Joel sat on a rock by the brook and cried. What else could he do? Life was hard. Often, so very often he was tired and his feet heavy with tramping from house to house. Folks slammed doors in his face or cursed him; others came out with whips at him.
He remembered that evening months ago when it all started. Father had come home more drunk than ever, staggering over the waterpot and almost knocking it to the ground. He had flogged mother with a branch from the pomegranate tree and she had struggled from his strong hairy arms to flee with the boys from the home. From then, he continued on the hard road to drunkenness and a wretched existence, which finally broke the home forever. The boys were forced on to the streets of Bethlehem to beg.
That morning he had managed to obtain a single barley loaf from a tavern-keeper who had pitied his poor condition. He had run with it in a bag along with a bowl he had stolen, until he reached a brook some distance from the town. There he had filled the bowl with water and sat down to rest on a rock. As the sun began to sink in the west, the trees and thick foliage cast a shade about him. A gentle breeze was blowing the leaves of the trees and with it came the sound of a lute being played softly. Joel looked through the trees and saw a boy plucking the strings of a lute and singing.
“Messiah shall come, Messiah shall come,
And set up His glorious kingdom”
He had often heard his mother speak of Messiah, who would come to save the Jewish people from their troubles and their sins. He had often longed that Messiah would come, and now he wished he could see Him himself. If only He would deliver him, he would do anything for Him. O that Messiah would come!
When the boy stumbled upon him by the brook, he abruptly ceased his playing in the middle of the chant, and looked him over.
“Don’t stop,” pleaded Joel. “I like to hear you play and I like the song you’re singing!”
“You like my song?” the lad inquired. “What is your name? And why are you here? You seem so lonely.”
“My name is Joel, and since my father became a drunkard, I’ve been driven to seek my bread in the streets.” Joel rose and went to the stream where he refilled his bowl to begin drinking again. His barley loaf was finished now. “I am lonely,” he continued. “I’ve not a friend in the world but the birds and the street dogs that I often chase for the fun of it!”
At this, the boy began plucking the lute, not playing any special melody. He gazed through the trees at the twinkling stars. “You have almost the same fortunes as I, Joel,” he told him. “My parents are dead, three years now, and I seek my bread by my lute”
Joel felt sorry for him, and thought that although His life was wearisome, at least his mother was alive. When he questioned him further, he found out that he was known as Onan, the lute player and that he knew many people who would pity Joel and give him bread and vegetables, if only they got to know him. So they became friends.
Joel began tagging along with Onan, and they tramped the dusty streets day after day, knocking on doors and seeking their meals.
One day Onan caught Joel stealing fish from a fish vendor in the market, and slipping it under his bowl.
“Joel, my friend,” he chided. “Do you not know the commandment: You shall not steal?”
“Yes, but I ...I cannot help it. How will I live if I don’t?”
“God will take care of us,” replied Onan. “See, I have brought back a bag of beans. You must trust in the God of our fathers. Remember how He fed them in the wilderness, and he He fed the prophet Elijah? He is still taking care of His people today and one day He is going to send the Messiah to deliver us out of all our troubles!”
Astonished that he knew so much, Joel asked him where he had learnt all that. Onan told him that his grandmother had taught him the scriptures and the chants and had taken him to the synagogue each Sabbath until the time of her death.
The following Sabbath, Onan took Joel by the brook and recited for him many scriptures that he had learnt by heart. “For unto us a child is born, and to us a son is given,; and the government shall be upon His shoulder and His name shall be called ‘Wonderul, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace.” “ All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way’ and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”
When Joel heard this, he wept, for he said he had many sins, and he wished for the forgiveness of every one.
Next evening, as they lingered around the bustling market place, Joel nudged Onan excitedly.
“Look, Onan,” he whispered as he pointed to three men who looked like sages and who were deep in conversation before their camels. As both boys edged nearer, they heard one saying: “And thou, Bethlehem, Ephratha...that’s what the Jewish scriptures say. Messiah shall come from Bethlehem. He shall be born there!” They mounted their camels. Joel’s curiosity rose.
“We’ve seen His star, and it still leads on. I wonder how much farther until we come to the place of His birth” said a short sturdy-looking sage, his half-grey beard brushing against his chest.
“Hmmm. I wonder. “muttered another.
The boys gazed with bursting eyes as the sages disappeared down the street. Onan noticed that the leader kept point to the skies.
“Joel can you see the star? It must be that bright one over there. Come we must follow them,” he added.
They hurriedly followed, watching the star as they went. As they rounded the corner, they saw the three men alighting from their camels, in front of a house. The star was no longer moving, but shining brightly over the house. As the boys came nearer, they heard the sages softly whispering a chant. Joel’s face lit up. It was the same chant he had heard Onan singing the first day they met.
“Messiah shall come, Messiah shall come,
And set up His glorious kingdom!”
Why had the star stood still and why had the men stopped? The boys thought that they were perhaps going to spend the night there.
They knocked on the door vigorously, and when someone opened it, they hurriedly disappeared inside. Shortly after, they returned with joy on their faces shouting: “We’ve found Him, we’ve found Him.”
Quickly, they began unloading their camels and the boys heard them talk of each giving a gift to the newborn Messiah. From behind the large sycamore tree, they could smell the myrrh and the frankincense. Their eyes almost pooped out, when they saw one man taking out a huge nugget of gold. At this point, they crept out and followed the sages into the house.
There in a simple room an unforgettable sight burst upon them. A mother was bending over a little child in a crib and a father stood watching kindly beside her.
The sages bowed reverently and worshipped the baby and laid their gifts before Him. “Praise to the God of the Jews,” they cried, “for He has sent His Messiah. He sent His star to guide us to Him, and now we worship Him.”
The boys watched entranced. Then Onan said:”I’ll give Him my lute. If I had a thousand gifts of gold, I’d give them to Him. This is Messiah and He shall deliver His people!” Onan saw a tear trickling down Joel’s cheek, as the lamp’s flame flickered and shook its shadow across their faces. “What will you give? You have nothing!”
I have nothing but my sins; not even a lute or a harp, nor gold or silver.” Then, Joel knelt where he was and said in a whisper: “I’ll give Him myself, my life, my all, to serve Him all the days I shall live!” And while Onan laid down his gift, Joel worshipped and gave praise to God that he had come to the place and had seen the Child, God’s promised Messiah.
Then, they all chanted: “Messiah has come, He shall deliver His people from their sins. Thanks be to God for His precious gift!”