Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Second Christmas: Chapter 4 "Omi"


There was another knock at the door. Sarah’s face puzzled as she surveyed the crowd and realized everyone they had invited was already here, plus a number of acquaintances they hadn’t invited but who had happily shown up anyway for the free food and entertainment. Joseph was opening the door, as Sarah finished her inventory, to a slight woman, hooded against the cold, which at first, made no movements toward entering the house. Suddenly, as if discovering some wonderful treasure, she shrieked and rushed by Joseph and Sarah, stumbling over other guests, to kneel at Mary’s feet, grasping her legs as if it would save her from drowning. The rush had caused her hood to fall back revealing a frizzy mop of black hair crowning a middle-aged woman in her late 30s. Mary, obviously in some shock, looked at Sarah shrugging her shoulders not knowing what to do. Sarah turned and motioned to Joseph to come to the rescue when she heard Mary exclaim, “Omi!” Sarah turned back toward the living room to see Mary and Omi embracing, laughing and crying all at the same time. Without looking at Joseph, she motioned for him to wait. Joseph picked up the broom by the door and began to sweep up the dirt tracked in by the visitor.

Moments later, when the excitement subsided and Omi had been appropriately welcomed (coat and sandals stored and feet washed), introductions were in order. Mary apologized for her guest and then said, “This is Naomi from Bethlehem. It was her family that gave us shelter in their stable the night Jesus was born. I haven’t seen her since Jesus was two and we had to leave Bethlehem.” Turning toward Omi, Mary asked, “What are you doing here!?”

“Jesus’ birthday!” she said laughingly. “One of your cousins at home shared with me about the celebration tonight. It seemed that, since I was at his first birthday, I should be at this one too. My husband, Jesse, is handling things at home so that I could come.”

Izzy was kneeling at the two women’s feet. “What was it like, that night so long ago, when Jesus was born?” she half squealed. Omi looked deeply into Mary’s eyes as if, for this moment, they were sharing minds. A smile at Izzy began her story. “I was only a little older than you, my dear, on that night.”

“Bethlehem was buzzing with life and bursting at the seams. The tax census sending everyone to their ancestral hometowns for registration had made it so. Everyone seemed to be meeting family they had never met and possibly never heard of. Some reunions were happy; but, some were, seemingly, not. When it was possible, of course, people would stay with their relatives but not many homes in town could fit more than an extra family or two. As a result, the two inns in Bethlehem were full and had been for weeks. People were sleeping on the furniture in the lobby, and of course, everyone was forced to pay extra.”

“My parents were not originally from Bethlehem, so they had left, not a week before, to go to Bethel to register for the tax. I was left at home with my older brothers and we had strict instructions from my parents that we were to take no one into our home while they were away. It helped that our house was at the end of the street butting up against the hills that border the town, but there were still many inquiries.”

“The evening was coming on and I was leaning against the front window sill watching the lights of the town being lit. It was one of my favorite times. Even on that busy day, things were beginning to settle down and people were moving inside. There was one couple, though, that seemed to be rejected at every door.” She squeezed Mary’s hand. “I remember wondering why their relatives were not caring for them since the woman was obviously very pregnant and in pain. They knocked at the door to the inn just up the street from us. ‘Good luck!’ I remember thinking. It was only moments before they were forced to move on. ‘Wait’ I thought. ‘Not here. We can’t help you here’ but we were the only house left, so onward they came.”

My brothers were first to the door, staves in hand, just in case things got dangerous. ‘No, we’re sorry. We have no room here’ I heard them say from my hiding place around the corner. Just then the woman groaned. I don’t think I had ever heard someone experiencing that much pain. I disappeared further into the house as I heard the door shut. It felt as empty as it was dark. I ran to the side window to watch them leave; only they didn’t. The man was just standing there bending over his wife who appeared doubled over next to their donkey. ‘This cannot happen! I thought. ‘I must do something, but what? Disobeying my parents never ended well.’”

“At that moment, watching them and trying to figure out what to do, their donkey brayed. As if in response, Balaam, the donkey in our stable, brayed as well. ‘The stable’ I shouted out loud. ‘What was that?’ one of my brothers asked. ‘Just going out to check on Balaam’ I answered back, only half lying; caring for the donkey was my responsibility after all. I rushed out the back door and approached the couple cautiously. ‘There is room in our stable’ I whispered so not to alert my brothers. The woman looked me directly in the eyes.’ There was a light there, like a spark of fire, only completely white. It was as if the brightest star I had ever seen was shining out of her and into me. ‘The stable?’ I heard the man ask bringing me back to the urgent present. ‘Yes’ I answered. ‘Come with me.’”

“The stable was the perfect, yet imperfect, solution. It was not in the house, so I wasn’t disobeying my parents, but was still shelter…and not bad shelter at that. I loved my donkey and kept her place clean; well, clean for a stable. Our “stable” was actually a cave set into the hillside behind our house and because of that location; it seemed to stay warmer than most other shelters, even on the coldest nights. I led them to the back, grabbed fire from the lantern on the porch, and lit the torch in the stable. It only took moments to grab blankets from the wall where they were hanging while the man arranged some of the hay bales. Balaam stamped and snorted as I led their donkey into the next stall. There was still fresh water in my bucket from the trip to the well earlier that day. I poured some out into the man’s skin and then watered their beast. The woman groaned again. I glanced back at the house, but seeing no signs of movement, focused on offering whatever help I could give.”

“As darkness completely consumed the outside I watched my first birth. It was scary, messy, obviously painful but beautiful all at the same time. The man instructed me to sit, placed a blanket in my lap, took the crying, newborn boy and handed him to me as he then attended to his recovering wife. I wiped the little boy clean with the bottom layers of my outer skirt and wrapped him as warmly as I was able. He had just settled down and I was beginning to wonder how I would explain my bloodied clothes to my mother when the man turned back to me and lifted the boy from my lap, placing him gently against his mother’s breast to nurse for the first time.” She closed her eyes and breathed deeply.”

“The man turned to me once again saying, ‘Thank you…’ he hesitated realizing he did not know my name. ‘Naomi’ I prompted, bowing my head. ‘I am Joseph. This is Mary, my wife, and that new, little one is Yeshua. Are these two your brothers?’ I jumped up, startled and turned to face my older brothers who were standing just inside the light, mouths wide open and silent. That may have been the first time I had ever seen them so; but, my gaze drifted past them to movement in the darkness behind. A lamb was bleating…’shepherds?’ I wondered.”

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Second Christmas: Chapter 3


There was a rap at the door, breaking the silence, and Joseph began to move from the place he had settled to greet the newcomer. Sarah waved him off since she was much closer to the door, but that did no good. Joseph knew it would be completely inappropriate for his mistress to wash the feet of a guest to her home, especially if it was a man. His persistence was of value because Jesus’ brother, James, was at the door. James came in, shed his outer robe, handing it to Sarah, and unlaced his sandals so Joseph could accomplish his foot washing task.

Sarah marveled at how different James was than Jesus. “I guess that makes sense,” she thought, in light of what Mary had just said about Jesus’ actual “father.” James was a rugged man, having followed after his father, Joseph, in the craftsman trade. He had given that up in this last year to become more involved with the large group of Jesus’ followers who regularly met in Jerusalem and seemed to have fallen into leadership among them. Jesus had been slighter in build and, since he had gone into rabbinic school at the age of 12 (after that impressive showing at the temple), didn’t have the same physically demanding life of his younger brothers. Jesus had not been weak, though, by any estimation. The suffering he endured would have ended a weaker man’s life long before the cross. She had to turn toward an empty corner of the kitchen as tears once again escaped her eyes. Those images were still too vivid, even a year later. James, a common visitor to the house to check on his mother, was tossing Izzy into the air and her laughter was infectious. Sarah smiled at her youngest blessing and wiped her eyes.

James was quickly caught up to the stopping place of his mother’s story. Mary nodded to him, wanting him to carry on with it, as now her oldest son. “Dad took little time for story-telling” he began. “For those of you who never had the chance to know him, he was a quiet, strong and honest man who was quite calculated in all he did, as you might expect of a life-long craftsman. There was one time where he related his part of this story to me, though, as we worked together in the shop. I should say he was working; I was sweeping and listening. It was Jesus’ thirteenth birthday and he not at home, the first birthday he missed being at rabbinic school and dad was sad and allowed himself to reminisce.”

“’You can’t blame me for struggling to believe her, can you?’ dad asked me not really expecting an answer. She was promised to him but discovers she is pregnant, telling him that just two weeks before she had a visit from an angel with a message from Jehovah. Mom was young, but he had always known her to be honest. It was one of the things that attracted him to the idea of a life together. ‘But there is only one way to be pregnant’ he said looking directly at me, ‘and that is to have been with a man…and that man wasn’t me! I reacted poorly…humanly’ he confessed to me. Disgrace was a certainty, for both of them; maybe worse for mom. She had gone through the normal routine for women during their “unclean” time, though she was not bleeding, and was planning a trip to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, who she claimed was six months pregnant. He felt this was possibly the way out. Mary could leave before anyone was aware of her condition and never return. There would be questions, initially, but she would be safe and he would not be implicated.” James paused to take hold of Mary’s hand as she had begun to weep quietly.

Sarah could not, for the life of her, grasp what that must have been like. An angel visits and you get pregnant without being with a man and then your future husband doesn’t believe you and wants to break off the engagement. That had to be a new definition for “alone.” James began again and Sarah forced her mind back to the story.

“Dad couldn’t get to sleep that night, though he had worked especially hard during the day to try to erase the situation from his mind. Sometime in the last watch he must have dozed off, he said, because he began dreaming…mostly wild, nonsensical dreams; but suddenly, all the images were washed out in white and when his mind seemed to adjust a young man was standing before him. Mom’s description came to his mind, instantly. This was the same being. Dad had stopped everything at this point and was clearly reliving that moment in time. I’m not sure he even remembered I was there,” James added but then continued, “He was afraid, and added to that, embarrassed that he had not believed Mary, but the angel smiled at him and said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Joseph. Mary has told you the truth. Jehovah is the one who caused her to be pregnant and she will have a son. Take her as your wife and when the son is born name him Yeshua, because he will save his people from the penalty of their sin.’”

“Dad stopped talking and just sat for a moment, still lost in thought. Then, as if he was waking up from that same dream he said, ‘I awoke refreshed and at peace, left my workshop just as it was and went to find Mary. We were married within the week and immediately after the days of celebration, she left to visit Elizabeth. I wondered if people would do the math and start rumors about Mary being pregnant before our marriage but the angel had said not to be afraid. That was the plan.’”

Mary was smiling again as James came to the end of his account. It was time to eat and Sarah was ready. Her servants made quick work of assuring that all had enough to eat and drink. It was a night of celebration, after all. It was Jesus’ birthday. Sarah couldn’t help wondering, though, what was keeping John. He had said he had an errand to run, but she was sure he wouldn’t want to miss this night. It was his idea!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

God loves my kids more than I do?? Really???

I thought I would take a break from the Second Christmas for a moment to share a thought that Deänne and I tossed around yesterday.

As many of you may know, our daughter’s husband is in treatment for an aggressive form of Lymphoma and walking along with them through this experience has brought many opportunities to wonder at and about our relationship with God from every side. Honestly, we have had our deep times as some other of my blog posts are evidence of; but, this is not one of those!

A phrase that often gets tossed about in believing homes is “God loves my children more than I do.” Okay, I can get behind this from an intellectual point of view, but let me be blunt; I would do anything for my kids, and they know it. Our love for them is one of the deepest emotions we feel. I don’t think we are alone in this. It is very hard to REALLY believe that God could love them more.
Deänne was quick to chime in, reminding me that God sacrificed himself – in Jesus his son – for us while “we were yet sinners,” enemies of God. Okay. That’s certainly the “nth” degree of love. It would be hard to imagine sacrificing one of our kids for the life of an enemy. I can’t really wrap my mind around that.

But there is another way that came to mind yesterday as a result of our thinking about our daughter’s path. God loves them more than we do in that he has his entire family to call upon to demonstrate that love. Other people have sacrificially loved Erin, James and there little family in ways that we just could not. We live in Colorado while they are in California. James’ family, of course, was there for them over and over. People bring them meals on a regular basis. Someone anonymously gave them a new washer when theirs needed to be replaced. Many of their friends gave money they could have used for so many other things to them to cover their co-pay of thousands of dollars. These are just some of the ways God has loved them. Even if we had been there and wanted to, we could not have loved them this deeply.

God can and does love us and our children in ways we only get a glimpse into during dark times. I hope that during this season of the Greatest Gift we take every opportunity to love each other as the very hands, feet and mouth of God. Be a loving gift of God to someone today. Merry Christmas! 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Second Christmas: Chapter 2

The Visitor

     Sarah’s eyes once again scanned the settling crowd. Her youngest, Izzy, was crawling up onto Tanta Mary’s lap. Sarah moved to put a stop to the added “attention” her baby would bring to the honored guest but Mary waved her off, adjusting herself in her chair to comfortably accommodate the squirming youngster. Izzy seemed to find a position that suited her and settled in. Her eyes met Tanta Mary’s and she said, “Daddy said you would tell us about Jesus’ birthday. Will you? Will you? Please!” Yoshi, now holding the lamb on his lap, chimed in, “If you wouldn’t mind, Tanta Mary, this would be the perfect time to retell the story. I could assist with our part.”

     Joseph was putting more wood on the fire. The evening was coming on and so was the cold. Mary smiled, nodded and then looked into the fire. She had been tending one like it that night, so long ago, when neither fire nor lanterns were needed to light the room. She began the tale, almost chanting out the phrases, as if she had rehearsed them over and over in her mind.

     “It seems now that I was quite young, too young to be considered of much value. I was, however, engaged and happy to be so. Joseph was quite a bit older than I, but a skilled craftsman, respected in our community and able to provide for me and any children Jehovah may bless us with. One afternoon I was in the house alone, tending to the kitchen fire.” She looked away from Izzy’s hair, which she had been stroking, and looked back into the living room fireplace.

     “All at once, I felt another presence in the room with me. It wasn’t a sensation that could be missed. This presence filled the room so completely it felt as if the walls bowed to try to contain it. If I had felt insignificant before, I felt invisible now; completely enfolded…lost…” her words trailed off. The room was completely silent except the crackling of the fire. “Who was it, Tanta?” Izzy broke the silence.

     Mary smiled down at Izzy, but didn’t answer her question. “I was afraid; frozen in that place and time. ‘Hello, Mary’ I heard over the crackle of the fire. ‘Jehovah is with you. He has chosen you from among all other women for a special task.’ I began trembling, so much so that I could no longer stand. Falling to my knees I tried to speak but could get nothing to come out. ‘Don’t be afraid, Mary,’ the voice said, as a hand rested on my shoulder. ‘Jehovah is pleased with you. He is for you.’ Warmth spread from the touch over my whole body and the trembling subsided. I stood and turned to face the visitor.”

     “Standing but an arm’s length from me as a young man, at least I think it was a man, in a white tunic and hooded robe. His eyes sparkled so, as if the sun’s light were trying to escape from within him. He appeared not more than 15, about my age, but the depth of his voice led me to believe he had existed forever. He stood there, smiling at me and waiting for me to take it all in. Finally he said, ‘You are going to have a baby, a boy, and you will call him Yeshua. He will be greater than any other born of a woman and will be called Son of the Most High. Jehovah will make him king over all of Jacob’s descendents, just like his ancestor, King David; but, the kingdom of Yeshua will never end.’”

     “I knew this visitor had said a lot of things I should remember, but I was stuck on his first statement. I was to have a baby? How could this be? I tried to ask, but my lips would only create mumbling. He waited patiently, smiled and touched my shoulder again. The renewed warmth of his touch gave strength to my lips and words began to tumble out. ‘How can I have a baby? I am not married. I have not been with any man?’ He now placed both hands on my shoulders, as if to steady me and looked directly into my eyes sharing the intensity of the light in his, with me. ‘The power of the Holy Spirit of Jehovah will wash over you like a consuming shadow so that the baby conceived in you will be from the seed of Jehovah, not of man. He will be called the Son of Jehovah.’ He, no doubt, could see the doubt lingering in my mind because he added, ‘Jehovah’s message never comes without undeniable power, Mary; for example, your cousin, Elizabeth, who everyone thought could not have children, is pregnant and is already in her sixth month!’” “That’s who I am named after,” chimed in Izzy to the shushing of many.

     “What? Now joy, confusion and fear tumbled around in my head like children jumping on a bed, knocking each other over. I took a couple steps back, trying to gather it all in. This was too big to get my mind around; too many questions fought for a voice. I looked back at the visitor, perplexed. He was still there, now silent with the same reassuring smile. It was as if he was waiting for something. Could he need me to respond, to agree? How could that be? I am just a woman, not much more than a possession and a young one at that; but, still he waited. Instinctively I knelt, bowed my head and closed my eyes. Gathering what strength I had I said, ‘I am but a servant of Jehovah. May his will be done in me as you have said.’”

     “Several things happened all at once. ‘Shalom!’ the visitor shouted as if some great thing had just occurred. Before I could open my eyes a wave of light burst over me and left me sprawling on the floor. The visitor had vanished and I was once again alone with the kitchen fire, crackling as before.”
“Picking myself up off the floor I began to wonder what had just happened. Could it really be true? I decided to go see Elizabeth. Maybe she could help me make sense of this. Was she really pregnant?”

“Two weeks past as I prepared, planning to be gone for some time. Though I had not forgotten my visitor or the conversation, I was able to let it drop into the background of my mind. After all, maybe it was just a dream. When the time for my bleeding did not come I knew; this was real. It had begun.”

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Second Christmas: Chapter One

This is the first installment of a story about the first celebration of Jesus birth after his life, death and resurrection - the second Christmas. Please enjoy. Chapter Two coming in a couple days!

     There was another knock at the door. John’s wife, Sarah, put down the dough she had been kneading to watch Joseph, her house servant, walk over to greet and wash the feet of whoever it was. She was sure he was getting tired. Many visitors had arrived that day. Sarah scanned to main living area of her home, now providing comfort for nearly 20 visitors. She wondered how many others could fit into the normal hosting spaces. She smiled to herself knowing that she had also prepared some of their normally private areas for guests. Mary had become quite the person to visit over the last year since Jesus’ death and resurrection. What an honor to have Mary living in her house! She was once again overwhelmed with thankfulness that her John had given up the family business to follow the master.

     It was John who had thought that this celebration, the anniversary of Jesus birth in Bethlehem 34 years ago, would be a good idea. Her children’s laughter brought her back to the present. The new arrival was Yoshi, a shepherd, who had been just a boy tagging along with his father that special night. Yeshua (Yoshi’s real name) had been carried along on his father’s shoulders from those fields to the stable cave where the baby, also named Yeshua, was lying asleep. Yoshi’s father, Abram, had brought a lamb that night. Yoshi had brought one tonight and her children and the others gathered, skipping and dancing around it,and laughing at the lamb’s attempts to put strength to its legs after being carried so long. Sarah glanced at Tanta Mary, as she was regularly called, sitting close and holding her hands out so that no one would fall over on her by accident. Her eyes sparkled brightly watching the lamb, most likely being whisked away in her mind to that night long ago. It seemed that the light of that special star had been captured within Mary’s eyes and was once again shining through her to light this night.

     Sarah glanced down at the dough in her hands as she pulled it apart. For a moment she was lost in the action. Other hands held the dough which was now bread. Wounds would soon mar those hands, that now passed the bread to one, and then another. “This is my body, broken for you.” she heard so clearly. Tears escaped her eyes and fell to the table below making clay of the excess flour scattered there. “This is my blood, poured out for you.” She had been there, serving the master and the others that night.

     “Mother,” she heard as if from a great distance. She tried to focus. “Mother! Are you crying?” her oldest asked. “No my dearest,” she lied. “Just some flour in my eyes.” She smiled at her son, tousled his hair and remembered…this was not a night for sadness but for celebration. How did John like to put it? “The Light has come into the world!”