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As a writer, needle artist and photographer, I invite you to share my pursuits with me on this site. Among other things, there is a weekly post called “D-mail” that examines the spiritual meaning in current stories, both personal and news events.  I invite your comments at  cathycongerblog@gmail.com

“The act of putting pen to paper encourages pause for thought, this in turn makes us think more deeply about life, which helps us regain our equilibrium.”  N. Platt

Scripture:   Luke 2: 1-20 , Genesis 17:1,  Genesis 22:13-14 , Psalm 23:1

 

The Birthday of a King 

Part II

 

With Jesus’ help, Joseph was able to support his growing family with his modest carpentry business.  His open air shop occupied the addition to the west side of the family home.  Two large work tables stood in the center of the room.  The baked mud floor was covered in wood shavings and sawdust.  The precious tools of Joseph’s trade, handed down through several generations of his family, hung from the huge cypress beams  that supported the ceiling.  Clay jars containing oils and paints lined the shelves along the inner wall.  Jesus sat on a tall stool at one table, sanding the boards that would complete a beautiful wedding trunk for Joseph’s friends, Eli and Miriam.  Joseph was preparing the iron hinges for the trunk.

“How are you coming with that sanding, son?” Joseph asked over his shoulder. 

“I’m nearly finished, Papa. “ 

“ Good, because I want to put the sides of the trunk together so I can attach the carved lid with these hinges before we quit for today.  Let me see one of those boards.”

Jesus held it up for Joseph to examine.  Joseph’s business may have been small, but he had a reputation for doing meticulous work.  Joseph reached over to run his hand over the surface of the board.  “Ah, smooth as your baby brother’s cheeks.  Good job, son! “ 

“Papa?” 

“Yes, Jesus?”

“Do you think I could come with you tomorrow to deliver this trunk to Eli’s house?  I love to smell the aromas of the oils in his shop and see the many colors of dye he has there.”

 

“Yes, I don’t see why not –if your mother approves.  The Roman soldiers have been raiding along the roads recently. There, these hinges are ready.  Let’s put this trunk together and admire the beautiful results of all our hard work.”

 

For the next hour, as the sun dropped closer to the horizon, Joseph and Jesus worked together like two oxen yoked together on the plow.  Each anticipated what the other needed.  “Jesus, hand me the polishing cloth and linseed oil.  We want Miriam to be able to see her face in this wood!”

 

“I can smell supper cooking.  My stomach is rumbling.” Jesus said, sniffing the air.

 

“That, my boy, is the delicious smell of roasting lamb, courtesy of our good neighbor, Micah, the shepherd.  I’d rather be paid in meat from a plump lamb than in coins any time.  It’s a rare treat to have meat on the table.”  Joseph stood back with his hands on his hips to admire the trunk.  “Ah yes.  A trunk fit for a king, don’t you agree?”

 

Jesus smiled.  “It’s a beauty, Papa.”

 

“Help me lift it into the cart.  We’ll pack it in straw and tie it down and then celebrate with a hearty meal.  I’m starved!”

 

“Me too, Papa.”

 

After they secured the trunk, the two walked around to the courtyard, following their noses to the oven.  Grandmother was taking vegetables wrapped in olive oil-soaked cloths out of the oven.  “I might have known you two would show up when there’s food involved,” she laughed.  “The lamb is juicy and the bread is fresh.  Wash your hands and come inside to the table.  The girls have poured the wine.”

 

Jesus and Joseph finished washing and went inside.  Jesus went about lighting the oil lamps.  Joseph put an arm around each of his daughters.  “Look at this feast.  My daughters are becoming fine cooks.  I will come and eat as soon as I see your mother for a few minutes.”  Joseph pushed aside the sleeping room curtain and went to Mary.

“How is the beautiful mother of my handsome new son?”

 

“I am well, my love.  You’re in an especially good mood.  The trunk must be finished.” Mary said.

 

“Between our good fortune to have friends who need a trunk for their wedding, a customer who pays us with fresh lamb, and a son who is showing a definite talent for wood carving, I would say this is a grand and glorious day.  Yahweh be praised!” Joseph said, scooping up baby James.  “This little man must come out and get his first smell of lamb.  I will have one of the girls bring your supper in to you shortly.  Get a few winks of sleep while you can.”  Mary smiled, closing her eyes as she slid leisurely down under the bedclothes.

 

Joseph sat down to the table with James tucked into the crook of his arm.  “There James.  Smell that?  That’s the smell of Yahweh’s blessing on our labor.  Too bad you can’t have any for the next year or so.”

 

Jesus’ sister, Joanna, giggled.  “Oh Papa. Where did you learn to hold a baby like that?  Your hands are so big that James could fit into the palm of your hand.”

 

“He could indeed.  I carried all of you like this. Besides, I am good with babies. I’ll have you know I’m an honorary midwife.”

 

“You, a midwife, Papa?” she exclaimed.

 

“Why yes.  Haven’t I ever told you?  I was the one to cut the birth cord when your mother delivered Jesus.”

 

“You did?” Joanna said, her eyes wide.  “Where was the midwife?”

 

“There was no midwife to be found that cold night in Bethlehem and your big brother here was bound and determined to come into the world no matter who was there, so I was it.”

 

“Joseph!” Grandmother scolded. “That is not fit talk for the supper table and besides, this lamb is getting cold.  Please offer the prayer so that my hard work does not go to ruin.”

Joseph lifted his hands toward heaven and praised Yahweh for their blessings and for the bounty of their table.  Then they all dug in with gusto.

 

After supper, while the children helped their grandmother with cleanup, Joseph took James back in to Mary.  While she nursed the baby, they talked of the day.  Mary said,

“Joseph.  Jesus kept me company for a while this afternoon.  I think he was worried about me during my labor and delivery.  He is such a kind-hearted child.  Joseph, he was asking again.”

 

“About what?  He asks so many questions.”

 

“About his birth.  Joseph, he knows.  Every day he understands more and more about his destiny.  Have you noticed?  This afternoon I told him about the angel and Elizabeth and your dream.  You should have seen his face!  He couldn’t get enough of the story.  Then you called him to the shop just as I was telling him about our caravan to Bethlehem and that crazy, bony donkey we took.  Joseph.  You must talk to him.  Tell him the rest of the story.  It’s time he knows.”

 

“Are you sure, Mary?  Is he old enough to understand that he is to be the Messiah?”

 

“Today something amazing occurred to me.  Have you noticed that Jesus  never does anything wrong?  He has never broken the law. Joseph, the boy has never sinned!  Not once to my knowledge.  And he told me that Yahweh, his Father, speaks to him as if they were face to face.  Talk to him.  Tell him about Bethlehem.  Tell him about the angels that night, and the shepherds, Herod, Egypt.  He deserves to know.”

 

“All right, Mary.  I will.  Tomorrow I am taking him with me to Eli’s to deliver the trunk.  

“Oh, Joseph. Is that wise?  You never know when the Romans will show up.”

 

“Please don’t worry.  I have learned to let Yahweh look after His son.  He won’t let anything happen to us. You wanted me to talk to him.  Well, we’ll have lots of time alone to talk along the way.  Look there.  James is asleep.  I’ll put him in his cradle. Mother and the children have gone to bed too.  You get some rest while all is quiet.  I think I will go up on the roof and pray.  I need guidance for this talk I am to have with Jesus.”

 

Joseph kissed his wife and James, put out the oil lamps and climbed the steps to the roof.  The sky was as clear as he had seen it in weeks.  There was a slight breeze.  Joseph spread out a blanket and lay on his back with his hands beneath his head.  Millions of stars twinkled in the black sky.  It was as if he were staring into the very eyes of Yahweh.  Suddenly, he thought he heard a soft voice on the breeze.  He sat up and peered into the darkness.  There, on the opposite side of the roof, Jesus was kneeling and searching the same vast sky.

 

“Jesus?  What are you doing up here so late?  You should be in bed.”

 

“I come up here every night, Papa.  My Father God speaks to me here beneath the stars.”

Jesus answered softly.  Joseph moved his blanket over beside Jesus and sat down.

 

“What does He say to you?”

 

“Many things, Papa.  We talk about how I must observe the law and resist temptation.  I tell him about my people, about their hurts and their worries.  I tell him when I am afraid or confused.  I tell him what makes us happy too.  Sometimes He helps me prepare for the ministry He has called me to.  I am growing stronger each day.  You teach me so many things, Papa.  So does Mother and Grandmother and Rabbi.  But there are some things that only my Heavenly Father can teach me.”

 

“Jesus, look at me. I have something very important to tell you. You know I love you very much.  You call me Papa and that is what I have tried my best to be.  I pray every day that I am fulfilling my promise to Yahweh to raise you and care for you, but Jesus… I hope you will be able to understand this.  James and the girls are my blood children, but you are different.  I can explain it only the way the angel explained it to your mother and me.  You are the son of God, Jesus.  The Holy Spirit came to your mother and overshadowed her, placing Yahweh’s seed in her womb somehow.  Then you began to grow inside her.  I was a faithful husband. She was a virgin. I did not have relations with her until after you were born.  Your birth was a miracle of the Almighty.”

 

 

“I know, Papa.  My father God has put these things on my heart.  Lately He’s been telling me that it is time I knew the story of my birth.  Tell me about it, please Papa?”  

 

“All right, Jesus.  I will tell you.  Where were you in the story when Mother left off?”

 

“You were on your journey to Bethlehem.”

 

So Joseph wrapped the cloak around the two of them and began the story of that blessed night.   “It was late in the day when our caravan arrived on the outskirts of Bethlehem.  We had been traveling for over eighty long miles.  I knew that Mary, your mother, was extremely  uncomfortable, but she never complained.  Some mornings she could hardly rise.  I was glad we had the donkey but in her condition it couldn’t have been easy to balance on his back along with our packs.  She didn’t think I saw her, but every so often during the two days before we arrived, I saw her face draw up in pain.  My heart froze as I realized she must be very close to her time. 

 

When the houses of Bethlehem appeared on the horizon, I heaved a sigh of relief.  Finally I would be able to offer her a warm room and a real bed to lie on.  But it wasn’t long before I realized that there were far more people in Bethlehem that day than the town’s inns could possibly accommodate.  A group from our caravan had decided to keep going to the next village to find lodging, but I knew we couldn’t take that chance.  We wove in and out through the crowd asking about rooms.  By sundown, I had inquired at every available inn with no luck.  Mary had begun to groan and hold her belly.  Her eyes told me there wasn’t much time to waste.  How could I ask her to labor on a dusty blanket on the ground?  It is a husband’s duty to protect his wife.  I had to find my wife a midwife and some privacy at the very least.  When we arrived at the very last inn on the edge of town, I was desperate!

 

“Was there no one who offered to help you, Papa?” Jesus asked.

 

“The crowds there had all experienced the same, arduous travels.  They were tired and hungry and cold, just as we were.  Compassion was a luxury.  I left Mary leaning against a palm tree outside the inn.  She looked up at me with sweat dripping down her face and her hands twisting her head covering with each labor pain.  She said,

 

`Joseph, I have been praying and I am certain Yahweh will provide a place for His son to be born safely.  Go and beg the innkeeper for mercy.’

 

I have never in my life wished for the wealth of a prince as I did at that moment.  There was a line of petitioners before me and the innkeeper was turning each one away.  By the time it was my turn to ask, his wife had joined him.  She was whispering something in his ear.  I pleaded with him. `Sir, I know that you have no rooms to let, but you see my wife is with child and her labor has begun. All we require is a private place out of the elements where she can lie down to deliver our child.  I beg of you, can you help us?’  I saw him exchange looks with his wife and then she spoke,

 

“Young man, I just spoke with your wife outside.  Judging by how close the labor pains are, she is very close to her time.  She’s looks so young.  Is this your firstborn?”

 

“Yes.  We would never have ventured away from her mother’s house at this stage except for the Roman edict that forced us to travel here.  I cannot even provide her with a midwife to help her birthing and now, no room either.  I am desperate.”  

 

“Joachim,” she said to her husband, “what about the stable?  We could bring clean straw. Inside the cave it is warm and dry.  What do you think?”  The innkeeper turned to me nodding. He said,

 

“Sir, my stable is not as full as many of the others.  At least it will be private and quiet.  I am ashamed that I cannot even offer you the room my wife and I share, but I have already rented even that.  Will you accept the stable for the night?”

 

I thanked him and reached for my money purse, but he said he could not accept money for the stable.  I went outside to Mary with mixed emotions – I was so grateful and relieved and yet scared to death.  `Mary, we have a place to go.  Let me help you up.  It’s not far.’  I didn’t have the courage to tell her I was carrying her to a stable full of cattle, donkeys, and sheep.  The innkeeper’s wife led us down the path ,while a servant boy ran ahead an swept out a few empty stalls, filling them with fresh hay. I’ll never forget what your mother said when we got there.

 

“Oh Joseph. It’s such a cozy stable.  Maybe they would let us stay here.”  I laughed and cried, all at the same time!

 

“ God forgive me for bringing you to this place,” I cried when I saw it.  It was the usual sort of stable cut into a rock cave. There were sheep, a few cows, several donkeys, and I don’t know what else.  It smelled of dung and hay and filthy animals and there was no light.”   I quickly unloaded our packs and tied the donkey in a stall.  Mary took  the few things she and her mother had prepared for the birth and spread them out over the fresh straw.  Then she had to lay down.  The innkeeper’s wife told me she would take me to find the local midwife, but your mother begged me not to leave her.  I told the woman to hurry.  Jesus, I knew nothing about childbirth.”

 

Your mother said, “Joseph. Fetch me plenty of water and hurry.”  This was one time I didn’t ask questions.  I ran to find a well.  It felt like I had to run all the way to Jerusalem!

When I returned, I there was no sound coming from the stable.  Terror gripped me.Then I heard a newborn’s cry.  It was you, Jesus.  Your mother had delivered you by herself!  She looked up at me with the most radiant smile I had ever seen.  `The son of God could not wait,’ she said. `But we would like you to cut the cord.’  Then she laughed!  Can you imagine?  I knew then why God had chosen this young girl to be the mother of the Messiah.  So I cut the cord.  It wasn’t hard, but my hands shook helplessly.  Just then the innkeeper’s wife returned.

 

“You’re too late,” I said. “He’s here!  And I cut the cord!”

 

“Congratulations,’ she said. “I couldn’t find the midwife, but I’ll take care of your wife now.  May we have that water please?”  I was so flustered I forgot to kiss your mother.  To tell you the truth, I was so anxious to get out of there, I forgot to even look at you!’

 

I went outside and sank down onto the ground.  `El Shaddai, our all sufficient Lord, I praise You.  You are Yahweh Jireh, the God who provides.  You are Yahweh Raah, the God that protects.  Thank you for the birth of our Messiah!  Give me wisdom and strength to care for this precious gift You placed in our care. I am nothing but a lowly carpenter. How shall I raise a king?  Help us both, Lord!  Help us to teach and provide for Your son.’  I guess I had been too frantic to notice before, but at that moment, I noticed the light.  It was so strange.  It was after midnight and yet for the last few hours it had been bright as day!  Over our heads shone the brightest star I had ever seen.  Now I don’t pretend to know anything about the movement of the heavens, like the Rabbi does, but I knew I had not seen this star before.  I couldn’t stop staring at it.  It was as though it was our own private light, standing over Bethlehem that night to let the world know God’s son had been born.  It was a though your birth was bringing light to a dark world.

 

“Papa, the Rabbi taught us about that star.  It traveled across the heavens for over two years and no one had ever seen such a star before. He said the star was three planets that came together and it only happens like that once every 3,000 years!  Father God put it there just for me, didn’t He, Papa?”

 

“That’s what I have always believed.  Once the innkeeper’s wife had helped your mother wash and they had washed and swaddled you, I was invited back inside.  Of course I’d never been a father before, but when I looked at you, well…you were perfect.  I was too nervous to hold you.  How is it that women just naturally know what to do with a baby?  Your mother just put you up to her breast and fed you like she’d been doing it for years.  Then she said to me,

 

 `Joseph, where are we going to lay him down to sleep?  I’m awfully tired and he’ll be asleep here soon.’  It was a simple question, but I was stumped.  The hand-carved cradle I had built for you was eighty eight miles away!’

 

“So where did I sleep, Papa?”

 

“Well, I looked around until I spotted the manger that the cattle fed from.  I got an idea.  If I were to put some soft hay in that trough, it would make do for a cradle.  Once again I had to apologize to your mother.  I’m sure when she’d dreamed of her firstborn child, she hadn’t pictured him in a feed trough.  But you know what?  You didn’t seem to mind a bit.  I laid you in there, covered you with my wool shirt, and you slept just fine.  We all did – despite that bright starlight.

 

“Then what happened in the morning?”

 

“Oh, a lot happened before we ever got to morning!  Actually, this is the part of the story I like best.  But aren’t you getting sleepy, young man?”

 

“No, Papa!  Go on, please!”

 

“Are you sure you can stay awake to hear about some shepherds and a host of angels and…”

 

“Angels and shepherds?  You bet!” 

 

Joseph took the blanket from around the two of them and laid it on the floor.  “Lay down here on your back next to me.  I want you to look at the starry sky and imagine it’s the night you were born.  You see Bethlehem is the royal city of David.  It’s not too far from the Temple in Jerusalem.  The fields around Bethlehem are where the sheep graze that are used for the sacrifices at the Temple on holy days, especially the sacrificial lamb the High Priest slaughters on the Day of Atonement.  So that night there were the usual company of shepherds in those fields, watching over those special sheep.  I think there is something very symbolic about that, but I’m not wise about those things.  Anyway, just about the time you were born, the sky was broken with a loud sound – like thunder, I suppose – and an angel appeared to the shepherds. Just imagine if you were one of those shepherds and the sky looked pretty much like it does tonight.  Now imagine that a dazzling light suddenly breaks through the stars.  You’d be terrified, wouldn’t you?  Well I would be and the shepherds sure were. And…”

 

“What did the angel say? Jesus interrupted. “What did the shepherds do?  Did they run?”

 

“I’m trying to tell you.  Now be still and listen.  This is what the shepherds told us the angel of the Lord said, 

 

`Do not be afraid.  I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’

 

Jesus’ face shone as he gazed into the heavens.  “Oooooh.  I knew it,” he whispered.

 

“Then suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly hosts of angels saying,  `Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom God’s favor rests.’     “ I sure wish I had been there.”

 

“Me, too, Papa.”

 

“When the angels disappeared, it probably took a while for the shepherds to get over the shock.  They told us that there was dead silence and then, all of a sudden, everybody started talking at once.  Ultimately they decided that they should go to Bethlehem and see this thing that the Lord had just told them about.  They left a couple of the shepherd boys with the sheep and made their way to town as fast as they could go. “

 

“And they found us by following the star, didn’t they?”

 

“They sure did.  Your mother and I were sleeping when they found us, but all their commotion woke us up.  You can imagine how surprised we were.  Frankly, I was a little worried that a bunch of travelers were about to kick us out of our stable so they could have it.  Then you began to cry and nobody knew what to do next.  The man who seemed to be their leader spoke first.  He told us what had happened out on the hillside and he asked if they could see the baby Christ.  I looked at your mother and she looked at me.   They were pretty dirty and foul-smelling.  I was sure your mother was going to tell them to go away, but she didn’t.  Somehow she recognized that these men knew you were the Messiah.  She smiled and spoke so sweetly to them.  She had you in her arms and when the biggest shepherd knelt down in front of you, she held you out to him and asked him if he’d like to hold you!  She said, `He is Messiah to all people, rich and poor alike.’

 

 It was the most touching thing I have ever beheld.  Each of those shepherds bowed down and worshipped!  Some of them took you in their arms and the awe on their faces was beautiful.  Jesus, they worshipped you as their king.  After awhile they said they were going to leave and go in to town and tell everyone what had happened.”

 

“Did a lot of people come out to the stable then?”

 

“No.  Oddly enough they didn’t.  Just the shepherds.  Then they returned to their sheep, rejoicing and dancing and praising God because they had been the first ones to see the Messiah.  I will never forget that night as long as I live.  Never.”

 

“Is that all, Papa?  Did we  get counted for the census?”

 

“ That’s not all.  We stayed there in Bethlehem for a week while your mother rested.  And yes, we were counted. Then we packed up our things and took you to Jerusalem to present you to Yahweh at the Temple as the Law commands us.”

 

“Like all firstborn baby boys, to have me circumcised and to offer a sacrifice.”

 

“Yes, we offered two doves.  Then a wonderful thing happened as we were leaving the Temple, but Jesus, you will have to wait until tomorrow to hear the rest of the story.”

 

“Why Papa?”

 

“Your old Papa is tired and that pain in my back is acting up in this cold air.  We have to get up early in the morning to get on the road to Eli’s.  Let’s get to bed now.  I promise I will tell you the rest tomorrow.”

 

“Okay, Papa.  But it will be hard to sleep.”

 

“I know.  I know.  Goodnight now.  God bless you, my son.”

 

“Goodnight, Papa.  I love you too.”

 

 

Prayer

Thank you, Lord God, for sending Jesus to us.  Thank you for sending Him as a human being , with all the same feelings and limitations as we have so that He could understand us and with no sin so that He could take our sins upon himself and die in our place.  I pray that people everywhere will see the Christ in Christmas and find hope and peace in knowing Him.  Amen

I hope some of you have read the interview column, 10 Questions, with Garrison Keillor in a recent Time magazine.  I am a particular fan of his.  I know at exactly what time every Saturday night he will begin his stories about Lake Wobegon on the Prairie Home Companion radio show.  I am a big fan of great oral storytelling in general.  A lot of people think it is a lost art.  I disagree.  I think that if you ask almost anyone who in their family loves to tell a good story, they will be able to name him or her without hesitation.  In the hands (or mouth, rather) of a skilled storyteller - and most come by those skills naturally - any ordinary event becomes a story that has the folks in the room eating out of his or her hand.  My father tells great stories and so does my best friend’s husband.  I’d like to think I do too, although I’m not ready to take my show on the road.  I do know enough to appreciate the truth of what Mr. Keillor (who does take his show on the road) has to say about telling stories.

  One of the 10 questions Time asked Garrison Keillor was:  Will you ever run out of Lake Wobegon stories?  His answer is classic and one to which all writers will respond, “Amen”.  He said,  “No. As long as you can still hear and see, you’ll never run out of stories.  I ran into an ancient cousin of mine a week ago and she told me something I’d never heard before.  My grandfather Keillor died before I was born, and she told me that every night, he lifted my grandmother into his arms — he’s a farmer, a big woodworking guy — and carried her upstairs to bed.  He had a big mustache and beautiful singing voice.  From that you could come up with a whole year’s worth of stories almost.”

He was also asked how he managed to master both writing and oral storytelling.  He answered quite humbly but in truth, “I didn’t.  There’s no mastery to be had.  You love the attempt.  You don’t master a story any more than you master a river.  You feel lucky to canoe down it.”  Whenever I get to tell a story, either orally or on paper, it is such a kick!  That doesn’t mean it’s easy.  It means it is fun and fulfilling and if you have an audience that appreciates it, all the better.  I feel “lucky to canoe it”.

The weakest part of my writing has always been the ending.  I usually have a hard time recognizing it when I’ve gone past it, and I certainly agonize over a proper ending - one that isn’t pat or patronizing to the reader.  I just love what Garrison said about that.  He was asked how he came up with the catchphrase “Where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking and all the children are above average”.  This was his answer:  “I needed to solve the problem of any writer telling a story — how do you end it?  You can do a gentle fadeaway:  `He went to the window and looked out into the darkness.  Snow was falling gently through the spruce trees.’  But that’s not good for half of the year.  If you just pause and say, `That’s the news from lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average,’ the problem is solved.”   Now why didn’t I think of that?

THE BIRTHDAY OF A KING
a retelling of the Christmas story
by Cathy Conger   Part I

The above photos are taken from the website www.nazarethvillage.com .  Nazareth Village is an archeologically authentic reconstruction of a village in modern day Nazareth that visitors can tour to see what the Nazareth of Mary and Joseph’s time was like.  The architects built each building according to archeologically accurate plans with original materials.  They also used the plans of structures that remain or are still built today with the original tools and materials from the 1st century B.C.  I included these photos to enlighten the reader of my story, which begins in the Nazareth of that time.

 THE BIRTHDAY OF A KING - Part I

Things were cramped in Mary’s family home in the small village of Nazareth, especially since she, Joseph, and their son, Jesus, had moved back to join Mary’s mother and sisters nine years ago. Like all the others in Nazareth, Mary’s grandfather had built his house into the side of a steep hill, facing south. He had chosen to build on this site because of the bell-shaped depression in the rock, which was an ideal spot to dig a cistern. Once the vital source of water was established, he erected the house from the plentiful limestone in the hills surrounding Nazareth, with straw and clay for mortar that kept out the cold and insects. Under the roof, made from cypress beams, woven- cane mats and many layers of earthen plaster, were the work room, three tiny sleeping rooms, and a cool, dark cave, hewn into the rock for food storage. The attached, outdoor courtyard was surrounded by stone walls that housed the stone gutters, which channeled rainwater from the sloped roof down to the cistern in the center of the courtyard. Small, narrow openings high in the walls let daylight into the eastern and southern sides of the house, while attached to the western wall, was the carpenter shop Joseph had built when he joined the family.

Today the cramped household was even more so since Mary had just brought baby James into the world. A new baby always sets a household topsy-turvy. Mary and the baby were resting in their small sleeping room, Joseph had escaped to his shop, Mary’s mother was making bread in the outdoor oven, Jesus’ two sisters were hanging laundry to dry on the roof, and Jesus was hanging around outside his mother’s room, hoping to finally be allowed to go in and see how she was. He had always been protective of Mary and childbirth was a dangerous ordeal for women.

“Jesus!” called his grandmother. “Have you brought the water from the well for Grandma? I didn’t want to bother Joseph to lift that heavy capstone off of the cistern.”

“Yes, Grandma. I just got back. There was a long line at the well this morning. I put the water jar under the shelf in the work room. You know, Grandma, I’m nearly twelve now. I can lift the capstone off the cistern for you.”

“Well, maybe so. I really don’t want to waste precious water from the cistern for bathing the baby anyway, but thank you just the same. You’ve been a good boy, helping your father and staying out of the way these last two days.”

“May I go in and see Mother and James, Grandma?”

“All right, but make it a short visit. Your mother is still worn out from giving birth.”

“Childbirth is hard, isn’t it, Grandma?”

She nodded. “Thanks to the fall of Eve, we women must labor in pain. But, Yahweh be praised, the results are always worth it. Just look at what a strong, adorable boy little James is! Now, don’t you worry. Your mother is strong. Good thing, too. Babies are a lot of work.”

“Grandma, was there this much fuss when the girls and I were born? Was I a lot of work too?”

“Well dear, the girls kept us all hopping and I imagine there was more than a little fuss when you were born, but I couldn’t say for sure. ”

“Why not, Grandma?”

“Because I wasn’t there. You were born in Bethlehem during the Great Census. That sure was a time of troubles.”

“Do you mean troubles with the Romans, Grandma?”

“Young man, you ask too many questions. You’ll have to ask your father about the troubles. I don’t like to even think about the Romans and all the fear and hardship they caused us.then and are still causing us today.. Now pour some of that water into the big bowl, then go have a nice visit with your mother.”

Jesus lifted the heavy clay jar and poured a bowlful for his baby brother’s bath. It seemed more than only two days ago that all the men of the household had been sent away while the midwife, his aunts, and Grandmother of course, had helped his mother through the labor and delivery of this baby. Such comings and goings, fussing and chattering! And then there’d been rejoicing over the birth of another son for Mary and Joseph. Tomorrow the house would be buzzing even more with preparations for James’ circumcision at the synagogue on the eighth day, but now Jesus was only interested in seeing his mother. Besides, nobody seemed to notice him anyway. Just baby, baby, baby.

“Mother, may I come in?” Jesus called through the curtain that separated his parents’ sleeping room from the rest of the house.

“Yes, Jesus, come in. Come in and see your baby brother!” Jesus pulled aside the curtain and walked to his mother’s bedside. It was nice and cool in the room with just a few rays of sunlight filtering through the narrow window. She lay propped up with the tiny infant beside her. Jesus kissed her gently on the cheek, then leaned over to get a look at James.

“I don’t know what all the excitement is about babies,” he said. “They’re all red and wrinkled up like figs and they don’t do anything but eat and keep us all up at night.”

Mary laughed. “You’re probably right. But just think. Now the girls don’t outnumber you in this family. Would you like to hold him?” Jesus sat down beside his mother, carefully holding baby James in his arms. “Every child born is a miracle. You were as tiny as this once, Jesus. Eleven years ago, though it seems like yesterday.”

” Mother, weren’t you frightened? To have a baby I mean. I hear the women talk at the well, telling stories of how difficult one’s birth was, how unexpected the next, how many mothers and babies don’t survive. I prayed to Yahweh for you, Mother. Was it dangerous for you to give birth to me?”

“Jesus, Yahweh was never closer to me than He was the night you were born. Your birth was the greatest miracle of all. When you are old enough I will tell you…”

“I’m old enough, Mother. I’m nearly twelve! Every year on the other relative’s birthdays, Grandma tells stories about their births and about the boys’ circumcisions and the feasts… but not mine. Just now I asked Grandma to tell me about when I was born, but she told me to ask Papa - because of the troubles. What were the troubles, Mother? Please tell me the story about how I was born. Please!”

“Mary. Is that boy pestering you?” Grandma said as she pulled the curtain aside. “You need your rest. Jesus, hand me little James. It’s time for his bath and time for you to nap, Mary, before he’s hungry again.”

“Oh, Mother,” Mary said. “Jesus isn’t pestering me. Go bathe James and show him off to your friends. Jesus will stay here and keep me company.”

Jesus curled up at Mary’s feet. “I can take care of Mother,” he said proudly.

“Oh, all right then,” Grandma said, scooping up the baby and some linen towels. “But soon your father is going to be calling you back to help him at the shop. Eli and Miriam’s wedding trunk must be ready tomorrow. The wedding is next week! So much excitement! I’ll be back soon.”

“Now, Mother? Tell me now?” Jesus said, his eyes dancing in anticipation.

“Goodness sakes, child. Calm down. I can see that it is time to tell you the story. But Jesus, you must not go about telling this to the others in the village. They’re not likely to understand, because, my love, nothing about your birth was ordinary. You see, there was and is something very extraordinary about you. I sense that you know that already, am I right?”

Jesus nodded. “My Father God speaks to me as if He were right beside me, Mother. When I am in school with the other boys and Rabbi reads the holy scriptures, I feel like I understand long before he explains the passage - like I have always known. I know I have come into the world for some special purpose. I believe I am here to save my people. Do you think I’m crazy, Mother? The others think I am. Sometimes they get jealous too.”

“Oh my, no, my precious son. They are jealous because they think you believe you are better than they are. Papa and I don’t talk about this much either - for the same reason. People just don’t understand what Yahweh is doing through you. Let me tell you what happened to me about thirteen years ago, when I thought I was crazy! I was very young and dreamed of falling in love. I was betrothed to Joseph, the best carpenter in Nazareth. I should have been happier, but I was too silly to realize the arranged marriage was a help to my family. I would become Joseph’s responsibility - one less mouth to feed at home. My parents were proud to have made such a match for me because we were quite poor and I had no dowry. One day I was kneeling by this very window, praying that Joseph would be good to me and that I would grow to love him during our year of betrothal. Suddenly, I had the feeling that someone was in the room. The light around me was so blinding that I had to shade my eyes to see. In the midst of that light stood the mightiest man I’d ever seen! His robes were pure white and they dazzled brighter than the sun. I was trying to make out his face when he spoke to me!”

“It was an angel, wasn’t it, Mother?” Mary nodded. “Was it Gabriel? What did the angel say?”

“I will never forget it. I’ve kept his words in my heart all these years. Gabriel said, `Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’ I was speechless! Me highly favored? A poor, fourteen year old girl from Nazareth, this tiny, wretchedvillage! Can you imagine? But then he said,
`Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to call him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever. His kingdom will never end.’
I tried to explain that I was still a virgin, but he answered, `The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.‘ Then the angel mentioned my cousin, Elizabeth.
`Even Elizabeth, your relative, is going to have a child in her old age, and she, who was said to be barren, is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.’ Elizabeth was older than your grandmother! I don’t know, but just hearing about Elizabeth - well suddenly, I wasn’t afraid anymore. I had always trusted Yahweh and I believed He chose me for a plan I dared not hope for. But to be the mother of the Messiah! Every Jewish girl for centuries has dreamed of being the mother of the Messiah. All I could do was fall to my knees and humbly accept.”

“Then what happened?”

“The angel disappeared as quickly as he had come. That’s when it all overwhelmed me. I was going to become pregnant! I hadn’t asked him how or when it would happen. What was it going to feel like? How would I know when it had happened? How was I going to explain this to Mama and Papa - to the rabbi - to Joseph? You can’t imagine how confused I was. I had so many questions and no one to ask! Why would Yahweh choose a poor, young, unmarried girl like me to be the mother of our blessed Messiah? But the angel said it was true. I felt limp and lay down on my bed. Instantly I fell into a deep sleep. The next thing I knew, my mother was shaking me awake, wondering why I was asleep in the middle of the afternoon.”

“Did you tell her about the angel?”

“No, not right away. I decided to wait until later. I told them about Elizabeth, though. They did not believe me. The year before, Elizabeth had told me that I was welcome to come for a visit any time. I thought this was a perfect time! I asked if I could go as soon as there was another group going that way with whom I could travel. At last they agreed. The next week I joined a family going that way and joined them on their journey. I was excited. Maybe Elizabeth was pregnant. If she was, would she believe me?

“So what happened at Aunt Elizabeth’s?” Jesus asked.

“When I met her, she ran to me! She was pregnant - just as the angel said.”

“What did she say?”

“”I was so nervous. You know I was only a couple of years older than you are. But you should have seen it! She smiled and took me into her arms. In a loud voice she said,
`Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.’ I couldn’t believe my ears. Yahweh is so gracious! It was as if her baby knew that my baby was his Lord! From that day forward, I had peace that I was participating in Yahweh’s great plan for a Messiah. I sang and rejoiced with Elizabeth that day. Come to find out, Elizabeth and Zechariah were very surprised too. Elizabeth had been barren all those years. Zechariah was the High Priest then. Even though he had been beseeching Yahweh for years about a child, when God granted this miracle, Zechariah couldn’t believe it! So do you know what God did?”

“Yes, Mother. God took away his voice. Everyone knows the story. He didn’t get his voice back until cousin John was taken to the Temple for his circumcision.”

“That’s right. John, too, was a very special gift from Yahweh. Even now, at nearly the same age as you are, Jesus, he is in training to fulfill his Nazarite vow. ”

“Like Samson,” Jesus interrupted. “They don’t ever cut their hair or drink anything fermented or anything that comes from grapevines and they must bring special offerings to the temple. They are setting themselves apart for service to Yahweh.”

“That’s right. Yahweh gave Moses the laws about Nazarites. I believe that one day you will meet John for a special purpose, for he will be the one to announce the arrival of the Messiah.” Mary closed her eyes and squeezed Jesus’ hand.

“Mother? Are you all right?”

“I’m fine. I was just thinking about the plans Yahweh has for you, Jesus. Anyway, more of the story. Elizabeth and I talked and prayed together every day. It helped me to get my mind off Joseph. I stayed with them several months, sewing baby clothes with Elizabeth and tearing up lots of swaddling cloths for your birth. The days passed slowly. I missed my family and I missed Joseph. Of course there was a whirlwind of excitement when Elizabeth delivered John. Even more so on the day of Zechariah’s prophesy about John. I was so excited, I had shivers! But when I was alone, I worried. Who will rejoice when I give birth? How was I supposed to explain it to Joseph? I should have been terrified. Everyone would think I had cheated on Joseph with another man. You know how small this village is. Everyone would know before sundown. If Joseph brought accusation against me to the elders, they would have every right, by law, to stone me! I prayed that Mama and Papa would believe me anyway - especially with Elizabeth having had a baby!”

“Did they believe you?”

“Bless them, they wanted to. I had never told tales or lies before, so they tried to believe. But Joseph just couldn’t. My pregnancy was obvious and I had been away a long time. I think my dear Joseph’s heart was broken. It was a mess.”

“So what did Papa do?”

“Jesus, Joseph is such an honorable, gentle, loving man. He told my father that he would not press public charges, but he would grant me a quiet divorce. I cried out to Yahweh for days. Lord, please make Joseph understand! I never left the house.” Mary changed her position in the bed to get more comfortable.

“Are you very tired now, Mother?”

“No, dear. Who could be tired in the middle of such an exciting story, right?” Mary winked. Then one day, when my hope was bleakest, Joseph came to me. He said that he had had a dream.”

“What sort of a dream?”

“The very same angel I had seen appeared to him in his dream. The angel told him that he shouldn’t be afraid to marry me because I truly was carrying a child by the Holy Spirit. Yahweh had answered my prayers. But our happiness did not last long. “The troubles that Grandma talked about?” Jesus asked.

Mary nodded. “The beginning of them, anyway. King Herod was on the rampage then. Besides crippling us Jews with enormous taxes in order to build his splendid palace, he was always afraid someone would steal his power. There were surprise raids all the time. Even in poor Nazareth. If you could not pay the tax, they would take your children to sell as slaves or take your land. Anyone who spoke of the coming Messiah was thrown in prison or crucified along the roads. It was awful. Then the Romans elected themselves a new governor over us and it seemed that this governor thought he was being short-changed in the tax collections. No surprise there. The Roman soldiers brought a decree to Nazareth that said there was to be a census. ”

“What is a census?”

“A census is when they count the number of persons that live in a district. Then they have records on which to base their tax collecting. As if a census wasn’t bad enough, they demanded that each of us be counted in the town from where our ancestors came. Heavens! I was getting close to my delivery date, my belly big as a camel’s hump, and we had to go all the way to Bethlehem during the coldest month of the year. My family line goes back to King David and fortunately so does Joseph’s, so we could go together. Your grandmother was frantic. How could I ever walk that distance? Who would deliver you if my time came? Or what if, God forbid, I delivered on the side of the road?”

“Poor Grandma. Did she go give the Romans a piece of her mind?”

“Oh no. Not even Grandma was that brave. It was a dangerous time for us Jews and we had to obey, no matter what. Just as now. We didn’t know how long we would have to stay in Bethlehem, so Joseph had to close the carpentry shop. Poor man. He had worked so hard to build it into a business that could support us. The day I was packing what we would need for the trip, Joseph sold some special carved furniture he had made for our home in order to buy me a surprise. Here he came with a donkey he’d bought! Bless his heart, he couldn’t bear the thought of me walking all the way to Bethlehem in my condition. I’ll tell you a secret. I couldn’t imagine how I was going to survive the trip bumping up and down on that bony donkey! But that donkey saved my life. A caravan was forming to go in the direction of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. We made plans to join it because there was safety from bandits in a caravan. Nevertheless, if my mother had known what was in store for us, she would have insisted on going too, Roman decree or not. I’m not sure why, but Mama and Papa had been instructed to register elsewhere. Anyway, one very cold, gray day, we said our goodbyes and set off. I don’t know which was worse - walking along the dusty road, sleeping on the cold, rocky ground, or riding that bony, obstinate donkey. We traveled over eighty miles over terrain that was uneven, rocky, desert in places. That is when I fell in love with Joseph. He never thought about himself until I was taken care of. I kept my complaints to myself and I prayed. Oh, how I prayed! Several families in our caravan suffered falls when their donkeys collapsed, but our donkey seemed to know he was carrying precious cargo. He was surefooted and seemed to always sense where the danger was. The journey took.us many weeks.”

Suddenly, Mary was interrupted by commotion in the other room. Baby James was hungry and he was letting the whole world know about it. Grandmother came into the room with a squalling James in her arms. “Here we are. Nice and clean,” said Grandma. “But he’s ready to eat. Jesus, your father wants you at the shop right now. Now scoot, so your mother can feed the baby.”

“Mother, will you tell me more of the story tonight after supper?”

“We’ll see, son. Some time soon, though.” She winked at him and patted his hand. “Now go help your father.”

Continue to Part II

OK, so I’m a big kid when it comes to snow.  I admit it.  I love snow (except after St. Patrick’s Day). Wednesday the blizzard moved in dropping 12-14 inches of snow.  The superintendant of schools actually called a snow day!  That’s because it’s still early and everybody wants time to get their cookies baked or wrap packages or build a snowman.  After Christmas snow days are rare.  It has to be 30 below zero or an ice storm to call off school.  Teachers would rather push through 2 feet of drifting snow to get to work than have to tack on extra make-up days in June! 

 No, snow doesn’t slow us down.  In Wisconsin we’re prepared for it. We have snowblowers, efficient plowing, snowmobiles, and we’ve even been known to cross country ski to work if necessary!  Visitors from out of state are amazed how the cold doesn’t phase us much either.  As someone from Scotland said - There is no such thing as bad weather - only bad clothing.  We choose our winter outerwear carefully.  It has to be warm up to -30 degrees.  It has to be stylish since it is all most people see us in from November to May.  And it has to have pockets - lots of pockets- for kleenex, mittens, car keys, chapstick, a bottle of Tylenol, cough drops, a pen and paper, our cell phone, sunglasses, hand lotion, and static spray (to keep from getting an electrical shock sliding out of your upolstered seat).  One winter my oldest daughter, who was living in Minneapolis, even carried a full size office stapler around in her coat pocket and claimed it came in handy several times!  Our sweaters are wool, our gloves are thermal-lined and our boots are warm and comfortable, since they are all we wear most of the winter.  And yes, we do wear long underwear under our business suits and even some cocktail dresses.  

When the temps plunge way below zero, we even have a way to plug in a heater under the hood to warm the engine block of our car (that really impresses outsiders!) and anyone without jumper cables in their trunk, must be a newcomer to snow country.  Other than those who drive a truck or a big Bertha SUV, everyone carries a big bag of salt around in their trunk all winter.  They don’t ever actually use the salt.  It’s in there to weigh the rear end down so they don’t skid on the ice or get blown off the road in the wind.  However, lest you think we are all tough when it comes to winter, the best-selling Christmas gifts in our town last year were the gadgets that allow you to start your car with a push for the button from the inside of the nice warm building you’re in.  And while you’re bundling up in your fashion-statement down coat, your car is warming up!

You’ll find plastic over the windows of a lot of people’s houses. It makes for a shower door-like view but keeps out the drafts and keeps those dreaded  heating bills down.  There are lots of fireplaces and wood-burning stoves here in the north woods.  Each October my husband gets a face cord of wood for our fireplaces and sets the thermostat at 66.  I get out the slush rugs.  You’d be amazed how much dirty snow melts off the bottom of boots and gets tracked across my beautiful hardwood floor.  Of course I’ve laid so many slush rugs that you can’t even see the hardwood floor, but it beats vacuuming and wiping up floors twice a day. 

 We had a warm November this year and folks took advantage of it by putting out their Christmas lights and yard decorations as soon as Halloween was over.  We should have. My husband was outside, up to his knees in snow, on Thursday, stringing lights along the fence and garland around the lamp posts.  But he survived just fine because - you guessed it - he was wearing the right clothes.  So now we’re off to cut our Christmas tree at one of the dozen Christmas tree farms here.  The ritual is that mom, dad and the kiddies split up and tramp up and down the rows of ten acres of balsam, scotch pine, spruce, and white pine.  When one of the kids spots a tree he or she thinks mom will like, they shout out and stand on that spot on his or her soon-to-be frostbitten toes while mom tries to find him.  If he is lucky, she’ll love it, dad will cut it down and drag it to the car, and they’ll be on their way.  But mom is really particular.  She holds out for a better one and the kids each go find another potential tree. Eventually mom makes a decision - mainly because she doesn’t want to spend the evening in the emergency room with her frostbitten children.  Our five children are grown now and, it might be noted, all have artificial Christmas trees.  I hate artificial trees.  I love the earthy smell of fresh pine in the house.  However, today I compromised.  We chose a tree inside the barn and as always, when we got it set up and strung with lights, we had to admit that it was the best tree we ever had.

D-mail for the week of 12-10-09

 

Scripture:  “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government wi.  And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.”  Isaiah 9: 6-7a

 

“Christ Jesus, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross.  Therefore God exazlted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father.” 

Phillipians 2:6-11

 

REJOICE !   `TIS THE CHRIST OF CHRISTMAS

 

The Christmas season is upon us!  Here in Wisconsin, we got 12 inches of snow on the last 48 hours and I have to admit, it seems more “Christmasy” now.  However, snow or not, this is the season to make our hearts ready to welcome our King of Kings.  I was privileged to attend the St. Olaf College Christmas Festival last Saturday and the concert of the Vocalessence choral group on Sunday.  The music lifted my soul to heaven’s gate!  I came home and was inspired to write a Christmas poem entitled “The Christ of Christmas”.   I would like to preface it with two lines from one of the pieces I heard done by Vocalessence.  They are the last two lines from the lyrics to “The Heart-in-Waiting” by Kevin Crossley-Holland.

 

 

`Here and now,’ said the heart-in-waiting,

`This is the place where You must be born.’

   – Kevin  Crossley-Holland

 

THE CHRIST OF CHRISTMAS

Cathy Conger

 

Whose wisdom has counted

each flake of new snow,

each droplet of rain,

each seed that’s been sown?

 

`Tis the Christ of Christmas,

Christ of infinite Mind,

who for sinners’ sake,

left Heaven behind.

 

Whose strength is known

in the thunder above,

in unwavering hope,

in a Savior’s love?

 

`Tis the Christ of Christmas,

Christ of limitless might,

born a helpless babe

on that Bethlehem night.

 

Whose heart’s ever heeded

the broken one’s fears,

the groans of the hungry,

a bowed mother’s tears?

 

`Tis the Christ of Christmas,

Lord of mercy, thus,

the child born Immanuel,

God with us.

 

Prayer

Lord Jesus, we wait in wonderful anticipation for your birthday to come once again.  We are preparing our hearts to welcome you this Christmas.  We worship you and thank you for leaving the holiness of heaven to come down here to our wicked and sinful world and be born as one of us.  Our limited minds cannot comprehend the amount of love for us that it took for you to do that and then to go on to die for us, taking every sin we ever committed or will commit upon your body.  We love you, Jesus.  Amen

                                                  

`Here and now,’ said the heart-in-waiting,

`This is the place where You must be born.’

   – Kevin  Crossley-Holland

 

THE CHRIST OF CHRISTMAS

Cathy Conger

 

Whose wisdom has counted

each flake of new snow,

each droplet of rain,

each seed that’s been sown?

 

`Tis the Christ of Christmas,

Christ of infinite Mind,

who for sinners’ sake,

left Heaven behind.

 

Whose strength is known

in the thunder above,

in unwavering hope,

in a Savior’s love?

 

`Tis the Christ of Christmas,

Christ of limitless might,

born a helpless babe

on that Bethlehem night.

 

Whose heart’s ever heeded

the broken one’s fears,

the groans of the hungry,

a bowed mother’s tears?

 

`Tis the Christ of Christmas,

Lord of mercy, thus,

the child born Immanuel,

God with us.