Zealot: A Christmas Story – Chapter Three: Caleb

Chapter Two can be found here.

Caleb ran down the street, jostling the others, yelling and whooping and laughing. The night was dark, but the dark did not matter. They had found a light, a light to illuminate Bethlehem and Judea and all the world, a light from which all shadows must flee.

“Halt, you rabble,” called a voice. Caleb stopped and looked around. His companions did the same. They saw no one. The streets, lined with dim buildings, were lit only by faint, flickering threads of lamplight leaking through window lattices. The sky above was a black abyss, untouched by gleam of moon or star.

“Who speaks?” asked Caleb, beaming. “Come, there is no need to be shy.”

“Get inside, you fools,” said the voice, and a man emerged from the gloom. “You must be mad or drunk or possessed by devils. I neither know nor care. However, as a fellow Jew, I give you this advice: get indoors and stay there.”

“We cannot,” said Caleb, and his companions murmured their assent. “We have seen him, and we must spread the news!”

“Seen whom?” demanded the stranger. “What news?”

“The Messiah!” cried one of Caleb’s companions.

The stranger reeled.

“Come, friend, and we will tell everything,” said Caleb, advancing upon the stranger and holding out his hand. “Come with us! We will show you.”

The stranger pulled a sword from beneath his cloak.

Caleb withdrew his hand and backed away. Then, unable to contain his mirth, he burst into a laugh. “Come, come, put it away,” he gasped. “No need for weapons. We mean no harm, friend.”

“Keep your distance,” said the stranger. He pointed the blade at Caleb, but his hand shook. “The Messiah? What in God’s name do you mean?”

“The Messiah,” repeated Caleb. “I cannot make it clearer. The Messiah of God has come to Bethlehem.”

The stranger lowered his sword. “Where is he?” he demanded. “This Messiah—where is he? If God, after so many centuries of silence, has finally given us his chosen leader, I will pledge myself to his service.”

“What is your name, friend?” inquired Caleb.

The question seemed to surprise the stranger. “Jehu the zealot,” he replied.

“I am Caleb the shepherd. These are my fellow shepherds: loyal sons of Jacob. Now that we know each other, let us take you to the Messiah.”

Jehu’s hands stopped shaking, and he wrinkled his nose. “Shepherds,” he muttered. “What a fool I am to be shaken by the gossip of shepherds. I ought to have known you by your smell.”

“Are you coming with us?” inquired Caleb.

“Go to your Messiah,” said Jehu. “If you ask politely, he may give you golden scepters and linen robes to replace your crooks and filthy rags.”

“He is sleeping in a manger,” said one of Caleb’s companions, and Jehu froze.

“What?” he whispered.

“Angels appeared to us as we watched our flocks,” explained Caleb, gesturing toward the fields lost in the darkness somewhere far beyond Bethlehem.

Caleb’s companions broke the silence.

“Brighter than the heart of a furnace!”

“White robes—whiter than I have ever seen—whiter than the clouds of heaven.”

“Like bolts of lightning frozen in the sky!”

“There was one angel,” said Caleb. “Then there were many. They told us of the Messiah, the Christ, the child wrapped in cloths and lying a manger somewhere in the town of David. We found him with his parents in a cave outside Bethlehem.”

“You are fools,” said Jehu. “What of your flocks?”

“Ah, I suppose they are out there somewhere,” said Caleb vaguely. “They no longer matter.”

“They are wiser than you,” said Jehu, and sheathed his sword. “They are witless and wandering, but even your sheep have more sense than to invent stories of angels and a Messiah in a manger. Farewell, and God forgive your insanity.”

Jehu vanished into the darkness. Caleb and his companions stood for a moment, watching. Then someone laughed, and they all laughed, and into the night they ran, ready to tell Bethlehem and Judea and all the world that the Messiah had come.

Chapter Four can be found here.


Author’s Note:

Although I wrote “Zealot: A Christmas Story” a year ago, I’ve had to rewrite most of it because, well, the original was awful. (This story isn’t great, but at least it’s better.) My good intentions of working on each chapter ahead of time have failed, so this chapter, like the first two, was written in a hurry. I’d have delayed it until next week, but Christmas waits for no man. I’ve got to get at least some of this story posted before the twenty-fifth!

At the time of the Nativity, being a shepherd was not exactly a glorious career. It was a hard, cold, lonely job with few benefits. Shepherds were pretty much the lowest of the low. That’s why it was frankly weird for Christ’s birth to have been announced to shepherds. Angels gave the good news not to kings or priests or philosophers, but to shepherds. Why shepherds? I’m not sure. Christ spent much of his time ministering to lowly people—beggars, lepers and prostitutes, among others—so perhaps it’s not so strange that shepherds were the first to hear the news of his arrival.

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