Shala and his family where on there way to a market in Jerusalem . On the back of a small donkey were some of their prized possessions . There was leather goods and woollen rugs along with a collection of silk robes and jewellery .
Shala's parents were excited about the arrival of a new baby but because his Father lost his job they were in need of extra money .
As they approached the city gates Shala was pushed aside by a group of men with beards and bare feet . The next thing he knew he was separated from his parents . For the first time in his life Shala was lost . He couldn't find his parents .
He was eleven and frightened and sat at the city gates asking people if they saw his parents .
No one spoke him .
Shala remained there outside the city gates for weeks watching and waiting for his parents to return and find them to find him .
They never did .
At sixteen Shala had survived and lived on the small wage that he got for doing jobs for a man who owned the large stables in the city .
Each day when Shala's work was finished he returned to the city gates hoping maybe his parents would be there waiting for him .
But they never were .
He got used to being alone .
He got used to being alienated .
He got ised to remarks and scorn throw at him .
He invented friends and pretend to be in a family .
In this invisible company he found a world where even though he was alone he was at peace with .
So each day he sat at by city gates watching and waiting .
He stared at the passers by .
No one seemed to smile or say hello .
In fact no one even recognised he was there at all .
Sometimes he thought he was invisible .
He liked to pretend that he was an important person in the city and as visitors entered the city he would often call out to them .
"Hello and welcome to Nazareth . My name is Shala . If you need anything or anybody then I am the person you need to ask ."
"Get out of the way beggar boy ."
Said the man who thundered by with a horse and cart .
"Good afternoon my name is Shala . If you can spare me a moment of your time I will sing and dance for you ."
"Oh stay away from us . He's got a disease .Don't go near him daughter ."
Said the woman who took a silk veil a placed it over her daughter's head and shoulders .
"If you would stand still for five minutes , I will do a sketch of you ."
"Please don't bother me . I have no money to give you ."
Said the pretty young lady .
Shala sat there at the city gates watching and waiting .
Deep down inside, he knew someone was coming .
Somebody special who would speak kindly to him .
Sometimes being partly invisible paid off . He learned things and one thing that intrigued him was the talk of a census .
Two men stopped and spoke at the city gates
"Its almost time for counting the people again ."
Said the first man .
"Yes I know and I've got to return to Bethalem ."
Said the other man who took some bread from his satchel and broke it into two pieces .
He shared it with the other man who asked .
"So you come from Bethlehem then ?."
"I sure do and it's a long journey for me and my wife who is expecting our first child . Could you tell me where is there anyone that may have a donkey for sale or to hire ?
"Sorry . I can't help you there ."
Said the first man who reached out and shook hands with the other who said .
"Thank you for the bread ."
The two men parted company and Shala shouted out .
"I know where you can get a donkey ."
The man dressed in Hebrew cloth stopped and looked at Shala .
" You are an answer to prayer . Bess you . What is your name ?
Shocked that somebody actually stopped to speak with him he replied .
"Ah , my name . It's ah. ahmm well its .Shala . "
"Hello Shala . My name is Joseph . "
He reached out his hand to Shala who took it and for the first time in a very long time he saw a smile .
"My fathers name was Joseph . "
Said Shala .
Joseph replied .
"I am a carpenter .
Shala replied .
" My father was a carpenter too but he lost his job ."
"Where is your father now Shala ?
Shala looked away and said .
"I work for one of the best stables in the city . The man who owns them has some donkeys for sale and others for hire ."
"Please take me there . I need one today ."
Shala brought Joseph to the stables and a deal was made . Shala was so pleased that he was able to help somebody .
It was now twilight and Shala watched Joseph ride off on the donkey's back . At the city gates Joseph turned around and waved .
"Goodbye Shala . Thank you Shala ?
Then in an instant he was gone .
When Shala went back to the stables he was met by his boss who said .
"Shala . Who was that man ?
"He said his name was Joseph . "
"Do you know where he comes from ?
"Why yes . He said he is from Bethlehem .
"Quickly Shala you must go after him . I have made a terrible mistake . Instead of selling him the old blind donkey ,
I accidentally sold him the Royal Donkey .
"You mean you sold him the donkey that was meant for the King's son ?
"That's right Shala . I don't know how I did that . I'm usually so careful about things like that .
"So what do you want me to do boss ?
"Well take the other donkey and go after him . Make sure you make the exchange and return back here before the sunrise .
"All right . "
Shala replied and was soon on his way out of the city gates .
There was no sign of the royal donkey or Joseph . Beyond the city gates there were three roads . One was the main road frequented by traders and thieves ,the other road went to the mountain pathway and the last road led into a desert .
It was common knowledge that all three roads brought you to Bethlehem .
Shala decided the safer route was through the desert because he had overheard many shepherds who said they brought the flocks through the desert to avoid wolves and robbers .
As the sunset a heaviness came over Shala . On a hill he saw a campfire and around it a group of shepherds .So he pulled up nearby and kept out of sight . Feeling more secure he closed his eyes and began to drift off to sleep .
Suddenly a bright light appeared around the campsite where the shepherds lay watching over their sheep . In that light an angel appeared . Shala crept closer to the campsite and listened to what the angel was saying to the shepherds . It was hard to hear all of the message but he did hear something about Bethlehem and a child or a saviour and something else about a king .
Then he saw an astonishing sight . The angel pointed to the sky where a bright star appeared .
The light from the star was so bright that it seemed to light up a pathway through the middle of the desert .
Shala returned to his donkey and said ,
"On we go little donkey to the light and Bethlehem on this night we must go ."
Shala followed behind the shepherds but kept out of sight .
The shepherds were met by other travellers on the desert who immediately asked them about that new star in the sky .
"Is it a sign ?
Asked the first of the travellers .
"I am not sure but I believe it is a sign of a miracle that will soon happen . "
Shala replied .
"What is the miracle ?
Asked another traveller .
"Ask the shephers up ahead they know more than I do ."
Shala said .
The group of travellers approached the shepheds .
"What is that new star in the sky ?
One of theym asked .
"Come and follow us . We believe a miracle will happen that will change the world forever .
Said one of the shepherds .
"We don't have to follow you . We have to register for the census ."
Said a traveller .
One of the shepherds replied .
"Then you must go and stand among those who are counted . We must go because we are counting on something that stands for who we are ?
They said goodbye ane went off in different directions .
Some followed the light while the rest went another direction . Shala followed the shepherds .
In the desert that night Shala found a large tent .
Intrigued to have a look inside he crept closer to the door .
Those inside were having a celebration and the smell of cooking wafted through the night air .
Shala jumped with fright as a deep voice said ,
"You are welcome here in this pace .Do come in and join us .
Shala replied .
"Sorry but I must travel on . I am following a star until the morning ."
The well dressed man reached out a small empty box and said .
" In that case , please put something of your own and give it to the person you will meet in Bethlehem .
"But how did you know that I was going to Bethlehem ?
Shala asked .
"Heavens light brought you here . We are messengers of that light .
Came the reply .
"Is this place your home ?'
Shala asked and the reply that came was hidden in mystery .
"Home is a place where he who sent us reigns . For he is our King and we are at home where ever he is . Soon he will be here with you ."
"So I have to find a gift for the King ?
Remarked Shala .
"It is already there in your heart , just look and you will see .
At that the tent and all its occupants vanished into thin air .
Shala jumped on his donkeys and continued to follow the star . On the way he met three men who were dressed as Kings .
Shala immediately thought that it was one of these King's he had to give the gift to, so he passed the empty box on to one of the Kings who said .
"What's this for ?
"It is a gift for a king .
Shala replied .
"But we all have gifts to give . Did you meet the messengers as well ?
Shala nodded and said ..
"Yes . I was told me to give my gift to a king .
One of the other Kings replied ,
"Ah but , he is not just any King . No because the child that is to be born a King will become the King of all Kings ."
Shala notice that the three were all carrying gifts .
"Are you also following the star to Bethlehem ?
"We do not know where we are going . We are following the bright star and we must continue on our journey ."
The three kings said goodbye and Shala his as well .
"Come on little donkey . We must make our way to see the child king ."
On the journey across the desert that evening Shala met many other people who had been told about a special child who would soon be born .
Being alone in the desert made Shala aware of how much he had grown since losing his parents . He was now a man .
He was thankful of many things especially on his ability to read and write due to the kindness of his employer whi had helped him
Shala opened up the box and in there was some parchment paper, a few sticks of charcoal .
Immediately he began to sketch a picture .
It was of pathway through the desert that led to a place where a man and a woman sat around a small child in a kind of cradle that was surrounded with a heavenly light .
Underneath the sketch he wrote some poetry but never understood what some of it meant . He did know that what he wrote were words from deep in his heart .
The Desert Signpost
From the solitude of a desert where the messengers had been ,
I saw angels speak to shepherds
who were awakened from a dream .
A bright star shone above
and filled the desert with heavenly light ,
Three Kings told me things of mystery
that made everything all right .
The child to be born in Bethlehem
was a King like none before .
He would bring light
so we don't have to live with darkness anymore .
The way was made quite clear
for those who follow in the light with him .
Bethlehem is a signpost .
Let the journey of Christmas begin .
That night Shala and his donkey arrived in Bethlehem . There was a place where the bright star rested above . .
Shala went there and looked inside .
It was a stable and in a cradle filled with straw a child was asleep . On the floor around the cradle two people slept .
One of them was Joseph the man he had met the day before . The other was a lady who must have been his wife .
Outside the stable a group of shepherds also slept .
Shala went inside the stable and the Royal donkey came over .
The baby in the stable awoke and Shala went over closer . The baby placed his hand into Shala's and as he did Joseph awoke and came over to be by their side .
"Do not be afraid . "
Said Joseph .
The baby spoke to Shala spirit .
"I am the child you seek .
Shala said . .
"How can you do that ?"
"I am speaking to your spirit and only you can hear .
The baby replied .
"I have a gift for you ."
Shala said and passed over the sketch and poem .
Joseph took it from Shala and read it aloud and then said .
"You are the boy from the city gates who got me the donkey ."
"That's right .
Said Shala .
"What is wrong . Did I not pay your boss enough for the beast ?
Shala replied .
"No it wasn't that . My boss was worried that the donkey you had purchased wasn't strong enough to make the journey and I came with another just in case . "
The baby in the cradle gave out a loud laugh and said to Shala .
"Bring me over the blind donkey ."
As he did the donkeys suddenly let out a big hee-haw that sent Joseph and Shala into a fit of laughter .
"Before you go Shala say goodbye to Mary my wife .
"Shala went over and sat down beside the lady who stirred from her sleep .
She opened her eyes and smiled at Shala who smiled back and said .
"My name is Shala and you have a beautiful baby Mary ."
"Thank you . He told me to tell you that your parents are both well and waiting for you in heaven . "
From the roof a light came down upon Shala who was instantly healed and filled a wondrous peace . After this Shala left with the blind donkey who could miraculously could now see and the memory of a miracle that he would share with everyone he met .
By Paul McCann