Crossways Concepts

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Insights from the scripture as lead by the Holy Spirit

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Bible Witness #4: The Birth of Jesus

The following is the fourth in a series of fictionalized re-tellings of various stories of the Bible.  God has provided the Bible as a wonderful love letter to us.  Let us always praise His name.

[The following story is based on the events described in Matthew1 and Luke 2]

“If I don't get out of this place soon, I am absolutely going to go crazy”, thought Heber as he surveyed the pile of work in front of Him.  Surely the God in Heaven had bigger things planned for him.

“Quit your daydreaming and get busy, boy!”, yelled Ephraim, his grumpy employer.  “We've never been so busy and there you are standing there looking at that like you have no idea what to do with a manure pile!”

As Heber began shoveling, Ephraim headed back up to the inn.  As Heber worked, his mind wandered to all these travelers whose animals he was tending.  Where had they been?  What amazing things had they seen?  What sort of exciting life did they live?

Did they live in Jerusalem or maybe even from outside Israel, somewhere exotic like Lebanon or Egypt?  Maybe they were even from Asia.  This line of thought always circled around to him, Heber the stable-boy. He had to face it, he was stuck in this awful stable in this tiny little backwater town.  He would never experience anything more exciting than an occasional unruly animal to tend to.

He had never even been able to go to Jerusalem for any of the festivals.  This may have been the most basic of the Jewish responsibilities, but when you don't even know where you next meal is coming from, you can't consider making a trip like that.  Jerusalem was just a few hours walk away, but it might as well be a 2-month camel ride away for Heber. 

Instead of traveling to see the sights of the city, he was stuck tending for traveler's animals.  Instead of experiencing new places, he could only listen to the travelers off-hand comments about the places they had been.  Instead of getting to worship in the Temple, Heber rarely ever got away from the stable long enough to even go to the local synagogue.

Granted, this town of Bethlehem was seeing more excitement than it had seen at any time Heber could  recall.  The place was jam-packed with people from out-of-town.  Caesar had decided that there should be a census, so everybody that was descended from King David was coming to Bethlehem to be counted.  But, Heber knew that in a week, everything would go back to the way it was before the census, back to being completely boring.

For now, this census was giving Heber an opportunity to hear more tales and stories of far-away places.  He hung on every work he could overhear. 

He once made the mistake of asking one of the travelers a question about his travels and was rewarded by being backhanded across his jaw.  While it was just a hand, it felt like a hammer.  This event, and the scar on his face, always helped him remember his place, he was just a stable-boy who was never to speak to one of the travelers unless he is responding to a question.

As he recalled this event and rubbed across his scar, he heard one of the horses, a skittish black stallion, getting agitated.  Heber went automatically to his side to calm him by stroking him and speaking soothingly.  He knew that with so many animals packed into this stable, that he could not afford to have them getting agitated from one to another. 

Just as all of Bethlehem was packed, so was the inn and the stable.  Heber had never seen so many animals in the stable at one time.  He had horses, donkeys, cattle and even had a couple of camels.  As he calmed the black horse, he predicted that he wouldn't be getting much sleep tonight.  These animals were not accustomed to being packed in here like a bag full of olives.  It was making them irritable and nervous.

As he headed back to the manure pile, he made a point of touching and speaking softly to each animal as he passed them.  He knew instinctively that he needed to help them feel comfortable and calm or he could have a big mess.

As he picked up the shovel, he thought with gratitude that the inn was now full to capacity.  That meant that the stable was as full as it was going to get.  If he had to put any more animals in here, he might have to give up the corner where he slept and it was getting cold at night these last few weeks.  It was too cold to sleep outside and he really needed to be with the animals so he could care for them through the night.  “Yes, it is good thing that the inn is full”, he thought.

Just then, Heber heard the voice of Ephraim just outside the stable. He was speaking to somebody, saying, “...guess you do need some place sheltered to stay, I would wish some better place for you, but this is all I could possibly provide.”

The mid-day light streaming through the entranceway was eclipsed by 4 figures, three people and a donkey at the opening of the stable. A man was saying, “We are most grateful for anything, thank you.”

Ephraim yelled out, “Boy!”

Heber spoke from his position in the shadows at the rear, “Yes, sir. I'm coming, sir.”

As he moved past and around the packed menagerie, he automatically patted and calmed the animals, looking at the 2 strangers.  There was a man and a cute girl that was about his age, perhaps they were father and daughter.  While he though it odd that Ephraim brought these travelers down to the stable with their donkey, he was glad that he got to see this girl for a minute or two.

As he rounded the final animal, a dirty-gray mule, he realized several things.  The most obvious thing is that he could now see that the girl was huge with child.  That meant that the man must be, not her father, but her husband.  The girl was indeed about his age, perhaps 15 years old, although it was a little hard to tell with the effects of the pregnancy.  She looked like the baby could come at any time.

All three of them were looking around the crowded stable, as if looking for something.  The man spoke to Ephraim with much less enthusiasm on his face than in his voice, “I'm sure this will be fine.”

The girl looked to the man, crinkling her nose as she was assaulted by the smell of the stable.  There was a question or a concern in her expression, but, of course she didn't speak it in front of Ephraim, whatever it was.  The man didn't seem to notice.

Was she wondering if the stable would be good enough for their donkey?  What does she expect, Solomon's temple?  This didn't make any sense.

Then Heber thought about the overheard bit of conversation he had heard, suddenly he realized what they were talking about. Oh no. Surely not.

Ephraim spoke, “Boy, these folks will be staying in the stable. Make them as comfortable as possible.  Mind your behavior, I expect you to be properly respectful.  I'll be sending one of the girls down with their dinner.” 

Heber was shocked that Ephraim would ever put guests in the stable and baffled about how he was going to find a place for them in the already crowded space.

“Don't just stand there, get busy!” Shouted an exasperated Ephraim, as he turned and left them.

Heber muttered a, “Yes, sir.” as he grabbed the donkey's reins and quickly tied them to a post outside the stable.  Speaking to the donkey, he said, “You will be OK right here while I get these people settled.”

Heber found himself in a quandary.  He knew better than to speak to the guests of the inn, but he didn't know how to accomplish his assigned task without speaking.  He stole a glance at the couple and saw that they were looking at him expectantly.  His first attempt to say something to them came out as an unintelligible squeek.  He looked at them as he felt panic rising up.  The man was frowning, but it was a confused frown, not an angry one.  The girl actually had a hint of a smile on her tired face, as if to encourage him.

Heber tried again and spoke, but he didn't now what to do or what his place was or how to speak to these people.  He said, “Umm...I am very sorry, I mean... Sir...umm...well..I didn't know anybody...umm...I don't know how...please...umm.”

The man laughed gently and interrupted his attempts to form a sentence. He said, “You're not used to two-legged guests down here are you?  My Mary is very tired and really needs to sit down somewhere.  I know that you might need to shuffle things around a little, but our most immediate need is to get her a place to sit before she collapses.”

Heber found he words and said, “OK, I can do that. Just a moment.” With that he ducked into the stable and came back with a small barrel and a horse blanket.  He tentatively set the barrel down close to the girl and spread the blanket over top of it.  As if this action provided him with focus, he surprised himself by speaking, “Sir, maybe this will keep her out of the mud while I get things ready inside.”

The girl said, “Thank you so much”, as she sank onto the barrel.

Heber was shocked, he had never been thanked for anything by a guest of the inn, but he didn't stop to marvel at this event, but moved quickly toward the entrance of the stable, saying as he went, “Sir, let me get things ready for you. I will be back shortly.”

He moved quickly through the packed stable, patting and soothing the animals.  All the while, he was assessing the space, trying to figure out how to squeeze in one donkey and two people.  He worked his way back to his sleeping corner. He would normally get in trouble if he had too much hay covering the dirt where he slept, but he figured this was a special circumstance, so he tossed a fresh and extra-thick layer of hay over the area.  He quickly gathered his possessions.  He grabbed his cup and pulled his cloak off of a nail. He turned, trying to figure out where he would put his things, when he was startled by a voice.

Appearing from behind a small camel was the man.  He said, “This is where you live?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And you are going to give it up for us?  Where are you going to sleep?”, asked the man.

“I...I don't really know.”

“There is no other place for you to sleep in the stable, you would have to be outside, won't you?”

“Yes, I guess so.” said Heber.

“Well, I refuse to see you thrown out of your home, just to accommodate us.  I know there isn't much room, but can we just share the space?”

Heber was stunned.  He could not remember any time that he had been shown kindness.  He just stood there dumbfounded, trying to comprehend what the man was trying to ask him.  He was so sure that he must be misunderstanding, nobody is ever kind to a stable-boy.

The man laughed quietly and asked, “Well, would that be OK?”

Heber wasn't sure why, but he felt a tear slip out from his eye as he said, “Y...yes that would be good.  Thank you, but why would you do this...for me?”

The man thought for a moment and said, “Let's just say, that I know what it's like to have people treat me badly.  My name is Joseph, what's yours?”

“My name is Heber, sir.”

The man chuckled again, saying, “It is just us, Heber, please call me Joseph.  Are you ready enough that we can get Mary out of the wind?”

“Yes sir, I mean, Joseph.  I will get your donkey and then we can get your wife settled.”

Heber trimmed down the lamp,and squeezed in next to Joseph in the tiny patch of straw.  He felt so grateful that he wasn't having to sleep outside tonight.  Clouds had rolled in and a quite cold wind had started up, so it would have been extremely unpleasant.

Suddenly, there was a cacophony as several of the animals startled and offended one another in the unaccustomed closeness.  Heber got back up and quickly moved through the semi-darkness to calm the squabble and restore peace.  After a few minutes, he returned to the sleeping area.  In his fatigue and the poor light, he prompted a small outcry as he stepped on a body part that he thought was probably Joseph's foot.

Heber fearfully pleaded, “I am so sorry.  I didn't see your foot there. Please forgive me.”

Joseph said, “Heber, it is all right.  Please sit down here.  It just startled me more than hurt me.  Relax.”

As Heber moved back to his place, Mary said, “You are really good with the animals, Heber.  They respond so well to you.”

Heber said, “I like working with animals.  Somehow, I tend to like them better than people, most people anyway.”

Mary and Joseph laughed at this.  Then Joseph asked, “Heber, even though you like working with the animals, I get the impression that you are not happy with this.”

Heber paused for a moment as he considered how to respond.  He said, “I now that Ephraim has been good to me, letting me tend his stable, but I see all these travelers from strange and wonderful places and wish I could see some of those places.  I have never even been to Jerusalem.”

Mary was surprised, she said, “You have never been to the temple?”

Heber said, “Well, I think maybe my parents took me when I was a baby, but I'm not sure.  My parents died when I was just little.  Most of my life has been focused on where my next meal is coming from.”  He decided to ask the question he always want to ask, but his fears kept him from doing so, “Can you tell me about where you are from?”

“We come from the little town of Nazareth in Galilee.  It is a small town, smaller than Bethlehem, but not really too much different than your town”, said Joseph.

Heber asked, “What are the people like?”

There was an uncomfortable pause, then Mary whispered, “They are terrible.”

With a tender disapproval, Joseph said, “Mary”.

She replied with, “You know they treated us terribly.  Why couldn't they just have faith?”

Heber heard Joseph reach over toward her and say, “Mary, my dear, we have been through that.  Would you have believed us?  Remember, there was a time that I didn't believe either.”

There was a long silence during which Heber was trying to grasp what they might be talking about.  Finally, Heber whispered, “I would believe you no matter what, because I know that you are really very good people.”

During the silence that followed, Heber feared that he had somehow overstepped his bounds and offended his new friends.  Then he heard Mary whisper to Joseph, “Tell him.”

Joseph said, “Heber, are you particularly tired?  This might take a while.”

While Heber had been really tired just a few minutes earlier, he found himself wide awake and ready to hear whatever Joseph had to tell.  Heber sat up to indicate his readiness.  Joseph began, “Back in the sixth month, Mary had an angel of God appear to her.  At that time, we had recently become engaged to be married.  The angel told her that she had found favor with God.”

Heber was listening with total awe.

Joseph continued, “She was told that, as a virgin, that she was going to become pregnant by the Holy Spirit and she would bear a boy that would be the Son of God.  Then, sure enough, without being with a man, she became pregnant.”

Heber's only response was a sharp intake of breath.

“When I found out that she was pregnant, I made the same assumption that everybody else did and I was making plans to divorce her quietly, but that was before I had my own angel visitor.  One night an angel appeared to me and said that I should not be afraid to take Mary as my wife, because the child was conceived by the Holy Spirit.  So, according to these angels, the child Mary is carrying is a boy that we are to name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.  So, we were married, but she remains a virgin.”  After a small pause, he said, “As I hear myself telling it, it sounds so hard to believe, but it is the truth.”

Mary said, “As God lives, it is the truth.”

Heber found his voice which was full of awe, “So...your baby...His is God's Messiah?”

Joseph and Mary spoke simultaneously, “Yes!”

All Heber could say was to whisper, “Wow!”  Silence fell on the trio.  Heber found his mind racing at high speed as he tried to comprehend the enormity of what he had just heard.  Meanwhile, Joseph's breath evened, slowed and deepened as he fell asleep.

After a few minutes, he heard a stiffled groan from Mary.  A minute later, he heard Mary's whisper, “Heber, as you have worked with the animals, have you ever helped with a birthing?”

Heber whispered back, “Yes, several times with horses, cattle and donkeys, why do you ask?”

Mary's whispered response was, “No reason, I hope.”

It was a few hours before dawn and of the three, only Joseph had managed a short bit of sleep.  The newborn baby was laying in the manger wrapped snuggly in cloth.  Mary, Joseph and Heber were all exhausted, but grinning from ear-to-ear.  Heber said, “I must say that when I pictured the Messiah, I never thought of Him as a baby.”

Joseph replied, “I have to admit that there were times when I doubted.  I would sometimes wonder if I just dreamed the angel visit, but not after tonight.  I know for certain, that this baby is the Son of God.”

“It is incredible, it feels like God is right here with us. Tonight feels so...”, Heber then trailed off, unable to find a word adequate to complete the thought.

“Holy. Yes, that's the word. Tonight is Holy”, as Mary finished Heber's sentence.

“Shalom”, they jumped as an unfamiliar voice came from the dark outside the stable.

The three looked from one to another, momentarily uncomfortable with sharing the preciousness of this moment with anybody else, then Heber grabbed a lamp and went weaving through the maze of sleeping animals toward the entrance, with Joseph following, both of them wondering who could be about at this hour.

As Heber approached the opening he held the lamp aloft and called out into the darkness, “Who is there?”

A voice came from just beyond the circle of light, spoken as a group of men approached enough that they might be seen.  The man in the lead said, “Shalom, I am Shummua.  We are shepherds from the hills north of town.  We have come to see the baby.”

A short man added, “The baby Messiah.”

Joseph and Heber were astonished and looked at one another.  One of the men must have properly interpreted their astonishment, because he explained, “We were visited by angels.  They were joyously celebrating the birth.  We have come to see Him.”

“Then come!”, said Joseph after only the slightest hesitation.

Joseph led the way as Heber tried to hold the lamp in such a way that the seven shepherds could make their way through the animals.  As Heber came last, he approached the corner where Mary and the baby were, he saw that the men were in complete awe.  One by one, they fell to their knees before the baby Messiah.

After a quiet time of homage, they squeezed forward to get everybody closer and they began to tell their story to Joseph and Mary. 

Apparently, it had been a quiet night, quiet enough that if it weren't so cold they would have had to keep each other awake.  Suddenly there was a bright light, and right there, not 10 paces from their fire, was an angel of God.  The glory of God was so intense, that they all fell on their faces, terrified.

Then angel spoke and said, “Don't be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: today a Savior, who is Messiah, the Lord, was born for you in the city of David.  This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped snuggly in cloth and lying in a manger.”

Heber had been sure he had seen a couple of the men shiver as the words of the angel were told by  Shummua.

A broad-shouldered shepherd picked up the story saying, “That one angel was almost too much for me to take, I thought my heart was going to pound right out of my chest, but suddenly there were angels everywhere.  It was more crowded than festival day at the temple, but it was all angels!  The light was brighter than any summer noon-day.  It was absolutely incredible.  There they all were and they were praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people He favors!'”

Shummua picked up the story, saying, “And then, as quickly as they had shown up, they were gone.  I don't know how long we remained dazed.  Then, we decided that we had to come.”

The short shepherd said, “Yes, if this is an event that is causing all of heaven to celebrate, we had to come see.”

The oldest of the shepherds looked at the baby and said, “Just imagine, our long-awaited Messiah, come to save all Israel, is finally here!  Born in a stable!  The Lord God is full of surprises, isn't He?  I am so glad that we got to be a part of this, but look, the mother of the Holy One is tired and we have sheep to attend.  We must take our leave.”

Heber knew that he had been up most of the night and should be exhausted, but was having trouble settling down to sleep the last hour or so until dawn.  He just kept reviewing the events over and over in his mind.  Angels, people treating him like he was somebody, the birth, the Messiah and prophesy just kept circling through his consciousness.  His concept of God's role in the world was being forced larger and larger, like a bladder that is being blown up.  He actually found himself feeling important, between Joseph and Mary and the fact that God had allowed somebody like him to be a part of something like this.  He was amazed that the all-powerful God had chosen people like shepherds to receive His grand announcement.

Heber had always thought God was the God of the rich and powerful, but here was God bringing this earth-shattering event to the likes of him.  How could that be possible?  Then, he began thinking about the heroes of Scripture like Moses and David and he realized that they were just regular people when God called them.  Could it be that God chose plain, imperfect people and that the people became something special because of God?  Perhaps God isn't choosing the special people, instead he is taking normal people and making them into somebody special.

Heber was shocked at the implications of this thought.  If it were true, then that would mean that all the things people do in the name of religion aren't the important part, what really matters is what God does.  That would explain why God would bring His Messiah as a little baby in a stable instead of a a full-grown hero appearing in palace among the religious and powerful.

He found himself doing something he rarely did.  He prayed. “God, I thank you so much for the miracles of tonight.  I have seen a side of you that I didn't know existed.  I am so excited to see what this Messiah is going to do.  Lord, I want to be a part of your amazing plan.  Show me how I, as a stable-boy of humble circumstances, can serve you and your Christ.”

He realized that dawn was breaking outside the stable and the animals were beginning to stir.  He got up and was amazed that he didn't have a trace of fatigue even though he hadn't slept.  He looked down fondly in the pale light at Joseph, Mary and the newborn Messiah.

He began making preparations to get the animals their breakfast and noticed that he was feeling something he had never before experienced.  He searched his memory for a term to describe what he was feeling.  As he thought about it, he realized that he was experiencing joy, true and real joy.  This joy seemed to emanate from his soul.  He knew that it was from God.  It was as if God had taken up residence inside him.

Beginning his early morning routine, he looked around the crowded stable.  He found himself actually thankful to be here.  He knew that he would never see that stable as a terrible place again, because this is the place where he met his Lord.  It was here, that he realized that satisfaction and joy can't be found in your circumstances, but that they are found by allowing the Lord into your circumstances.  He felt nothing but excitement about what the Lord was going to do in his future.

Joyful and thankful, what a wonderful way to start a day.  What a wonderful way to start the rest of his life!

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