenderly lifted her child. He held it to her breast for a moment, smiling at Aram. Then, to his amazement, she held it out for him to take.

Aram's father saw what was happening. "Sir," he said, addressing Joseph because it would be unseemly to talk directly to his wife. "Do not allow your wife to let my son Aram hold the child. He has a withered arm and will drop the baby."

Joseph glanced nervously at his wife who only smiled and continued holding the child out to Aram. Everyone held their breath. It would have been bad manners to protest further. Aram reached over and took the infant, being careful to support his head. To the amazement of all, he held the child securely. Aram smiled at the sleeping infant in his arms. Then he asked Mary, "What is his name?"

"Jesus," she replied softly. "The child's name is Jesus."


A few moments later, the shepherds bid their goodbyes to the family and left the cave. At the top of the hill, they turned right and headed out of Bethlehem, toward their flocks still grazing in the hills. They had not worried about the animals straying. Surely God would tend to them while they were on their mission. Instead of worrying about their animals, they shouted and praised God for his goodness and mercy toward all mankind.

As they walked toward the Judean hills, Aram's father also marveled at what he had seen, but admitted that he had had a nervous moment when the woman had given Aram the baby to hold. "I did not think you had such strength in that arm," he said.

"Have you not noticed?" one of the others said.


"Yes, your son's arm. Am I the only one of us, including Aram, that has actually seen what has happened? Take a close look."

Aram's father fell to his knees and squinted at the arm through the darkness. Then he let out a little cry of joy and praised God. The withered arm had been healed.

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