Not so very long ago, in a village not so very far away, there lived the little shepherd girl, Noel. Noel had dark, flowing hair, fawn eyes, and running-colt legs. It was not uncommon to see a dirt-smudge upon her nose, or somewhere on her face, that had been placed there, as she romped through the sheep pastures that belonged to her father.
Noel was a silent child. She had made no sound since her birth. Although she could not speak, she loved every sound she heard – the sounds of people talking and children singing . . . and the sounds of her father’s sheep baaing and Nature whispering. But, most of all, she loved the sounds her Bell Tree made when the wind was blowing.
It was the custom in the village for each shepherd to have a “sheep-call” or to play upon a pipe or flute that his sheep could hear, recognize, and follow. Noel’s father chose to place a small, hand-made bell around the neck of each newborn lamb in his herd. Whenever one of his sheep wandered away, he set out to find it, ringing a bell and listening for the bell tied around the sheep’s neck.
It just so happened that at the exact moment when Noel was born, a baby lamb was also born. Thus, when Noel’s father tied a bell around the little lamb’s neck, he also placed one inside Noel’s blanket. Upon the birth of each new lamb thereafter, he presented Noel with a bell.
Noel grew up with the sounds of the bells. Before she could walk, the bells were her favorite toys. Her father showed her how to tie the bells together with a string. When there were many strings of bells, he helped her tie them to a tree at the edge of the sheep pasture.
Soon, the tree became known throughout the village as “The Bell Tree.” People stopped to listen to the music the bells made when the wind was blowing. They watched the bells glisten and dance when the sun fell upon them by day and when the moon walked over them by night.
They saw the beauty of the bells. Then, they saw Noel, the silent child, sitting beneath the tree. The sight of this strange shepherd girl, who could not talk, smiling and keeping time with the bell music, saddened their hearts. “Such a pity,” they shook their heads and sighed, as they walked away.
One night, there was great excitement in the village. Noelle was awakened by shepherds from the nearby fields who had gathered outside her father’s house.
“We have seen a star in the East,” one of them said.
“Yes!” another exclaimed. “A king is to be born in Bethlehem. We must follow the star and worship him!”
“How do you know these things?” asked Noel’s father.
A shepherd replied, “An angel of the Lord told us this good news. Come quickly! We must go and worship the king!
“So be it,” replied Noel’s father.
Noel’s heart beat rapidly, as her father told her mother all that the shepherds had said. She ran to her father’s side and tugged at his robe, while her mother took scraps of food from the table and packed them for the journey.
“Not now, Noel,” her father spoke gently. “We must hurry.”
Noel silently insisted. She wanted so much to make the journey with her father to see the king.
Her father shook his head. “You can’t go this time, Noel. The journey will long, and you will grow tired. We’re going to sing praises to the King. You can’t sing, Noel. You can’t even make a sound. And a child who cannot sing will only be in the way.”
Tears jumped up and stood on the edge of Noel’s eyes, as her mother tried to comfort her. “Don’t be sad, Noel,” she said, as she brushed the child’s hair with her hand. “There’s music in your heart, honey.”
Noel’s fingers moved quickly to tell her mother, “There’s music in my heart, but what good is it to me there? A king can’t hear my heart sing!”
Noel ran out of the house to the foot of the Bell Tree. She could hear her father and the shepherds preparing to leave. As a light breeze fanned her hot cheeks, she heard the bells begin to sing their special music. At the sound of the bells, Noel looked up. Suddenly, she knew what she must do.
Quickly, she gathered the bells from the tree, placed them inside her robe, and waited at the foot of the now silent tree. When her father and the shepherds began their journey, she followed not far behind them.
Father was right, she thought. The journey is long, and I’m tired. These bells are so heavy.
However, she would not stop, and she would not leave the bells along the way. Just when Noel thought she could not take another step, she heard the shepherds ahead of her. They had stopped and were talking softly among themselves. Some of them pointed to the sky.
“Look! That star! Over there above that stable!” one of them shouted.
As Noelle watched, the shepherds grew calm. Slowly and quietly, they drew near the stable. Noel followed and stood in the doorway, as the shepherds fell to their knees at the sight of a small baby lying in a manger-bed of straw. The whole room was aglow.
Even the bells on my Bell Tree can’t compare with this, she thought.
Noel’s big eyes moved around the stable. She saw cattle and sheep nestling in the hay near the manger. She saw Mary and Joseph kneeling beside their Child-King. She watched, as one by one, the shepherds laid their gifts of cheese, goat’s milk, and leather belts near the manger. Her father moved away from the other shepherds toward the manger. In his arms, he carried a newborn lamb and placed it beside the manger-bed.
Upon seeing the lamb, Noel lifted the strings of bells from her robe, tiptoed up to the manger, and laid the bells at the feet of the little king.
Suddenly, the heavens were filled with the music of the bells. A host of angels gathered above the stable and
sang, “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! King of Kings and Lord of Lords! . . .”
And Noel, the silent child, began to sing. The notes from her throat came clear and crisp. For, the song the angels sang was the song her heart knew and had sung since her birth.
“Is not this the silent shepherd girl who sits at the foot of the Bell Tree in our village?” the shepherds whispered among themselves.
“Is this not your daughter, Noel?” they asked Noel’s father.
The Child-King, or the Christ-Child as one shepherd called him, smiled and cooed, and his tiny feet played with the bells inside his manger-bed, as Noelle's voice rose and fell like sweet chimes with His Song.
“Yes! Yes! It is my Noel!” exclaimed Noel’s father. Joy-tears filled his eyes, as he lifted her to his shoulders and joined her in song.
Seeing that she was indeed the silent shepherd girl from their village, the shepherds began praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth, good will to men . . . “
. . . And every Christmas Eve – if you listen – you can hear the song the angels sang that night, as a little shepherd girl placed her most precious possession – the bells from her Bell Tree – at the feet of the King . . . And if you listen very carefully, you can hear the bells of Noel ringing out softly the good news of the Christ-Child . . .
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