Herb’s Blog, Herbdate 22604 – 918
Here’s the haps:
In 2007 I originally wrote a series of 4 posts about how I imagined Joseph may have seen things. In 2010 I took it down and fleshed it out to a total of 7chapters. A couple are over 2,000 words and one of them is over 3,000. The first 4 are pretty much the originals and number four is scheduled for Christmas Day. I am going to post the whole 7 chapters this week.
Joseph’s First Christmas
Part 5 of 7
The next several days are filled with strangeness and wonder. Curiosity seekers, the humble and reverent, even those who scoffed and disbelieved the shepherds all come to see the new infant and all go away with at least that joy that seeing a newborn infant brings.
“Weren’t his eyes so clear and bright?”
“Thankfully he looks like the mother!”
“You know, I hear she had to deliver him in the stable.”
“There was no room anywhere. It was awful. I had to sleep on the floor and let Aunt Miriam have the bed.”
“They say the shepherds went crazy the other night; shouting in the streets about angels and a Savior, rousing people from their sleep.”
“Oh, yes, I am sure that Messiah would be born in a stable and laid in a manger. Ha-ha-ha.”
“Well, I suppose this census will bring out all manner of people.”
“Did you see how he looked at me as he held my finger? He smiled.”
“Gas. Good thing you handed him back when you did.”
“Did you notice the way the father watched everyone so intently, as though something might happen?”
“Yes, but the mother was a very sweet young girl. She just let us all hold him and talk to him and tickle him. Her husband is older and probably doesn’t know much about children – yet.”
You worry about the crowds of people who have come to see the child. Of course, it is normal, right, and good for people to be interested in a baby, especially one that would rouse shepherds from their flocks, which is, of course extraordinary, but you fear something happening. Even though you know what you know, you feel an awesome and heavy responsibility for his well-being. What if the religious leaders were to get wind of it? You laugh within yourself. The religious leaders would never believe you, the shepherds, or anyone else that was not in their class.
As people start trickling out of the town, the innkeeper finds room for you and you begin inquiring about a more permanent place to stay and perhaps set up shop. It has barely been a week and the thronging multitude is mostly gone already. You must stay here for a while yet because Mary’s days of purification under the law must be accomplished and an offering made at the temple.
The naming and circumcision of the child should be a normal and routine thing on this, the eighth day, and really, for the most part, it is, until the rabbi asks, “What is the child’s name?” You choke up and begin to tremble and your eyes well up. You will be the first human being on Earth to say this name as it relates to this particular child. The Son of God Himself. God With Us. Emmanuel. Jehovah is become our salvation, “His name shall be called Jesus.” You feel that same way you did those nine months ago when the angel appeared. There is power and peace and strength and hope as you say the name. You pull yourself together as Mary smiles at you.
The next day the groups from Nazareth and beyond, who had waited for the naming of the child, depart. You would only have to turn back to Jerusalem in a few days and Mary is gaining strength in her days of purification. The innkeeper’s family has proved invaluable in helping you; finding you work, helping you get a place to stay, introducing you around town, and just generally being helpful and kind. You get a little house nearby and feel blessed at all that is happening.
As you wend your way to the temple, you find it hard to believe that the forty-four days of Mary’s purifying have passed already. You must go up to the temple to sacrifice. You have always loved the sacrificial rituals, even if you don’t love what the moneychangers have turned it into. You believe the laws were intended to be fair and just so that rich or poor could make a sacrifice to the Most High. Any and all could find the very best they had and bring it to be offered. Of course, the priest had to inspect it and if there were any blemish whatsoever in any of the offering you would have to exchange it for one that was whole. Wouldn’t it be convenient if there were someone on hand that would be able to readily exchange it for you? For a fee, of course. You didn’t expect someone to give you a perfect lamb, ram, dove, ox, whatever, in exchange for your imperfect one and not expect remuneration, did you? You speculate that in the beginning, it may have been a perfectly innocent exchange, but now there were moneychangers right in the middle of the very court itself with birds and oxen and sheep. You also know that a coincidentally large number of animals are turned away by the priests, forcing the people to have to exchange them for a good animal, which the changers just happen to have available. For a fee. Even though you could probably catch a couple of turtledoves or pigeons for the offering, you know that they could easily be found imperfect and need to be exchanged anyway. You will buy a sacrifice from them.
As you make your way into the Temple, a very old man begins shuffling your way. You have seen him here many times before but this time he is making his way directly toward your wife and the baby. You have always enjoyed the company of the old ones, especially when they were as honestly pious as you remember this man to be. You realize that you should be surprised at nothing any more but what happens next astounds you anyway. The man, Simeon, gently takes the child from Mary with surprisingly strong, sure hands for one so old and begins to speak. You have heard stories of how the prophets of old would speak and their voice would take on a divine power and quality but you have never heard someone prophesy. Now the hair on the back of your neck stands on end as you feel the same power you felt in the presence of the angel. He is talking about the salvation of all people, even light unto the Gentiles! He asks if he can bless you and you bow your heads and he lays his hands on your heads and prays for protection and wisdom and strength for you and comfort for Mary as he tells her that the child will be the rising and falling of many in Israel and a sword shall pierce her soul, also.
Just as he finishes his prayers, an old woman walks up. Old doesn’t even begin to describe her. This is Anna of the Temple. Everyone says she lives here and that all she does is fast and pray. You have seen her since you were a young boy and you believe this to be true. As Simeon ends his prayer, she begins giving thanks. She knows all those who are waiting for the Messiah and speaks to them about the child.
From the corner of your eye, you observe a hushed conversation between a scribe and one of Herod’s guardsmen. Over the years you have picked up an ability to read lips and you become nervous and almost start trembling as your heart speeds up. The guard is saying, “They are talking about Messiah being born. I think I should notify Herod. You know all he’s done to ensure he retains his power. If Messiah has come…” His voice trails off
The scribe laughs, “What? Them? I don’t think so. Look at them. Are those poor people there royalty? They are not of any high family and are keeping company with those two nuts that always hang around here. They are most likely some of the Anawin from the hill country. They keep the Law strictly and are pretty knowledgeable in it. They still believe in angels and that the Almighty would speak to any man of any class. They look for Messiah to come, but I highly doubt that he would be born to such a family. I hardly see a threat here, but if you wish to annoy Herod we can go report it…”
“Well, I see your point. It does seem pretty unlikely and I have heard of what Herod does when he is annoyed and this probably would annoy him. Besides, what threat is a baby?”
As they walk off you find your palms are sweating and your heart is racing and Mary is looking at you with concern. After the sacrifices are complete you go back to the little house you have been living in and you tell her what you have seen. Since she knows something of Herod’s atrocities she understands your anxiety. The house is nice and there is a spot where you could make a real shop if you wanted to. Although the idea of moving back here is not appealing, you have to admit that you would be able to support Mary and little Jesus. You decide to stay a few more months so you will be able to have plenty of money when you go back to Nazareth if you decide to go back at all.
You think about Jesus as you hold him. You often forget about his origin and just enjoy holding him and talking to him and seeing his little smile, which by now is absolutely not gas; listening to the sounds he makes, and looking into his manly little face. It is the face of a boy and no mistaking, but that is good. You’ve always wanted a boy and it is good that he is not too pretty. He’s strong, too. He has begun to pull himself up on things and stand. He still gets around quickest by crawling, but he will walk soon. He has also picked up a habit which thrills you to no end, he has started calling you “abba.” Every time he says it you smile. Not only does he charm you with it, but you also find humor in it as well.
Your reverie is interrupted by a knock on the door. You hear the snuffing and snorting of animals that do not immediately sound familiar and from the window you see that there are many camels and armed men. Has Herod sent troops for the child? But there are no camels in Jerusalem that you know of, the Romans use horses. There is another, louder, knock and the only thing you can do is open the door. You are shocked to see three of the most finely dressed men you have ever seen in your life. They are wearing sumptuous, kingly, garments such as you have never seen and not even Herod himself wears. They must have traveled far because these large groups, called caravans, are their means of protecting themselves from the bands of brigands and cutthroats who would prey on lone desert travelers. You have heard of such caravans but never thought to see one.
You recover yourself from your awe and greet them and invite them in.
“Where is he that is born King of the Jews for we have seen his star in the east and have come to worship him?”
Before you can answer Mary walks in with the child. She is calm and poised as she enters holding little Jesus’ hands with her fingers, walking him along. The men prostrate themselves on the floor before Jesus and begin to worship him. Mary gasps, but Jesus is a baby that smiles and coos a lot and brings joy to anyone who watches his antics. He looks at the men and smiles at them, laughing his good-natured little laugh, crawling toward them. He reaches his arms out to the middle one, who picks the smiling, laughing child up. This makes Jesus hug the man around the neck and reach for the next one, then the next, then indicate he wants down and crawls back over to his mother. All of this evokes the strangest reaction among these stately princes of men. They begin weeping and laughing and pounding each other on the back and jumping up and down wildly and cheering. The one does a wild, carefree dance of joy with such reckless abandon that you worry he may injure himself in the small room, but not for long. Their joy is contagious and reminds you of the night the shepherds came and you begin to laugh and clap your hands with joy as well. The dancing and recalling the shepherds remind you of King David, who danced with all his might before the Lord.
As things settle down a bit, you and Mary watch in amazement as the princes command their men to bring in gifts. They explain that these are the finest goods each of their kingdoms produces, Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. They lay them down in front of Jesus, who has gotten back down on the floor and it doesn’t take long for the boy to figure out how to open the chests. You and Mary hover over him, worried because lately he has been putting everything in his mouth, but there is no need. He smells and feels the gifts and inspects the chests, banging the lids up and down, playing with the latches and as Mary washes his hands, he starts to laugh again and the process of going to each of the kings is replayed to the delight of all.
Your mind assigns the word “king” to the men but as you talk with them you realize that their offices are more like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Prophets, soothsayers, dreamers of dreams and knowers of visions. You tell, not only your story including having seen an odd star though not really thinking on it as you had more pressing matters at the time but the shepherds’ stories and everything else. They tell you of its many peculiar properties and how the word star is really not the best word but that they are at a loss how to describe it other than that. Whatever it was led them to this house directly after they left Herod. Their servants report that the star has disappeared now. You visibly cringe at the mention of Herod.
They tell you of how they expected to find a newborn king in the palace but were puzzled by the lack of knowledge on Herod’s part and the fact that he seemed oblivious to the birth of a king. In fact, they had thought it very peculiar that he had to consult his wise men on the matter. His behavior towards them had been courteous, almost solicitous, as he gave them directions to Bethlehem, requesting they bring him word again of where the babe was, stating he wished to do homage as well. They wondered how it could be that such an event as the birth of a king could not be known.
Your heart grows heavy within you and you become distracted. You worry about Herod. Nothing good could possibly come of his interest. What should you do? You feel yourself growing pale and weak, your heart seems to skip a beat and it feels as if the whole world had settled onto your chest as well as your shoulders so you grab a chair and sit down heavily. Mary rushes to you in great concern and the men seem alarmed at your symptoms. Mary, your dear Mary, rushes some cool water to you and the men are making you lie down and loosening your clothes to help you breathe easier. Suddenly the baby crawls over to you and starts pulling on your beard as though he wants some attention, but you are too weak at first. He sits on your chest, trying to play the donkey-riding game and it sounds like he is saying, “Abba, abba” over and over again. You look at the little man calling you daddy. He grabs the thickness of your beard and pulls and says it again and as you look in his little baby eyes you begin to chuckle. His eyes always look so deep for such a little one and they always make you smile when he looks at you. You laugh softly as though you and the baby were sharing some grand joke and you start to feel the pressure lifting. The water is refreshing and Mary and your visitors look relieved as you pry Jesus’ fingers from your beard and tell him, “no, no.” He plops down into your lap as soon as you sit down and says one final, “Abba.”
As things get back to normal you tell the men about Herod, who has killed two of his sons and the wife he had doted on for years and her grandfather and no one knows who else, but certainly anyone that he saw as a threat to the throne. They are obviously affected and decide to sleep in the field rather than rush back to Herod as they had planned. In the middle of the night you are awakened by the many sounds of camp being broken. The whole house stirs and the baby wakes and starts to cry. As you open the door to see what’s going on you find the princes coming up the path to the door, this time dressed in traveling clothes. They have been warned by God in their dreams not to return to Herod, but to leave immediately. They thank you profusely for the opportunity of the ages and Mary passes the baby around to each a last time before they leave.
The following night, after Mary has tucked the baby in and is sleeping quietly, you lie on the bed, wondering what to do. You have prayed, but it worries you that you have no plan of action. As you lie there, half-awake, half-asleep; tossing and turning, an angel appears to you again. This time, along with the power you felt before, you feel an urgency coming from him like you have never known in your life. This is urgent as nothing has ever been urgent before. “Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.”
What a beautiful story. Creativity plus spirituality. Wish you a great holiday and a happy new year.
Thank you so much!