|Series Theme: Seasonal Materials|
Title: The Players - their stories - Christmas wonderings
Warning: In this little series of ‘meditations' there are simply wonderings about what actually some of the people in the Christmas story felt. They are obviously based on Scripture but they are only wonderings, for we do not know. Yet, if they help us really think into the wonder of what happened two thousand years ago at the time we call Christmas, that will be good
An elderly lady sits and gazes out the window as the sun sets. She thinks of her husband who is in Jerusalem, serving in the great Temple. She wonders what sort of day it has been for him. He had left to go to serve as it was the custom for priests. His family was of Abijah and it was the time for his division to take their turn serving at the Temple.
What that involved she was not sure for he said little about his role, and yet the other day a message had come with one of the family who were passing through and who had been in Jerusalem a few days ago. It was a message from her man that at the drawing of the lots for the jobs to be done, his name had been drawn to be THE one who went into the inner place to burn incense. It was a special role which few ever had. Today he would have had the wonder of burning the incense, supposedly for the fragrance to waft up and bless God. Today HE had the privilege of personally blessing the LORD. What an honour!
As the sun set, she wondered how he had got on, what he had felt. As she sat there in the stillness of the house she was glad for him, for at least this was some small sign that God had not utterly abandoned them, and even as the thought passed into her mind she pushed it out again for its unworthiness – yet the ache of the absence of children in their marriage, was never far away.
It was a few days later that she heard a commotion outside. She hurried to the door to be greeted by several men, one of whom was her own dear Zechariah. Something about him seemed different; it was like he seemed to have a faint glow about him, but at the sight of her the two men with her husband started talking at the same time. Elizabeth, we don't really know what has happened. He went into the inner place to burn the incense and seemed to be in there a long time. When he eventually came out he was dumb and has not been able to speak since.
We've tried to get out of him what happened but the best we can make out is that he saw an angel, but beyond that – nothing! Her husband simply looked down at her and smiled, but it was a troubled smile. “An angel?” she almost whispered. He nodded. “But why?” she risked asking. He mouthed something, waved his hands about and made a mumbling sort of noise. She would have to wait for an answer.
The day that followed was strange. Every now and then she caught her husband with a faraway look about him and then, when he saw her watching, he smiled a soft smile. Something had happened, something very important had happened, something that had changed this old man who she loved so much. He came over and made a grunting sort of noise and pointed upwards and then gently laid his hand on her abdomen. “Yes, I know love,” she murmured, “if only the Lord had given us children but it's too late now.”
He grunted again and vigorously shook his head. Again he pointed upwards and then cradled his arms in a rocking motion and then nodded and touched her abdomen. There was an intense look on his face.
“Don't be silly, you daft old thing, that can never be!” she found herself whispering. Again the vigorous nodding of his head. She looked into his pleading eyes. “Did the angel…..?” her voice faded away, unable to voice the unthinkable. He nodded vigorously.
Read their story again in Luke's Gospel, chapter 1, verses 5 to 25
2. Elizabeth & Mary
The young girl toiled up the hill towards the house on the edge of the town. She had left the caravan on the road below. The journey had been tiring but at least the feelings of sickness had stopped now. As she worked her way up the path her mind ran back over the recent months. If I hadn't felt these changes within me I would have thought I was dreaming it, she thought. Had I been right to tell Joseph? His response had been cold but I wonder what else I might have expected? It was a lot for him to take in. For a while she had felt utterly alone – until he came with his own story of an angel in a dream. How amazing is all this angelic activity! Why is it happening like this? God has seemed so distant from our nation for so long. It was clear that some had thought He had given up on us. But now?
She arrived panting at the house. Thank goodness I've got here at last; it's been a long journey. The door was flung open and her elderly cousin's husband stood there beckoning her in. Why can't he say something to me, the girl thought. And there was her cousin, larger than Mary had ever seen her.
“Elizabeth, how lovely…” she began.
Her cousin gasped as she saw Mary and clutched the bump that showed the presence of a baby, but then she laughed with joy. “Indeed, how wonderful child, that you too carry a child, oh, a child who will be our Lord! But why are you here? Why should we be so favoured? We weren't expecting you, yet as soon as you spoke the child I am carrying seemed to leap for joy. He has been making movements for some time but this was a leap that seemed to recognise you and the one you carry. How has this come about?”
And so the two women, one so young and one so old, shared their experiences. Elizabeth shared about her dumb husband's experience with an angel back in the Temple in Jerusalem, and Mary spoke about the angel who came to her in the room of her home. Elizabeth laughed at what the neighbours had said when they heard that she was to have a child. Mary shared about the difficulties she had encountered back in Nazareth when she shared that she also was expecting a baby.
The responses had been mixed and when Mary's mother had suggested she spend some time away at her elderly mother-to-be cousin's home in the south, it seemed so right and confirmed what the angel had said, so that she had gone willingly. Now she knew why.
Who are these babies, they wondered together.
“Zechariah has written that the angel in the Temple told him my child will be called John and he is to prepare the way of the Lord, like Isaiah said,” Elizabeth shared, “though I don't know how he will do that!”
“Yes, my angel at home said you were expecting and that's why I came.” Mary replied. “He told me my child was to be called Jesus and that he will be a ruler, a son of God, but I'm not sure what all that means.”
“It means you are most favoured by God,” her cousin responded.
Suddenly it seemed to Mary that she was filled with joy, and she found herself speaking out for several minutes, what had to be a prophecy that seemed to have come from the pages of the Scripture scrolls.
When she stopped, Elizabeth looked at her in awe. “Where did that all come from? How wonderful!”
“I don't know'” breathed Mary, “it just seemed to fill me and pour out. Yes, indeed! Oh Elizabeth, how wonderful indeed!”
Zechariah, standing in the background, still said nothing but wondered much. “These are indeed incredible days,” he thought to himself.
Read this story again in Luke's Gospel, chapter 1, verses 39 to 56.
3. Mary Again
The young girl sat uncomfortably on the donkey as it trudged along the road. It was starting to get dark. A strong hand reached out and covered hers as she held on.
“It's all right, it won't be much longer now,” Joseph's reassuring voice reached out through the gloom.
“That's what I'm afraid of,” she replied, mustering a smile to go with the words.
“No, I meant we're almost at Bethlehem. That was Jerusalem on the hills we passed nearly an hour back, so we must almost be at Bethlehem soon.”
As the donkey plodded on, for the umpteenth time she asked herself, “Why did I say those fateful words? Why ever did I say, ‘I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said.'? What was I thinking? I am only a thirteen year old girl! How could I have been so presumptuous? But was it? Wasn't I just being obedient to God's call? I really didn't have a clue what he meant. It just seemed right to say it. I know he said that the Holy Spirit would come upon me so the one to be born would be called God's Son, but I thought that meant after Joseph and I were married. And then I started feeling sick in the morning and it became obvious that I was pregnant – and I hadn't been anywhere near Joseph, but how could I expect anyone to believe that?”
The evening got darker and the road ahead became more difficult to see. If it wasn't for the other travellers they might have wandered off it, but they followed the trail of people who were obviously travelling in the same direction as them. She glanced down at the strong young man who walked wearily alongside her. She thought back to those early months, to that awful moment when she told him she was carrying God's baby. He had simply turned red and then turned away without a word. She had let him go. It was understandable. How could he understand what she hardly understood herself. She hadn't seen him for several days and when he came back he came with a gentleness and words of reassurance that made her weep. Suddenly she realised how alone she had felt for those days, unable to say anything to anyone, and abandoned. It wasn't her fault! God, why don't you tell someone to help me?
And then Joseph came with the gentle smile and the story of the incredibly vivid dream that he had received from God.
And then came this stupid edict from the emperor! Why do we have to be ruled over by these Romans? Aren't we God's people? Why should God allow this selfish and proud emperor to upset our lives? Go and be counted at the family town! What are we, cattle, that we get herded here and there by these beastly Roman soldiers! It's unfair! God, where are you?
Just as they spied the first lights of Bethlehem, the strident voice of the rabbi back home, echoed in the back of her mind. It was the last time she visited the synagogue on the Sabbath, as he read out from the scrolls the prophecy of Micah, “But you, Bethlehem, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel , whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”
What had her angel said to her that fateful night, “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” He will be a ruler, a ruler who will come from Bethlehem! God planned this! Did God stir that stupid emperor to make sure we got here for my child to be born or did God just know that he would do this and make us be here?
She broke out of her reverie and realised that they were entering the outskirts of the town. As they drew alongside an Inn , the first contraction pain hit her.
Passages covered by the story above are Lk 1:31-33,38, 2:1-7, Matthew 1:18-21, Micah 5:2
4. The Inn Keepers Wife
The woman gently settled on the bed with a quiet sigh.
“Have they gone yet?” came her husband's voice.
“Yes,” she replied with a smile that was swallowed up in the darkness.
“Noisy bunch of hooligans, disturbing the sleep of good people!” and with a further “Hummph!” she heard the sounds of him turning over and a few minutes later, gentle snoring.
She lay there in the darkness thinking back over the past hours.
How vulnerable they had appeared when they arrived at the door of the inn an hour or so after dark. The young man looked tired out; no, exhausted. There was an air of desperation about him as he pleaded for a room for he and his young wife. She too looked like it was very much the end of a hard day.
Her heart had gone out to them as she realised that the young girl was obviously in the final hours of her confinement. She wished she had a room left for them but the last one had gone earlier in the day. It was all these poor people pouring into the town to be counted.
One part of her had just wanted to send them away because she was already so busy coping with the crowded inn and yet, something in her seemed to say, take them in. She wondered if any of the neighbours might be able to take them but she knew already that that was a hopeless thought, for every spare room in the town was being let out to the returning crowds.
“All I can suggest is that you use our stable round the back. You can put your donkey there if you like, and if you want to bed down in the straw I'm sure my husband wouldn't mind.”
As the young man helped the girl down off the donkey she gave a groan. “Please help us, Mary is about to have our baby.”
“I can see that, young man,” she had replied, “come on then, quickly, bring her round the back. The offer still stands; it's the best I can do for you.”
And so it was that the young couple had settled in the stable at the back of their inn. From time to time she had gone round to check on them. The young man hadn't wanted her to leave them but the call of duties in the inn meant she had to be coming and going.
But then the contractions had started to come more quickly. “Please, don't leave her,” the young man had begged. She had stayed and within minutes it had seemed, the stable had a third occupant. She had hurried back into the inn to find some cloth to wrap him in and now he lay beside his exhausted mother. Peace had descended on the stable and she had just been about to leave them for the night when there came this hullabaloo from outside. There was noisy talking and laughing. Whatever next, it's the middle of the night!
She had gone out to see the cause of the noise, and there they were. There must have been about fifteen of them – all men of course, giving no thought to the rest of the world trying to sleep.
“What do you lot want?” she had demanded.
“Do you have a new born baby here?” one of them asked.
“Yes, but what's that to you?”
“We've been told to come and see him,” came the answer.
“Told? Who told you to come?”
“Angels,” another one cried loudly. There was a chorus of assent.
“Angels?” she had replied? “Whatever are you on about?”
“There were angels, missus, hundreds of them in the sky. They sung to us.”
“And they told us to come because a saviour had been born.” another chipped in.
“But it was so wonderful we just had to come,” a third added.
Her mind had been in a whirl. “You'd better come in then, here, round the back in the stable.”
Still chattering excitedly the motley band of shepherds had followed her round to the back of the inn.
It was only as she had pulled open the big door of the barn that a hush fell over the group.
The single lamp hanging from a beam allowed them to see a startled couple protectively clutching their baby.
They filed in silently and, as if by command, knelt down around the little family.
For some reason tears ran down a number of their faces.
“Oh, the little lamb,” one of the onlookers whispered.
The young mother smiled, “Yes.”
“What's his name?” another one ventured.
“Jesus,” the young father answered.
“Doesn't that mean deliverer?” another asked. “I mean I remember that from when I was young,” he added with embarrassment.
“Of course, you idiot, the angel said he would be a saviour.” came from another, who then shut his mouth firmly for it seemed that harsh words were out of place here.
“Thank you mistress,” one of the older shepherds whispered to Mary and turning to the others, “Come on you lot, we've done what we were told to do. Let's leave them in peace.”
5. Mary Considers
I am a mother! I really am a mother! It's strange, I knew I was pregnant, there was no doubt about it, but somehow I almost didn't believe it until he arrived last night, and now here I am, a mother! And I have a son!
And here we are, the three of us. Three of us! We're a family! Me, my Joseph and now our baby, Jesus.
I almost feel that I have been living in a dream this past year. Did the angel Gabriel really come to me? Oh yes, it was so real, so vivid, I'll remember it until the day I die. I'll never forget his words to me. Initially he scared me for I wondered why God should send an angel to me, a twelve year old girl. What had I done? Was he about to tell me off? But no, it had been exactly the opposite for he said I had found favour with God. I remember being taught in synagogue about Noah, and he had found favour with God. I wasn't sure that ‘finding favour with God' was a good thing, but when he told me I would have a special baby I was overjoyed. And yet I wasn't yet married so how could such a thing be? That's when he told me it would because God would enable it to happen. How could such a thing happen? I had never heard of it happening to any other girl. Was this just a dream, a silly dream? But no, it was so real and I was wide awake. And then I started feeling sick and I realised it had happened, I was expecting a baby.
After the initial shock, Joseph was wonderful – with a little help from God, he told me.
Then I had gone to Elizabeth and stayed with her until she had her baby. That was an amazing time as well. It was clear that I was not the only one who had had dealings with God. But it was still all very dreamlike.
The reality hit when I returned home and tongues were wagging when they saw me, for it was quite clear what my condition was. I knew why, but few others would believe it when I told them.
Then came the orders from the Romans to go to the town of your family and so Joseph had to come here to Bethlehem to be counted like sheep. Then we ended up in this stable and my Jesus was born. Why does that expression ‘a little lamb' stay with me? How very appropriate that a lamb was born in a stable. But he's not a lamb, he's going to be a leader, a ruler, the angel said.
Oh dear, what is the future going to hold for us? How are we going to live? I assume Joseph will carry on his father's carpentry business and we would expect Jesus to follow in his father's footsteps, so I don't know where all this stuff about him being a ruler comes in. Carpenters aren't rulers.
I don't know how long we're going to have to stay here for the census. I don't know what we do about that. I suppose there must be a census house somewhere here in Bethlehem that we'll have to go to and be registered.
It's convenient that we're near Jerusalem though. We'll be able to go and make an offering for our little one as the Law requires, before we return home.
Yes, it all seems a bit dreamlike, but those men turning up last night were very real. I couldn't get to sleep for some time after they left, wondering about all they said. More angels? Angels telling them to come and see my Jesus? There's more in all this than we realise. What is the future going to hold for us? What will it hold for my son? I really don't know and yet one thing seems very clear: with all of these angels appearing – to Zechariah, to me, to Joseph, and now to the shepherds – it seems like God is closer than we've ever known before. Somehow it feels like He's really with us.
Reading for today's story: Luke 2:19
The old man had been praying. He was very conscious of how good it was to live in Jerusalem and be near the Temple . It was an easy walk in each day, to this place where the presence of God was supposed to live. It had started some time back in the local synagogue when the scrolls had been brought out and the Rabbi had read one of those enigmatic prophecies from of old that spoke about a coming one. As the words were read, something in him seemed to say, “You'll see him!” He gently chided himself for his foolishness, “I'm an old man. We've waited all these years and there has been no sign. I can't have long to go. Why should I be special? Why should I see him? It may be centuries before he comes!” But that inner voice seemed to persist, “No, you will see him when he comes to his house.” It was then he had decided to move into Jerusalem , to be near the house of God, the Temple . How long would he have to wait, he wondered?
Day after day he had risen early and made his way into the Temple and sat in the courts in the shade and watched the pilgrims who came, but no special figure appeared. How would he come? Riding on a donkey or riding in on a charger? Would he arrive with an escort or would he make a lone entrance? The pilgrims came and went, but no special figure appeared. Had he come and I missed him, he mused?
That morning he woke from a disturbed sleep. He felt tired. Perhaps, just this once I may stay at home. How many days have I been going there? What's been the point? Perhaps I just made it up. What had Joel said? Old men will dream dreams. Perhaps it was just a dream of an old man, perhaps it was wishful thinking. Yet there again came that gentle nagging inner voice, “This is the morning. Today he will come.” Oh, what am I on about? This is silly! There's nothing special about this day! It's no great feast day! Surely he would come in great glory on a feast day, a day of celebration in his house? “Today he will come.” The inner voice persisted. Very well, I'll go.
He made his way up to the Temple courts. He ached a lot this morning. It hadn't been a good night. He felt highly unspiritual. I'll just sit in the shade and watch what happens. He had been there an hour or so, just watching the crowds coming in, when he first saw them, a young man and even younger woman, more a girl really, and she with a bundle in her arms that looked like it could be a baby. His eyes drifted past them to others following them in, but strangely he felt his eyes being drawn back to them. Something inside him leapt. He found himself on his feet and moving towards them. Is this young man the one, but with a girl and a baby? No, it's the baby! Suddenly he knew! It's the baby! He ran towards them. They looked startled as this old man with a big smile came panting up to them with his hands out. “Please….” The girl looked up and smiled and handed the tiny bundle over.
As he took the child into his arms his heart seemed to explode with joy. He looked upwards with tears pouring down his face. “Almighty Lord, it's just as you promised! I can come home now! I've seen your glory!” The young couple looked on in wonder. He turned to them, “Dear children, may the Lord bless you! This child of yours will be a measuring stick to determine God's people. He will reveal their hearts.” He turned to the girl. “Your heart will be pieced before his days are ended, but fear not.” Just then an old lady appeared at his elbow praising God for the tiny child. The old man handed it back to the girl and then slid away while others came up and blessed the little family. With his heart beating so much he felt it would burst, the old man made his way outside and sat down. Still with tears running down his face he looked up. “Lord, I can come home now.”
Reading for today's story: Luke 2:21-35
The young man awoke with a start. He lay there thinking for a few moments. “It's happened again!”
He reflected back to that first dream. He remembered it so well even though it had been a year ago.
He had been grieving over Mary. She had let him down; she had let the family down. And then the dream came. It was one of those dreams that stay with you when you woke. In fact it wouldn't go away. At the time he had thought, “Am I dreaming? Of course I am; it's a dream! No, have I made it up?”
But it wouldn't go away and he found the message of the angel in the dream reassuring. But was it real? Was it God speaking to him: “It's all right; I gave Mary her child; marry her.” Throughout the day, wherever he went, the dream stayed with him. It didn't fade away like dreams tend to do. By the end of the second day, he dared utter a prayer: “Lord, I believe you. I will marry her.”
But that had been a year ago.
Since then they had had to travel to Bethlehem to be counted in the census and there Mary had had their child. ‘Their' child! He didn't understand it but her story matched his dream and he had come to the place of seeing himself as the guardian of the baby she was carrying.
Then that same night had come the shepherds with their tale of angels. Perhaps I am right after all.
They had found a distant family member who let them have a room in their house and they stayed in Bethlehem until they had been able to go up to Jerusalem to offer the sacrifice. It had been there that the old man and woman and heralded them and prophesied over the child. Again reassurance!
They had intended to return to Nazareth but the family had encouraged them to stay and Joseph had been given some work and so before they knew it several months had passed.
And then, just yesterday this caravan of strange travellers had arrived looking for them. He didn't know how but as soon as the men saw them and their baby, they knew them and, to Joseph's embarrassment, had bowed down before the baby. Then they presented them with gifts. What gifts! If they sold off these things they would be provided for, for years! When they had left it seemed like life was rather empty. But these men had spoken of their son in glowing terms. Angels, shepherds, people in the temple, and now men from the East; it all pointed the same way. This son of theirs was someone great. But what did that mean? Joseph wasn't from a great family – well yes he could trace it right back to the great King David, but that meant nothing today, surely. They were an oppressed people under the boot of the mighty Roman army. Nothing was going to change that!
And then came another dream, another angel with a message. It was as vivid as the first one. “Go to Egypt , Herod will try to kill the child!” There was no doubt about it; he was quite clear.
Where would they end up? Mary roused from sleep and smiled at him. I'm going to have to tell her. Here we go again! Where's it all going to lead?
Reading for today's story: Matt 2:13,14