Herb’s Blog, Herbdate 22606 – 920
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. This is the final chapter and epilogue.
Joseph’s First Christmas
You often wonder why Galilee and why Nazareth? Perhaps the obscurity is better, but really, most of the people here are closer to criminals than royalty. The only nobility here seems to be ruffians and rogues; cursing fishermen and brawlers along with quiet scholars, searching the Word of God. It is a strange mixture, to be sure. Many are people like you who came here originally to get away from the city and some may have things in their past that they would just as soon have forgotten about in some sleepy little town. You worried at first about how such a rough bunch would affect the lad, but as time goes on it seems as though he affects them more than they influence him. The rough and common class of people approve of him and his ways and like him. Jesus often brings people to the shop to meet you, which is good for business in the long run.
Jesus has grown to be quite a good helper to you. He takes a lot of the menial work off of your shoulders and makes clever little toys and things for his younger siblings and their friends. You are pleased with the way he treats them, showing by example to the boys how to be boys and being kindly and protective of his sisters and mother. He is generally looked upon with favor in the community and is known to treat the elderly and the widows and the youngest children with kindness; often doing favors for them and helping them out secretly. Except that in a small town there are no secrets. He often hears lies and rumors but he even seems to handle the gossip about you and Mary with wit and humor. He knows about his birth and never answers in anger or with his fists, even though he is very strong. Rather he seems to find something to say to each one that silences them. You imagine it is that he knows a lot about the people because so many people are so fond of him and willingly tell him things, knowing that even at his young age he always keeps his word and keeps confidences well and seems to be blessed with common sense which gives him wisdom.
He does so well in the Synagogue School that frequently the rabbi comments there is no keeping up with the boy and it is harder and harder to find lessons to challenge his keen mind. He has a seemingly inexhaustible memory for the Scriptures and loves to read and re-read them even while the other children play, then quoting them back in a succinct yet complete summary of their meaning. The rabbi knows and understands your feelings about some of the teachings and behaviors of the Pharisees. He says that the boy is able to grasp that all that the Sadducees and Pharisees and the Scribes teach is not only different from how they behave but he also understands that many of their teachings are merely the traditions of men rather than true scriptural law and can often raise questions about these doctrines that no one has ever heard before. Since there seems to be little left to teach the boy, he begins to be taught all of the ways of his people; all of these various doctrines in-depth and is exceptionally knowledgeable and wise.
This is the year that he must begin presenting himself to the Lord. Three times in a year all the males of the people are supposed to present themselves and the age to begin this is twelve. It is a familiar trek for so many and the travel to Jerusalem is a time of reunions and joy. As you travel along, a great company of old friends and relatives joins themselves to your party. Jesus mixes in with them all and frequently runs off with cousins and friends to play along the way.
After the feast, you and Mary join the rest of the party to travel back. The women hang back, as usual, talking and sharing the latest news from Jerusalem while the men walk ahead, watching for any dangers and sometimes talking or, as you, walk along alone with their thoughts, watching for any danger ahead. All day long as you are on your way to the village, you think about the Passover and what it means, not only to your people but to you personally. It is both somber and joyous at the same time. You think about the slaying of the firstborn of all the Egyptians and wonder if there were unbelievers among the people as well. Just as some of the Egyptians joined themselves to the Hebrews, were there children of Israel who were so foolish as to disbelieve? What manner of evil was Pharaoh to allow such a thing to happen to his people after all of the plagues he had seen smiting each one of his gods? Your mind goes back to the simplicity of the requirement to slay a lamb and put its blood on the doorposts of the house and then roast it with bitter herbs and eat the whole thing. Gather your children together and if there is a small family that would not be able to eat a whole lamb, have them be your guest that night. Nobody needed to have the death angel visit them. “When I see the blood I will pass over you.”
As you travel along, looking at the great crowd on the road, your heart feels light. Was this a little of what it looked like, that mass exodus of the people? You try to imagine the idea of crossing the sea on dry ground while the water rose in great walls on either side. Did any of the children get close to the wall of water and try to touch it, even though their parents told them not to? What was that like? You know yourself that as a boy you would have been looking for a fish although whether you would have had the nerve to touch it or not, you don’t know. Smaller children might certainly want to, although with the sense of urgency knowing Pharaoh’s armies were behind you, stuck in a cloud there may not have been time for idle curiosity. And while Joshua and the princes were likely to have been the first behind Moses, you look back at the stragglers in your own crowd and wonder what it might have been like to be the last person to get across.
As the sun sets other groups are beginning to find camps. Normally Jesus would have gone ahead and had this all prepared. Where was he? Probably carried away with the enthusiasm of the moment, you think. After all, you only come of age to present yourself once in your life. You aren’t worried, but you go back toward the company of women, thinking that he will have told his mother where he was going. Mary is immediately concerned and you begin going throughout the company, visiting all camps of the different relatives and friends and even acquaintances but he is not anywhere to be found. Friends and family will watch out for the other children so you and Mary can head back toward Jerusalem, calling his name, looking everywhere.
Three days. Three long days of searching. Mary is beside herself as any mother would be; one moment crying, the next moment angry, the next moment just worried sick. She hasn’t touched any food or drink and is very agitated. You try to calm her, but you are concerned as well. It’s so unlike him.
As you arrive in the temple, you hear the voices of the most educated men of the people talking and among the old voices, you hear a strong, young voice. There is a tradition among your people that it is okay to ponder and question almost anything. The only thing that is not subject to debate and interpretation is the existence of the Almighty himself. There are many points of the Law and the Prophets and the rest of the Scriptures that are open to question. Down through time, as a means of facilitating discussion, a set of rules has arisen. You may ask a question, but before the person or persons is required to answer you, they can ask you a question first to test whether you deserve an answer or not. As you approach the place where the lawyers and scribes are seated, talking, you listen in awe as Jesus answers and asks questions that astound and amaze the Doctors of the Law as he spouts off long, whole sections of Scripture you barely remember existing. The Scribes cannot believe their ears and indeed fetch out the scrolls and check the things he is saying.
You have never heard some of these things and when Jesus speaks, even though he has a youthful voice, he speaks with authority. He knows. He just knows. Mary has elbowed you several times. She wants you to go and fetch the boy right now, but you are loath to interrupt, not only because these are highly educated and respected men; you don’t just barge into a meeting like this, but you want to hear more of the things the boy has to say.
Mary, however, is, first and last, a daughter of Eve, the mother of us all and if you will not go and get that boy and talk to him, she will. You look on with a sort of wondering respect as she excuses herself through the teachers and doctors and scribes and walks right up to Jesus. There is a tone of voice in the universe that every man who has ever had a mother recognizes. Only a mother can use it and only a mother can get away with interrupting a room full of important people when she does.
She lets him have all three days of weeping and anger and every other emotion she has felt. “Son! Son, why have you treated us like this? Behold, your father and I have been worried sick, searching for you in heaviness of heart, sorrowing!”
He answers her simply, directly, not with any rebellion or haughtiness or anger or anything but a simply stated, sincere question, “Why would you look for me? Didn’t you know I must be in my Father’s house on his business?” And then it’s over. He just quietly comes along with you and Mary, obviously never intending to cause any distress or trouble. And he is no trouble.
Sometime after this (years perhaps?), you are working in the shop with Jesus, sawing some lumber and boards to make a manger for the widow, Simone. You watch as he saws the board with careful precision and how he puts his back into anything he does. He is a worker and you are glad. You have other things you could be doing but the way he does things so carefully and right draws your attention and you just sit on the little cot and watch. Most people, even you sometimes, would just put together a manger with only a consideration for how sturdy it would be, but Jesus measures it exactly, finishes it finely and makes a manger that just seems to say, “craftsman” all over it. A manger of all things.
“Son, most people wouldn’t put quite so much work into a manger. It’s beautiful.”
“Thank you, abba.”
“It’s nothing like the one we laid you in on the night you were born. That one was rough and worn, but we filled it with straw and covered it with a blanket and now, here you are, a man.”
“You sound pleased.”
“I am. I am pleased with you, Jesus. How you have turned out. You are not only good, you are a good man and I get joy every time I watch you work or how you treat your sisters and even old widow Simone who can be a bit of a trial at times. You are such a good example to your younger brothers, too. And the way you spoke with the doctors in the temple and just everything you do seems to be good and I wanted to tell you that. This is a good manger. Not merely adequate, but good.” You take him by his broad shoulders and look into those deep, sparkling eyes of his and say, “Jesus, I love you. You are a good son and a good man.”
The moment ends as Mary calls for him from the house. You lie back on the cot and think about her and about how your life has gone. You remember the times when you felt the power and the presence of angels, speaking earnestly, even urgently, to you. How could you forget the first time you saw one of these messengers or the time that the urgency was so real in the room. Recalling these things and looking at how Jesus has turned out, you feel peace. And at that very moment, the angel comes to you. Attended by others? Instead of alarm you feel a supernatural peace as the angel smiles and speaks to you, “Joseph, come with me.”
“Where?” You ask.
Young Jesus heard the shrieks and cries and groans and wailing coming from the shop. He dashed in to find his mother sobbing and shaking, holding onto the cold, lifeless body of Joseph. Jesus wept.