Dec 252010
 

Twelve.

Twelve sons.

Twelve tribes. A nation of tribes, but only one chosen. Judah.

 A huge tribe, but only one descendant chosen, David.

A large clan, but only one chosen…

The rhythmic groans followed by short gasps came in shorter and shorter intervals.

“It’s… time, Joseph!”, she ground out, “get something clean!”

Joseph hurriedly put a clean cloth beneath her. He was near panic. With his other sons, he had been far outside, banished by the midwife. Now, there was no one.

“It’s coming!”, Joseph announced suddenly,”It’s coming!” And Mary began to push. As waves of pain washed over her, a scream began to build in the bottom of her lungs. Low and growing higher, soft and growing louder.

Her scream racketed against the stone walls of the cave. She screamed long. She screamed from the ripping pain in her young body. She screamed in fear for the safety of the Life within her. She screamed in anger at bringing this Life into such a filthy place, into such a filthy world. She screamed loud. She screamed with joy that the Life would soon be hers to touch, to hold, to love. She screamed in exultation at the honor of carrying such a life. And, finally, she screamed in victory as the Life finally slipped from her and into Joseph’s hands.

A sudden and anticlimactic hush fell over the cave. Time seemed to stand still as Mary hushed, Joseph froze, and the baby lay still. It seemed that the entire world shuddered to a stop and waited, waited for Life.

A thin cry escaped from the bluish lips of the tiny baby. Slowly, Joseph lifted the baby heavenward. Great drops of blood fell from his hands and feet and stained Mary’s robe. Joseph looked down, amazed at the shadow formed by the baby’s outstretched arms on Mary’s belly, the shadow of a Roman cross!  Unworthiness filling his heart, he lifted the little one even higher and shouted, “Father, into thy hands!”

Suddenly, a blinding, blue-white light fills the cave and the hills around Bethlehem. The energy release from a thousand angels lighting up at the same time caused the air to compress and, BOOM! CRASH! The shock wave knocked shepherds off their feet and stampeded their flocks. It echoed and re-echoed off the hilltops until the ground shook beneath them.  Then, before the rumbling completely stopped, another sound started softly, then grew until it filled the air.

A thousand voices, singing so many parts that it seemed the whole spectrum of human hearing was covered! They sang loud! They sang, rejoicing at the birth of the newborn Son. They sang to honor the gift of Himself their Commander had given. They sang long. They sang glory to God the Father who gave His Son. They sang in sheer amazement and wonder at the love of Father and Son.  They sang to please Mary and Joseph for nine month journey of faith. And they sang with pure joy for being allowed a part in this celebration, a celebration of the love of the Creator for his created.

Dawn was still hours away as Mary lay holding her new Baby so close. She looked down and her eyes widened at the sight of her perfect Son, covered in blood and birth, cord still connecting. Joseph knelt at her side, the sharp knife forgotten and dropped in the hay. He still stared at the open stable door where the light still glowed and the sound still entered to fill his ears.

And so a plan became Life that night. A plan laid before the world was. A plan drawn by a Father for His wayward children. A plan where His Son, his only Son, would eagerly lay down his life to prove His Father’s love and His love. The greatest story is not that of a virgin and her husband, but that of a loving Father, giving everything, even to death, to bring His children home. A story filled with perfect God and rebellious children, shining stars and crushing shame, filled with blood and with blessing, filled with power and with pain, with obedience and joy and rejection and deceit. The Father’s love story.

Immanuel, God with us. God became man. And just as He lived in Mary so long ago, so He will live in you and in me if we let Him. Not forcing, but loving us into loving Him back, healing and changing us from the inside out to look more like Him. What a gift! What an amazing grace gift! It’s yours! Open it!

Dec 242010
 

Eleven.

Eleven boys.

Some older. Some younger. Five of them already learning the skill of fishing from their fathers on the Sea of Galilee. Some leaders, some followers, some fighters.

Pushing, pulling, crawling, falling. Fighting, fearing, asking, telling. They stretched and grew, these eleven, somehow already knowing that there were questions they asked without answers, somehow knowing that there was someone they waited and watched for without name.

Every day they listened to their fathers speak of the promised Messiah, the one who would liberate them from the hated Romans. Every day they played and fought, acting out imaginary battles of rebellion. Every day they hoped and prayed for a place in the Messiah’s new kingdom. A place with authority and power, prestige and riches. 

They all heard the ramblings of the old rabbi, older than their father’s fathers. A spirit kingdom, he would rasp. Fighting not for country, but for hearts of men, they would hear him say. Yes, a kingdom, he instructed, but a kingdom within you.

The boys wondered at the sayings of the old man, feeling a strange tugging inside when they heard him speak. Then they would shrug and go back to their fighting, fighting imaginary, but very physical battles, yearning for the day when their play would become real. Only One knew their appointed tasks. Only One knew the battle they would fight. Only one knew the Power that lay within their grasp.

Meanwhile, far away in another world, a million angels vied for a thousand positions. Only the very best were chosen. Angels with years of experience. Angels with great power and tremendous skill. Angels abounding with enthusiasm and passion for this once only event.  Quietly they practiced, carefully they planned, rapidly they flew.

Angels and boys, voices and noise, each with a task and time. Only One knew the time. Only One knew the Son’s time. Only One knew that time had finally come. He had waited for hours and months and centuries to come.

So now, angels and boys and Son. All willing. All waiting. Some had years to wait. Some had only hours.

Dec 232010
 

Ten.

Ten days. Ten weeks. Ten months, Ten wives. No, definitely not. Ten daughters, Ten sons. Joseph slogged through the mud to the end of the drainage ditch he was digging. This was the tenth hour today. He could feel every swing of the pick now.

Ten picks, Ten cubits. Ten, uh, Ten Commandments! There. Something he could occupy his mind with for a while. Thou shalt not have any other gods. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image. Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain. Thou shalt not, I mean, Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor.

He didn’t need a command to work, he thought to himself as he swung the pick just a little harder. Just looking into his wife’s face, his richly loved, but poorly dressed wife, was enough to keep him working from dawn until dark every day, well six days. With each passing week, it was a little harder to find work and a little harder to support his new little family of two, soon to become three.

Joseph was waiting. Waiting for the baby to come, waiting to make Mary his wife in every sense, waiting to make the trip back to Nazareth and his business. He had always hated waiting! He had waited for Mary to become old enough to wed, then the midnight visits that had changed both of their lives forever.

One more step forward, one more swing of the pick. He knew how to be a good father. His older sons, left without a mother years before, still relied on him for everything.  But how to be a father to someone else’s child? The son of JHWH himself, the Promised One of Israel, the Messiah.  Step. Swing. How could he raise and train this son? Wouldn’t he need much more to save Israel than just apprenticeship to a master carpenter?

Step. Swing. He buried the point of the pick deep into the earth and fell to his knees. The light finally fading in the western sky, he lifted his face heavenward. Not my will, but yours be done, he whispered the prayer.  He gasped a quick breath as his few words seemed to echo in the stillness. In a moment of strange vision and clarity, he wondered. Would his son  say those same words in desperate submission one day? Step. Swing. The pick to his shoulder, he walked slowly toward the stable cave, lost in thought.

Dec 222010
 

Nine.

Nine months.

Nine months ago, she experienced the most frightening and the most miraculous night of her life. Mary thought back to that night. It seemed so long ago.  She had experienced so much since. Embarrassment and pride, joy and sorrow, love and selfishness, weakness and strength, faith and fear. The shunning of her friends, the scorn and ridicule of her neighbors, the shock and disappointment of her parents, the disillusionment, then trusting acceptance of her promised Joseph. It seemed a lifetime, nine months. It was the lifetime of her son.

Here she was, trying to rest on a small pallet in the back of a stable cut into the side of a hill. With earth and rock on three sides, top, and bottom, the stable was damp and dark, and only slightly warmer than the exposed part of the building. The damp, woolly smell of the sheep competed with the acrid stench of their excrement to fill her nostrils. The racket of prized male goats butting against stall doors. The squeak of mice and the rush of pigeon wings.  The sight of an unsupervised kid…. goat or child peering around the edge of the next stall. Privacy was nonexistent.

Joseph was gone again. Picking up small jobs, sometimes in his trade, sometimes just unskilled labor. Whatever he could find in order to earn a few coins to keep them fed. Joseph thought she didn’t notice when he slipped most of his food onto her plate, making sure that she and the baby were well nourished. He was so considerate of her needs. As miserable as she was, her one joy was see the love he had for her, shining in his eyes and clear through his every action.

“God of my father’s father,” she breathed,” will your son be born here? Will your son be born tonight? I’ve carried him for nine months. You’ll have to carry him now. Will he be soiled by the filth of the stable as we are fouled by the obscenity of sin? I can’t keep him clean. You’ll have to cleanse him, my God, even as you purify me. Only you can. Only you.”

Dec 222010
 

Eight.

Eight days.

Eight days of traveling ten miles a day. Mary remembered Joseph’s words as they had started their journey seven long days ago. It would have taken him three days by himself, she thought as she lay against the saddle bags. She looked up at the stars overhead. They looked so close and bright out here away from any town. She turned back to the fire and reached her hands out, warming them into comfort again.

She felt a slight chill as she looked up and glimpsed the shadowy figure of her Joseph, silhouetted against the starlight. A stout walking stick in his hand, he peered into the darkness, his other hand resting lightly on the hilt of the knife in his belt. Not able to keep up with the safety and company of any groups of travelers, she knew he was ever alert for any sign of the roving bands of thieves who frequented the area.

Because of her, they travelled so slowly. Because of her they were in danger. Because of her, Joseph was losing more work time in his shop. Because of her, Joseph was up every sleepless night, protecting, guarding, watching. Because of her.

The census edict had been such a shock. The soldiers, shouting out, then posting Caesar’s command that everyone be registered in a nationwide census. Then the requirement that all men be registered in their ancestral home cities. Funny, but she hadn’t thought of this before. Joseph, descended from King David, would need to travel to Bethlehem. Was this how the prophecy would be fulfilled? How strange that God would use a pagan emperor to work out His will.

So, here they were, their last night on the road. Exhausted, Mary wondered what they would find in Bethlehem. Where would they stay? They had little money. Joseph had brought his tools, hoping to trade his woodworking skills for food and lodging.  She rested a hand on the still growing bulge at her waist.  How big would she get?

She rolled over and got to her knees. Lurching to her feet,  she looked off into the hills. Could she see the faint glimmer of Bethlehem’s lights? What would tomorrow bring? Who would help when her time came? She sobbed once, thinking of her mother, many miles to the north.  Joseph appeared instantly at her side, asking about her welfare. Reassuring him that she was alright, he eased back away from the fire, letting his eyes readjust to the darkness.

Dec 202010
 

Seven.

Seven was a special number to the Jews.

Seven, the perfect number.

Jericho’s walls came down after Israel marched around the city seven times on the seventh day. Naaman, the Aramite general, was healed of his leprosy after dipping seven times in the Jordan.

Mary had heard an aging rabbi, shunned as an eccentric, talking to her father late into the night. By the light of a wavering candle flame he had drawn out patterns of sevens with a piece of charcoal on a slab of wood.

Six sevens of generations had passed since Abraham. The seventh seven was about to begin. The long awaited Messiah was due to come.

Every week there was a seven. The Sabbath, a day of worship and rest. Would her baby be born starting a seven of rest like the Sabbath, or healing like Naaman, or destruction and conquest like Jericho?

As she lurched clumsily to her feet, she remembered another seven. Seven months the promised baby had been growing in her. She placed her hands on her swollen belly. She watched it change shape as the baby stretched its limbs.

She felt the thud of a kick as he moved. Was he impatient to come out? Did he anticipate his birth as much as she did?

Did he know? Could he know what he would become, who he was? Did he already know more about his future than she did?

Sevens. Sevens of sevens. The late night words of the old rabbi swirled in confusion in her mind. A seven of peace? A seven of violence and victory? How was she to know?

One thing she was sure of. Her baby would need his strength as no baby ever had before, no matter what his seven might bring.

So this seven was hers, one she knew about. This seventh month was hers to make sure her baby was well nourished and protected. So, while she was on her feet, she swayed and rocked her way to the cooking room, looking for something to stop the aching rumble in her stomach.

Dec 192010
 

Six.

Six letters.

Six letters in a name not used for hundreds of years.

J-O-S-H-U-A

Joshua. A man chosen by God through Moses to lead his people home to the promised land after years of wandering in the wilderness.

Joseph lay awake in the predawn hour, watching the stars slowly fade as the sun neared the horizon. The dream seemed as clear as if it had happened yesterday. The angel banishing his fear. The instructions: take Mary as his wife, name the baby Jesus.

Why Jesus? It was a Greek name. A foreign name for their liberating Messiah? In Hebrew, it translated Yeshua, or Joshua. That was better. Joshua, the hero of the Promised land. From the Jordan river flow stopping, to the Jericho walls crashing, to the vanquishing of all the Promised Land inhabitants, Joshua was a great name in Jewish history.

It meant the Lord saves. Joseph considered the name and what secrets it might be keeping about the future. JHWH knew, they needed saving. Their nation, a pale shadow of its former greatness, lay with a Roman sword at its neck.

Joshua, it was a good name. A name he would be proud to cry out when his time came. To be the father of the king, what wonder would that bring? What recognition, what power!

Joseph felt a twinge of discomfort as he remembered the angel’s last words, the reason for the name.

“Because he will save his people from their sins” “uke 1:21 NIV

What sins? Wasn’t their nation JHWH’s chosen one. Weren’t they already his favorites? How did that fit with liberation from the Romans?

What was he missing? Joseph wrestled with the conflicting ideas in his groggy mind. What kind of kingdom would he build?

“Joshua….. Jesus….” He mumbled as he drifted back into an uneasy slumber.

Dec 182010
 

Five.
Five fingers.
Five tiny baby fingers.
Would they grow long and sensitive, an artist or musician perhaps? Or would they be hard and calloused, marred by stains and splinter wounds- carpenter’s hands?

The sound of shod horse’s hooves clattering on stone broke into Mary’s revery. A bloodcurdling scream, though quickly stifled, split the air. Mary cringed and looked at the door bolt. Young girls, walking alone, had been snatched by passing Roman soldiers, abused frightfully, then left damaged and bleeding. Sometimes left carelessly at the edge of a camp site, sometimes dropped from a galloping stallion on the edge of town as a warning message.

She had seen men hobbling through town, permanently maimed, having been ridden down by a mounted soldier’s cruelty.

The hated Romans, reminding the Jews of their subjected state in all parts of their lives, even to their virginity. The entire nation, at least what remained of it, groaned and prayed for the coming of the Messiah, the one who would break their shackles of bondage. The one who would turn the tables on the Romans, making slaves of them and returning Israel to its rightful place at the head of all nations.

She remembered the words of the angel visitor in the night,

“The “Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will reign…” Luke 1;32-33. NIV

Yes, her child would end the reign of tyranny, setting the hated Romans, the Gentiles, running for their lives.

Yes. Her child. Those five tiny fingers would grow to form a mighty fist, a fist holding a sword and delivering them from Roman oppression! The rabbi taught it. Everyone believed it.

And now she was part ot it! Part of the long awaited promise. Generations of teaching made it right. Didn’t it?

Dec 182010
 

Four.
Four months.
Four limbs. Four tiny limbs. “Are they perfect?” Mary thought. “What does a God baby look like anyway? And what about the whole ‘Thou Bethlehem’ thing? We’re in Nazareth. I don’t understand. I’m so confused.

Joseph had spoken publicly of his continued betrothal, but had not taken her into his home. The ceremony had yet to take place, but it was getting awkward around town. As she neared the halfway point of her pregnancy, there was no hiding the growing Life inside her.

Walking in the marketplace, she felt the stares, heard the whispers behind cupped hands. How could she have slipped so fast from good girl to loose woman? Her parents were no help. Why didn’t the angel visit them? In all of Nazareth, even in her own family, no one believed her but Joseph. And he wasn’t with her. She was alone. She was afraid.

She felt so guilty when she had these thoughts. Hadn’t the angel visited her? Wasn’t Aunt Beth’s confirming word enough? Didn’t she trust the Source of Joseph’s dream about her?

“Nothing is impossible with God.” She remembered the angel’s words four months, a lifetime, ago. And she knew that she had not slept with Joseph, had not slept with any man. And she knew she was surely pregnant. Wasn’t that the impossible?

“No, the impossible right now is me trusting,” she grumbled to herself. “My faith is weak, weak, weak.”

She struggled to her feet and wound her way out the back door, through the farmyard, and into the pasture beyond. Climbing to the top of a low hill, she leaned against a large oak and looked toward the horizon, seeing Nazareth, full of doubting, weak, stumbling people. People just like her.

Looking to the brilliant blue above, she cried out,”See me, Father? Help me, Father! Why me, Father?”

She waited, listening. A brisk breeze rustled the leaves above her. “I am!” A Voice whispered, “Walk on!” Her rapid heartbeats slowed, her rasping breaths calmed, her tumbled thoughts stilled, her spirit steadied, she smiled.

Today we wander erratically through our lives, letting circumstance and society around us destroy our faith. We hope and pray for the big miracle, the big blessing, not realizing that God waits patiently for us to realize that the biggest miracle is waiting on the inside, the inside of us.

“No, nothing is impossible with God.” She thought. “Not with His Son and not in my spirit.”

Dec 162010
 

Two.

At least she knew there were two.

Whisked away the next day to spend time with Aunt Beth in the south. Out of town. Out of sight. Out of…mind.

Except for Joseph, that is. Guilt-ridden, he found an excuse to make a woodshop delivery almost every day that took him by the home of Mary’s parents.  He longed for just one glimpse of her. And  hoped that he would not see her!  What did he want, lonely safety or risky togetherness?

Week after week after week passed by. He began to lose weight. His clothes hung loosely on his sparse frame.  Conflict drove him. Drove him away from others. Drove him to his knees. Night after night. Less and less talk, more and more listening.

One night-

An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  Matthew 1:20 NIV.

The next morning, fresh air and a fresh attitude gave a new spring to his step. Confident in his decision, Joseph marched up to the front door and knocked discreetly. Asking for Mary’s father, he shared his night’s dream and begged her father to let him resume his betrothal.  The positive response ringing in his ears, he lengthened his stride as he continued past the house.

Suddenly, he sees her against the back fence.  Hands and face raised to the morning sun,  glowing with health, her figure gently blossoming with motherhood.

Hearing his step, she turns and her face breaks into a wide smile!

“It’s true!” she said, “even Aunt Beth knows!”

“And I know,” he whispered to her in his arms, “I know! His Son will be my son, our son!”

And then there were three.

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