The Gift 

  (by Jo Anzalone December 27, 1965...another children's story)


     He knew his way through these hills. A huge rock lay five paces left; so his small

sandaled feet made a short detour. Twelve paces more brought him to the steep edge

of a ravine. He halted.  Two steps to the right and there would be a narrow path down

the slope. Yes, he knew his way well. All nine years of his life he had walked among

these hills. His sightless eyes had never seen the swells and dips of the land, but daily

his feet had felt every curve of path, every hump of hill, and this familiarity let him

stride fearlessly where he willed.

 
     His name was David...because he dwelled near Bethlehem, the City of David. His

father was a shepherd, tending flocks in the surrounding hills. Having no mother and

no reason, thus, to dwell in the small town, David had grown up in the hills with his

father. His ways were the ways of shepherds for a thousand years. As his feet knew the

hills, his ears and hands knew the sheep. He could tell by its bleat which of the many

sheep was lost or in some trouble, and could follow the sound until the sheep was found.

His hands had picked many burrs and thorns from wooly sides and had comforted many

a newborn lamb. The flocks knew David and trusted him. They had been known to

follow him through dangers where they had hesitated behind other shepherds.


     David owned only one thing other than the clothes he wore and the staff he carried.

This possession was a small lamb his father had set aside to be David's own. On cold

nights the lamb would sleep between the curve of David's knees as he lay beside the fire.

David talked to the lamb and shared the secrets of his heart with the tiny animal. Some-

times he would sit on a slope with the whole wide canopy of stars stretching above him

and sing the shepherd songs that another young David, long ago, had sung. David did not

know about the stars, however. All he knew of night was of the cooler air against his

cheek and that the time for fires was come...fires for warmth and to keep wolves from

coming too near, not fires for light. There was no light in David's life other than that

which dwelt in his heart when his father's big hand rested gently on David's shoulder or

when the lamb hurried after him as he set out for the day's labors. The lamb, indeed,

was the bringer of much light to David's life. He could not take a step without hearing a

sudden bleat behind him and a mad scramble of four little hooves over the rocks. Where

he went, the lamb went; where he rested, the lamb rested. There was a companionship 

between the two, and the presence of one comforted the other.


     David liked to go off, accompanied only by his lamb, and sit silently somewhere

listening to the sounds of the night. It was while he was sitting thus one night that he

heard his father's voice crying his name urgently. "David!" The call rang over the hills.

David stood up, listened a brief moment, then ran rapidly in the direction of the voice.

He reached his father's side before he realized the lamb was not behind him.

 

"My lamb..." David started, but his father said, "Never mind the lamb for the present,

my son. He will come as always. But, now, let me tell you what has happened while you

were far away in the hills. A great star is shining over Bethlehem and angels have come

unto us and told us we shall find a babe lying in a manger below the light of this star.

This babe will be the King of the Jews, for whom we have waited so long. My heart has

never been so filled with wonder and joy as tonight! Come, my son. We shall go into

Bethlehem with the other shepherds and find this babe, this long-hoped for King."


     David was confused. "A star...?" he murmured. His father hurried him along

toward the town. "A star...?" David's father, in his haste, had never thought that David

did not know what light was, much less have knowledge of stars. David, being pulled

rapidly down the rocky trail, had no idea of the purpose of this expedition. His ears were

tuned for the sound of a familiar bleat, but no such sound greeted his anxious listening.

Ahead of him he heard a low sound from a cow, and the smell of hay reached his nose.

His father's steps slowed, halted. "We are nearly there, my son."


     "Father, it has the sound of a stable. Why are we stopping here?"


     "Yes, son. It is a stable, but the light from the star shines directly upon it, and it is

here we will stop."


     David's feet did not know where to step. He had never before been in this place. He

clung to his father's hand and stumbled after him as best he could. That large hand was

the only harbor the confused seas of his mind could find. He nearly fell, but that  hand

held him up and guided him on. That hand. David concentrated his whole being on that

one steady hand. In all the whole dark world there was only that hand.


     They entered a narrow doorway together and suddenly the hand was gone. David's

father had clasped his hands before him and fallen on his knees in worship. David stood

alone in his darkness, and his heart trembled within him. His small hand reached out,

seeking his father's. Instead, it touched his father's bowed head. David did not under-

stand why his proud father was bowing. "Father...," the word quivered off his lips.

David's father looked up, put an arm around his son's small shoulders, and stepped back

into the shadows. Quietly he explained about the babe and the prophecy. A glimmer of understanding began to calm David's confusion. So this little baby was to be his King.

He, David, was here with the King! His boyish heart grew greatly excited.


     The sound of camels entered the stable. David listened. There were murmuring

voices, the rustle of materials, then footsteps on the earthen floor. Heavy boxes were

set down across the room.

 


     "What is it, Father?"


     "I am not sure who these men are, my son, but they are from far away and are

richly dressed. They come bringing gifts to the babe, and they, too, now kneel before

him."


     A woman's voice reached David's ears. A lovely voice, a voice of gentleness. She was

singing a lullaby, a soft, tender lullaby.  David had not had a mother he could remember,

and some deep longing inside him responded to this woman's voice. He felt an unfulfilled yearning swelling all through his being. He wanted to go to this woman. Suddenly he remembered who she was. She was not just a woman, not even just a very lovely woman.

She was the mother of the King! He stepped back. A lowly shepherd boy should not go

too near. But the lullaby went on, and David wanted so terribly to come closer. Then he remembered the gifts the strange men had brought. Perhaps if he, too, had a gift, he

could come close and lay it near the child and his mother. A gift! That was it! He had to

get a gift! His heart leaped up in joy, and while his father knelt once again in worship,

a pair of tiny sandaled feet slipped unnoticed from the stable and ran awkwardly up the unfamiliar path. A gift! A gift!


     He stopped beside a wall, a smile on his face. He would be so happy when he gave

his gift to the King. And the King would be happy, too, and the mother might even let

him touch her hand! As David thought about these pleasant things, he suddenly realized

he had no gift to give the King. No gift at all! He owned nothing but his clothes and his

staff and his lamb. His lamb! He had forgotten his lamb, and it was alone somewhere in

the hills! Perhaps the wolves had gotten it! Perhaps it had fallen into the ravine! David

ran toward the hills. He tripped and twisted his knee. The pain was sharp, but he picked

himself up and limped hurriedly on. He breathed heavily from the uphill climb. The

night air was cold against his face. On and on he went. His heart was so upset and his

mind so confused that somehow he lost his way. A thorn bush ripped through his robe

and tore at his leg. His side slammed hard against a rock he should have known was

there. His throat was dry and breathing hurt. A vine wrapped about his ankle and David

fell to the earth. He was lost. He lay where he fell; his only movement the heavy rising

and falling of his chest. His hands clenched in the dirt. His whole body ached. Sharp

pain stabbed through his knee. His heart ached every bit as much as his body. Not only

did he have no gift to give the King, but his lamb was probably dead and he himself was

lost and alone in the darkness and wilderness.


     There was a rustle near him, and a dry sob of sheer terror wracked his body. The

word "wolves" shot through his brain and turned his body to ice. A very forlorn little

bleat came from a bush. David's mind, paralyzed with fright, did not immediately hear

it. Gradually the sound penetrated his consciousness. He turned his head to one side.

There...the sound came again. "Baaaaaaa." It was his lamb! With great effort he rose

to his knees, then stood shakily on his feet. Painfully, he followed the sound and found

the lamb completely tangled in a thick bush. It took much work and many scratches,

but at last the little animal was freed and clasped in David's arms. Pressing the white

head to his cheek, David said softly, "Oh, little lamb, I thought never to hold you again.

How frightened you must have been! But I am here now and all is well...all is well."

Thus he calmed the lamb, and in so doing, calmed himself.


     He found a large stone nearby. A familiar, well-known stone that set him on the path,

which he slowly followed toward Bethlehem. On the way he talked to the lamb. "What

can I give the King?. I have nothing but you, and though you are so important to me, a

King would have no use for you." David decided, though, that maybe the King would

understand and not be mad if given a well-loved little lamb. Wasn't the King a little

boy, too? Surely he would understand!


    By the time David neared the stable he was utterly exhausted. His face and clothes

were covered with dirt. His robe was torn and matted with burrs. His side ached, and

his knee was agony. But, clutching the lamb, he stumbled on through the night. His

mind was so tired it was only vaguely aware of what his body was doing. His awareness

was centered on the little bundle of wool in his arms. Some instinct led him to the right

doorway. He walked inside, crossed the room, and knelt beside the manger. The shocked

eyes of the shepherds and Magi stared at the dirty shepherd boy. Gently he lay the lamb

near the child. His lip trembled as he murmured ever so softly, "For you, my King."


     David was so tired and so worn of spirit that he leaned his head against the side of

the manger and silent tears made paths down his grimy cheeks before dropping into

the straw where the baby lay. He was so tired and so ashamed. How had he dared give

a lamb to a King? A tiny, soft hand reached up and wrapped itself around one of

David's fingers. David lifted his head, opened his eyes, and looked into the face of the

Christ Child.  David looked...and for the first time he saw. There, looking up at him,

was a child's tiny face. There was a smile on the delicate pink lips, and the whole face

glowed with light and love, and David saw. He saw, but was not startled. A tremendous

peace flowed over and through him. A vast peace that filled his heart and mind and

body. He knew, now, that the King had been pleased with his gift. Mary leaned over

and kissed David's cheek as he whispered in wonder, "I have found my King."

 

 

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