The next morning Levi introduced me to his stable boy. “Perhaps Dan can tell you more about the shepherds,” Levi said by way of introduction. Dan was only about thirteen or fourteen and a bit tall for his age.
“Want to see the stable?” Dan asked enthusiastically.
In my mind if you’ve see one stable you’ve seen them all. “Sure, why not,” I replied. Dan’s stable was an opening in the rocky hillside, primarily a cave that had been adapted for its purpose. Walls of stone and mortar separated the various stalls. And yes, it did smell like a stable; pungent manure mixing with dried straw, sweet hay, and dusty animals. All in all, though, it was cleaner than most I’d been in.
“This is where they had the baby.” Dan said pointing out a space near the rear of the cave. The stall was still empty, the straw looked like a nest around where the family had slept. Carved in the back wall was a shelf of stone with a rounded bottom, a kind of manger for the cows to eat from. In the manger was a smaller nest of straw.
“So tell me about that night.”
“Well for most of the night I was putting up guest’s animals, the stable was overflowing between our milk cows and the assorted horses and donkeys of travelers. When I went to report to Levi that I had finished the chores I found him talking with some travelers. I overheard Levi turn them down, but I could tell his heart wasn’t in it. Seeing the woman’s condition, I suggested that we could move the cows and make up a place in their stall. The couple agreed, and Levi sent me off to get everything ready. When Mary entered the stable she doubled over and moaned. I thought she disliked the smell, but the husband, Joseph, sent me to find the midwives. I spent the rest of the evening running errands for them, getting water, towels, and such. After the birth I ran to the inn to give Levi the good news. He asked me to see if the family wanted anything to eat. When I returned the midwives had gone and the mother was suckling the newborn. I asked about getting them some food, Joseph thought some bread and a little cheese would be nice. As I was leaving a group of shepherds came striding towards the stable entrance.”
“Did they say anything?” I asked.
“They only wanted to know where the baby was. I pointed to the stall and left to fetch Joseph’s request. By the time I got back the shepherds were all gone except the oldest one. ‘Thank you so much’ I heard Joseph say. ‘We will treasure your words and tend this little one as you suggest.’ With that the shepherd left.”
“That’s it? Did you know any of them? Did you hear them say anything about angels?”
“They were all from Judah’s flock. The last to leave was old Samuel, their head shepherd.”
“Any idea where they might be?”
“Like all the flocks, they keep to the hills. Who knows where they are at right now. You asked about angels, I didn’t hear the shepherds say anything, but I did ask Joseph how the shepherds knew they had a baby. He said that angels told them.
“Do you know if Mary and Joseph are still in town?”
“They left the night before last after the kings came to visit. Joseph said something about it not being safe. I’m not sure what he meant, what could be safer than Bethlehem?”
I was disappointed I had missed the young family. But I was curious about Dan’s mention of kings, surely Herod had not been here. I questioned him about it but he clammed up and suggested I ask Levi. The rest of my day was spent fruitlessly roaming the hills in search of the shepherds.