The Pearl Story Book  by Eleanor L. Skinner

The Shepherd Maiden's Gift

I N the quiet midnight, peace brooded over the fields where the shepherds were watching their flocks. The tinkling of sheepbells, the bleating of lambs, and the barking of watchdogs had gradually ceased. Around a large campfire several shepherds lay resting, for they had had a long, hard day. Each had beside him a strong shepherd's crook and a stout club ready for use in case any lurking danger threatened the beloved flocks.

Not far away from the campfire a shepherd maiden lay sleeping in the rude shelter of a rocky cave. All day long she had helped her father guard the sheep, and when darkness fell over the fields and hills, she was glad to lie down in her snug bed made of the fleecy skins of kids and lambs.

Suddenly a light filled the cave and wakened the maiden. Thinking it was daybreak, she sprang up, stepped to the rude doorway, and pushed aside the curtain of goatskin.

"What has happened?" she whispered.

The fields and hills were flooded with light. The group of shepherds were standing close together, gazing intently at the luminous eastern sky. A moment later she saw them fall on their knees in worship. There in the entrance of her rude shelter, she, too, knelt and prayed. Clearly she saw the shining angel appear and in the peaceful stillness of the night she heard these words:

"Be not afraid; for, behold, I bring good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people: for there is born to you this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be the sign unto you: ye shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."

And suddenly there was with the angel many, many others. Together they lifted up their voices in praise and sang,

"Glory to God in the highest,

Peace on earth

Good will toward men."

When the sweet music died away, the maiden rose to her feet and joined the shepherds.

"I saw the angel, Father, and heard the singing," she whispered.

"Christ, the Lord, is born," answered her father.

"Let us hasten to Bethlehem and see the Heavenly Child who fulfills the promise of God," said one of the shepherds.

"Shall we leave our flocks?" asked another. But the question was not answered.

"Come, let us see what gifts we have to carry to the Christ-child," said the shepherd who first saw the light in the sky.

In a few moments these simple-hearted men were ready to start across the fields and over the low hills to Bethlehem. Very humble gifts they had to offer, but their hearts were filled with joy and wonder.

Standing near the entrance to the cave the shepherd maiden could see the outline of the group of men making their way to the city of David. "They are going to see the Christ-child," she said to herself, "a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."

How she would love to see the Heavenly Child! A deep longing to behold the little new-born King seized her. She would follow the shepherds to Bethlehem. One glimpse at the Christ-child would fill her heart with joy.

Away over the star-lit fields and hills she started. Not once did she falter, although the way was long and some of the hillsides were hard to climb.

Finally, she saw the shepherds pass in the gate of the city of Bethlehem.

"I came to see the Christ-child," she said to a group of people who stood whispering together. They looked at her in astonishment.

"I am following the shepherds," she added.

"They have gone to the inn," was the answer.

When she reached the inn she was directed to a cave near, which served as a stable.

There through the entrance she saw the shepherds lay their humble presents at Mary's feet and then kneel in solemn adoration.

"I have brought nothing to offer," whispered the maiden, looking wistfully into the rude shelter. "I cannot go in without a gift—a little gift for the Christ-child."

Tears of disappointment filled her eyes. Slowly she turned to leave the place. But after she had taken a few steps she stopped and burst into sobs. How could she go away without a glimpse of the Heavenly Child? Then, as she stood weeping, a marvelous thing happened. An angel appeared beside her and said:

"Lo, here at thy feet is a gift for the Christ-child."

Then she saw growing near her, slender stems covered with delicate green leaves and bearing lovely flowers.

The maiden did not stop to wonder. Here was a gift fit to offer the little Saviour. With trembling joy she gathered the Christmas roses and stepped lightly into the humble house where the little babe lay smiling in his mother's arms. In Mary's lap the maiden laid her gift of flowers, and, with radiant face, she knelt and filled her heart with the glorious vision.

— Eastern Legend
retold by Eleanor L. Skinner