This story is dedicated to my mother, Ruth Burkhart, who faithfully read to me from “Egermeier’s Bible Story Book” as I was growing up.
Abra was a cheerful boy with curly hair. He was almost 7 years old. His older brothers and father were shepherds in the open pastures. He and his family lived in the countryside where they were surrounded by rolling hills, plentiful water and green pastures for tending sheep. The stunning views included vineyards, olive trees and tiny villages. Papa was good at finding just the right places for the animals. They had just enough food, a tent for shelter and blankets to stay warm at night.
Abra liked to play. One of his favorite things to do was to go to town and the market with Papa, where he would talk and play with other children. At home, Abra would play with the animals and pretend he was a servant of the king, commanding Roman soldiers. He dreamed that someday he would be successful enough to go to Jerusalem.
Each day, Abra would watch Papa and his brothers take the sheep to graze. Sometimes they would go so far away Abra could not see them. Abra would help when they were close to home, but Mama did not like Abra to go too far.
Some days, a group of sheep would go their own way and start grazing in a different direction. Abra was quick to go out and offer his help. One of the finest sheep would often stray from the rest. He was easy to spot because he was usually on the far side of the others. They named this sheep Nalani. Papa was grateful when Abra would take his staff, run out and encourage Nalani to stay close.
Nalani was like a playmate and liked to follow Abra. When Abra would do his chores, Nalani would wander from the other sheep to be close to Abra. They were friends. His brothers occasionally played with Abra, but they were getting older and had more responsibilities and things to do for Papa. Because there were no little boys close to Abra’s age at home, he welcomed Nalani’s friendship.
Abra was very good with the animals. Sometimes the animals would stir. Abra would go out and talk to them. He had a way of getting their attention. Abra was like a performer who captures the attention of the audience. Abra would sing to the animals and entertain them.
In the evenings, Abra’s family would gather in the tent. They would tell stories; Papa’s stories were always the best. He spoke from Scripture. One day, he spoke from the book of Micah (5:2–4 MSG).
But you, Bethlehem, David’s
country, the runt of the litter—
From you will come the leader who
will shepherd-rule Israel.
He’ll be no upstart, no pretender.
His family tree is ancient and distinguished.
Meanwhile, Israel will be in foster
homes until the birth pangs are
over and the child is born,
And the scattered brothers come
back home to the family of Israel.
He will stand tall in his shepherd-
rule by God’s strength, centered
in the majesty of God-Revealed.
And the people will have a good
and safe home, for the whole
world will hold him in respect—
Peacemaker of the world!
Abra was excited when Papa finished. “Papa, the Scripture talks about the town that is close by. Is this the same Bethlehem?”
Papa shared Abra’s excitement. The next day, they went to town. They took some of their sheep to the market. When they returned home, they saw one of Abra’s brothers watching the sheep. Suddenly, Abra noticed that Nalani was missing.
“Oh, no!” Abra told Papa. “Where do you think Nalani went?”
“We will find him,” Papa assured Abra. “He could not have wandered far.”
They split up and searched. The sky grew dark. Off in the distance, Abra saw a bright light. It was too bright to be their home … or was it? He looked for familiar hills, but the only thing he could really see was the light. As he approached it, he could hear something that sounded like music. It was more beautiful than anything he had ever heard.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14 KJV).
Abra worked his way through a gathering of animals and people. He found himself near a stable and a manger holding a baby. Everyone was worshipping God in a most amazing experience.
As Abra looked closer at the manger where the baby was, he recognized Nalani. Abra was so happy as he exclaimed, “Nalani, you are here!” Nalani was just close enough to bring warmth to the baby. Abra also saw Papa and his brothers.
Timothy Burkhart is the vice president of estate and gift planning for the Free Methodist Foundation and the president of the GuideStream Charitable Gift Fund.
A newborn baby is always joyful, but this time was different. Abra had the same feeling he had when Papa read Scripture and they sang songs as a family. He and the shepherds stayed for a long time. Even though it was late into the night, no one was tired. Finally, Papa said, “Abra, we need to go.”
Abra asked Papa, “May we let Nalani stay? He looks so peaceful close to the baby.”
Everyone knew Nalani was one of the finest sheep Abra’s family had. Surprisingly, Papa said, “Yes, of course, Nalani can stay. It looks like Nalani has finally found what he has been looking for — what we all have been looking for.”
So Nalani stayed, but Papa, Abra and his brothers returned home to tell the rest of the family of the wonderful things they had seen and heard. It was a night they would always remember.
The next day, one of Abra’s brothers watched over the sheep. A small group of sheep separated from the rest. Papa asked Abra if he would like to watch over the smaller group of sheep.
Abra was excited. He had been dreaming of a day when he would be able to watch over his own group of sheep. That day had come; he was becoming a real shepherd. Maybe someday Abra would go to Jerusalem. On that day, he would tell others about the wonders he had seen in the little town of Bethlehem.0