Jacob trotted across the dirt road up to his family’s clay hut. The sun dropped behind the hills right as he stepped through the doorway, set with heavy timber and adorned with a mezuzah.
He eagerly looked towards the fire, hoping for a warm bowl of stew, but his father blocked the view.
“I need you to cover for me tonight, boy. I’m going to stay with your mother to help with the child,” he said in a hushed tone. He placed a hunk of bread in Jacob’s hand and ruffled his hair, then guided him back towards the door.
Jacob took one timid peek towards his mother in the corner, snuggled up with a newborn baby. He felt the sharp prick of jealousy again. He frowned and grudgingly went back out.
The air already felt cooler from the sun’s absence. He sucked a huge lungful of it in, trying to purge the bitterness pooling inside his chest.
For twelve years Jacob had been the center of attention, the one the stories were told for, the sampler of Mother’s stews and sweet breads, their helper and little buddy. Why hadn’t he been enough?
He wound his way up the dusty trail once more until he reached the sheep enclosure. He quickly counted to make sure all were safe. The sheep slowly milled about, looking for the perfect place to rest for the night.
Two years ago Jacob had helped his father stack the stones in a large semi-circle up against a steep bank. Mother had just lost the child in her womb, and Father was angry. He set out with a vengeance to make the hillsides safer for the animals. Jacob thought maybe he wanted to feel like he was in control, but they didn’t talk about it.
The only time he ever mentioned it was when he was sheering the sheep.
“Haven’t I been a faithful servant, honest and hardworking? And yet the Lord has not rewarded my labors. He has abandoned me.” Jacob could hear the frustration in his voice, but Father quieted at his approach. He didn’t look up at his son, only continued to sheer the wool off a ewe. The heavy pelt peeled off and fell on the thick pile below.
Jacob nodded to an elderly shepherd walking past with a flock. “Hello, boy,” the old man said in a gravelly voice. Many of the shepherds rested their sheep under the bank at night. It protected the creatures from the chilly winds.
Jacob sat down with his back to the stone wall. His mind returned to his baby brother. Well, it looks like God granted your wish, Father, and gave you the son you wanted. Tears pricked his eyes. He blinked them away and pulled a wooden flute from his coat pocket. Pressing the instrument to his lips, he played the peppiest tune he could think of. After that, he moved on to a lovely song from his childhood, hauntingly sweet. The familiar sounds soothed his soul.
Growing tired, Jacob pocketed the flute and leaned his head back against a flat rock. He was weary from a long day of wandering the hillsides following the sheep. His stomach growled. What he wouldn’t give for a little bit of warm stew…
A bright light flickered in the distance. Jacob turned his gaze toward Bethlehem. A fiery ball of light blazed in the sky above the town. Puzzled, he leaned forward and squinted his eyes. How strange! It looks like a star, he thought. Surely it would go out any moment.
An hour later, the light remained, steady and bright. Jacob was sure he hadn’t blinked once since the star had appeared. Slowly, his eyelids grew heavy. They slid shut, and all thoughts of strange stars and little babies slipped from his mind.
A sudden brilliance pierced through the darkness of Jacob’s mind. He fought to stay in the deep realm of sleep, but heat warmed the skin on his face. His eyes popped open, revealing a large man floating in the air above him. “Holy…” he gasped, scrambling backward over the wall. He fell on his knees, desperately clutching the back of his head, forehead on the grass.
A voice boomed above him.
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
The man’s voice sounded like music. Jacob uncurled from his fetal position and peeked over the wall. Light slowly pulsated and swirled like flames around the man. He had wings! Giant, white, feathered wings!
Jacob’s mouth gaped open. He couldn’t breathe.
Suddenly, another winged man appeared next to the first, and then the whole sky filled with glowing people. The hillsides shone with such bright light that it looked like day. Then they began to sing a gloriously clear melody.
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
This was too much for poor little Jacob to handle. His whole body began to quake, and his teeth chattered loudly. He collapsed face down on the ground, unable to look at the blazing people any more. He remained there, grass shoved in his mouth, until their song finished. As the last note echoed across the hillside, the light disappeared as suddenly as it had arrived, and darkness again fell across the land.
Jacob lay perfectly still, afraid to move. The smells of the sweet grass and damp soil calmed him a little, but his mind was spinning. He heard crazed shouting. These were voices he knew. He clawed his way into a standing position but didn’t dare let go of the wall, for his knees shook wildly.
A young man rushed up to Jacob’s enclosure. “A savior! Could it be the Messiah we’ve been waiting for?!” His chest heaved, and he rushed on without waiting for an answer.
“Well?” croaked a voice behind him. Jacob spun around and saw the old man hobbling along the path, leaning heavily on his staff. “Are you coming or not, boy?”
Jacob glanced at the sheep and then back at the wrinkly old man. A light shone in his eyes like Jacob had never seen before. Jacob smiled ever so slightly and then bolted forward.
Perhaps he was enough.