Friday, December 30, 2011

Herod's Journal

April 6, B.C.
Another one! Another one plotting against me. Look at what I’ve done for my people! And what is my thanks? My own family conspiring against me. I regrettably have had to have my three children and wife executed. I had to do this. My own family wants to take my throne. I have to be vigilant. Everyone is out to get me even after all I have done for Israel. I am appointed by God and confirmed by Caesar. The people need me and my throne, a throne that I deserve.

I thought the threats to my position were over. That is until three scholars from the East came and sat with me at dinner. They inquired of me as to the location of the newborn King of the Jews. I was shocked at their disrespect to my throne. I wanted them executed at that very moment. But I didn’t get where I am without discernment and wisdom. I knew these three could lead me to this latest threat. I must have this little one and his family killed. There will be no competition for my throne.

After dinner I gave them lodging. I immediately convened a meeting of the priests and scholars. I wanted to know where this Messiah was supposed to be born...

He cannot possibly be the Messiah! I am God’s appointed King. For the sake of Israel, I must ruthlessly defend my throne, Caesar, and God from any rebellion. I was told the Messiah would come from Bethlehem to rule and shepherd Israel. That may be the truth but that Messiah would have to come from my line. It cannot be this toddler imposter. I must find him.

Next Day
I gathered the three scholars for breakfast. I told them I had prayed and studied, and it confirmed by my priests and scholars that the child king would be born in Bethlehem.

They rejoiced and embraced each other. I smiled warmly back.

So now my new friends make haste to Bethlehem to find this child. Search diligently and carefully. Come back to me so I may accompany you to worship him.

They bowed to me and mounted their camels. I watched from my wall as they headed in the direction of Bethlehem.

I then called my soldiers and put them on alert. We must crush this rebellion to my throne. These Gentiles are proof of the false Messiah; Gentiles in search of a Messiah. Could anything be more ludicrous? God needs a strong man, not a baby worshipped by pagans. I am that man, this is my throne, and these are my people…the end.

A Prayer Against the "Herod" in Us...
Jesus you are King. You and you alone are worthy of the throne. You are King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Forgive us, Jesus, when we behave like Herod. Forgive us for believing our own press. Forgive us for trying to be "messiahs" when we are only servants. Forgive us for taking our titles seriously apart from you. Remind us, Jesus, you are Area Director, Regional Director, Committee Chair & National Director.

We have power and positions ordained by you as a gift. Like the Magi, powerful in wisdom and wealth, we bring all we are and all we have to you. We bow down to the One whose weakness is greater than our greatest strength. Jesus, we confess our Herod-like tendencies and gladly give the throne of our lives to you. In your Kingly name Jesus! Amen!

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Inn Keeper's Wife

My name is Sarah. My husband is the inn keeper of this two-bit tavern in Bethlehem, though I do most of the work. Life has been a disappointment for me and I have been my husband’s disappointment.

I had two miscarriages and then finally a little girl. When my husband saw that it was a girl he frowned. He wanted a boy, and I cried. I guess I’ve become hardened. Life did not turn out as I expected. My husband buries his disappointment in his work; in this tavern. We are Jews but Yahweh has disappointed us so we just go through the motions.

As a woman, I wonder if a time will ever come that the arrival of a baby girl will be cause for as much joy as a baby boy. Will there ever be a man who sees a woman as an equal act of God and treat her as such? I have had to stuff down so much of my talents, thoughts, and opinions. There is a lot more I could do but I don’t think I’ll get the chance.

That all changed one cold night in Bethlehem when a young couple came to us seeking shelter at our packed Inn. My husband talked to them first and I came up behind him as he was shutting the door saying, “There is no room here.” I didn’t think much until I looked at the young woman in the beginning throes of childbirth. This was the night that changed my life. Let me tell you about it in my journal.

Thursday, April 13, 5 B.C.
Early evening, Bethlehem
Early yesterday evening a young couple arrived at our tavern seeking shelter. My “business as usual” husband was about to shut the door on them when I got a glimpse of the beautiful young woman in great discomfort. She was in labor. I think she was a painful reminder to my husband of having only one child, and not a son.

I blocked the door from being shut and stepped into the doorway in front of my husband, to his great annoyance. I looked at the young couple. Both had eyes filled with desperation and hope for a kind act. I felt a surge in my heart. I must help this couple. It was an overwhelming desire. More like a calling. I walked outside and took the young woman by the arm, along with her husband, shielding her from the crowds and staring eyes.

The handsome young husband politely and quietly told me, “This is my fiancée, Mary. I am Joseph.” Fiancée! And she was giving birth. I felt even more protective. Mary would be judged. I felt a mother’s protection for the young couple who were young enough to be my own children.

I didn’t know what I was going to do until I saw this donkey walking up the path with what I could swear was a silly grin. I almost thought he was going to talk to us.

Joseph in a lighthearted moment looked at me and chuckled, “That’s my donkey Good News. I count on him to bring me that very thing.”
I looked at the goofy donkey and an idea arose in my mind. I looked back at Joseph and said that I thought I had good news for him. It was not great news but at least better than the bad news he had gotten at our tavern. Follow me, I told them. We both led Mary down the path. The donkey turned around and followed us.

We arrived at the cave where we kept some of our livestock. I said it’s not much but it will have privacy and some warmth. Joseph quickly responded to my hesitating offer by saying, “Sarah, don’t worry. This is perfect.”

He thanked me repeatedly as we sat Mary down to make her comfortable. “I will be back in a minute with some blankets,” I offered. Mary groaned. I hurried back to the tavern and returned with the blankets from our bed. My husband and I will have to rely on each other for warmth tonight.

It wasn’t long before her time arrived. Joseph blurted out the strangest thing to me. He said, “Sarah, this child is special.” I smiled saying, “I know young man.”

He continued, “No, no Sarah. Special. This child is the child of Isaiah 7:14. This is the one we’ve heard about all of our lives from the prophets. He is the Son of the Most High.”

I stared in disbelief that turned to wonder as I looked into the face of Mary. She was in pain but smiled with tears, nodding her head. She said, “Sarah, believe. You will be blessed. Yes Sarah, you will be blessed as will all who make room for Him as you have.” Mary’s words were broken off by a contraction and a loud scream. Panic was on Joseph’s face. I took over. I am not a midwife but I knew what to do.

Joseph held Mary as the child began his descent from Mary’s womb. Later I would more accurately describe it as His descent from heaven. He slid into my arms as Mary fell back in exhaustion and yet she laughed through her sweat and tears; as did Joseph. I looked in wonder. The strangest thought came to me as I looked in His face for a brief second before I placed Him in the arms of his mother. I think this is the child who will become a man and bring dignity, honor, and respect to all women, to me. It was there that I determined I would follow the progress of this child and one day become His follower. If He would have me.

Mary, with joy, took her child. I quickly cleared out the manger and placed fresh straw in it and one of the blankets. Mary picked up the blanket and swaddled him. It was then I noticed the brightness of light outside.

I stepped out and beheld the brightest star I have ever seen. And then I heard something like thunder. I listened. The thunder continued. It was voices. A thousand voices singing the most beautiful song I have ever heard. “Glory! God! Highest!” These were the three words I could make out.

I turned back and entered to ask Mary and Joseph if they could hear it. But I couldn’t talk. I could only gaze at Mary as she took her baby to her breast and began to nurse him. Mary smiled at me and said, “His name is Yeshua. He is the Star Maker.” Joseph added that he has come to be with us; to bring Yahweh’s forgiveness of our sins. Mary added, “I am blessed among women, Sarah. But you are not far behind because God chose you to make room for him.”

I began to weep. I turned away. I prayed as I knelt for the first time in over 20 years. I heard footsteps and I looked up to see a motley band of shepherds out of breath and anxious. “We are looking for a newborn. He is…,” “the Son of the Most High,” I interrupted.

Yes, yes they anxiously responded. I dried my tears and said, “Come with me. I will take you to him.”

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Donkey's Journal

Hi there. I am Joseph’s donkey. I want to share the most amazing story of my life. I’ve been with Joseph from the time he was a boy. He later named me Good News when he opened his carpentry store.

Joseph always talks to me but he doesn’t know I actually understand. People don’t think that animals can talk so we only talk amongst ourselves; although I have been known to give an obnoxious person or two a rise by blurting something out in the human language. My speaking always stops their speaking.

Anyway, I am getting off the point. Joseph named me Good News because he felt I always brought good news to him when we would journey together to sell his handiwork. I like the name a lot. Well I want to share my journal with you from back in 5…B.C. that is. It was early April…

April 6, 5 B.C.
Joseph was especially talkative this morning. He told me we were taking a trip to Bethlehem and that I would be carrying his beautiful fiancée Mary, whom I loved. She was quiet, reflective, and kind. I worried though when Joseph mentioned that she was close to giving birth. I knew I would have to make this as smooth a ride as possible. Joseph said something in a hushed tone that I did not understand. He came close to my ear and said, “Our lives and I think the world is about to change. Yahweh has sent the Bright Morning Star to my Mary.” He said it trembling with an anxious but joyful tone. He then said, “And you my friend will be part of this.” Like Mary I pondered this.

April 9, 5 B.C.
Our departure day arrived. Early in the morning we set out. Joseph helped Mary, large with child, on my back. I tried to bend down a little to make it easier for her but she still groaned in discomfort. We set out. I made my steps as smooth and rhythmic as possible for lovely expectant Mary. This journey would be especially difficult for a woman in Mary’s condition. Yet much of that day she sang hymns to my Maker and hers. One went like this…
I am blessed among woman
With your fruit in my womb
Come child I will nourish
The world will be your room
It sounded so sweet in Mary’s voice. I began to realize there was something special about this child. But what? “Your fruit in my womb,” she was singing this to our Maker. Who is this child?

April 10, 5 B.C.
We traveled all day and all of us are exhausted; Mary much more so than Joseph and me. She doesn’t look so good. I wish there was more that I could do. Joseph built a fire and roasted some fish. I don’t like fish but there was a delectable clump of grass and shrubs nearby. As I grazed I overheard the young humble couple.

Joseph: Are you alright Mary?
Mary: Uncomfortable love but Yahweh is my strength.
Joseph: Mary, I know He chose you but why me? What will I do?
Mary: My beloved, he will need a father. Guidance. A warm home. Love. Discipline. To be taught. Though he is the Son of God he will be our son to love, cherish, and nurture.
Joseph: You are right. How blessed we are amongst all the couples on earth. He chose us. He loves us. He has entrusted us with His son. Great is our God.
Mary: And I think, Joseph, many after us will be entrusted with him to love as we do. Do you wonder about his future? His purpose?
Joseph: His name is Yeshua. Yahweh has made a way for the forgiveness of sins. Some better way than the killing of a lamb.
Mary: He will be our lamb but we shall have to share him with all the world.
Joseph: Yes. The Lamb of God –
Mary: Who takes away the sins of the world.
They looked at each other as lovers do. They kissed. But it was more than just lovers. They had the determined look of those on a special mission.

April 11, 5 B.C.
Can’t sleep. Can’t stop thinking about what Mary and Joseph said and then my thoughts were interrupted by a growing soft but steady light. The light formed into the presence of a man. He spoke to me. “Good News, I am Gabriel sent from God. I am the angel sent to Mary, Joseph, and Zechariah. And now to you.”

“You have been chosen by God to carry His son to the place the prophets foretold concerning His birth. Bethlehem. The House of Bread! And the Bread of Life that feeds the salvation starved world will be born there. Good News! You are carrying the Good News of God to the entire world. To all of creation. Mary carries your Maker who will redeem even nature and all its creatures.”

I knelt in wonder. Then he left. Redemption for the entire world. God has remembered the day He created all the world and said it was good. This baby will make it good once more.

April 12, 5 B.C.
We’ve arrived in Bethlehem. Finally. It is so cold. Looking at Mary we arrived just in time. She has been moaning for hours now. Joseph has constantly prayed through her moaning. I did everything I could to make my steps soft and light. I can’t stop thinking I am carrying the woman who carries the Son of the Maker. My work has been given great honor. I think this child will bring dignity to all who work and serve. Joseph took Mary from my back. He was in a panic asking person after person where there was room to stay. Bethlehem was packed because of the census.

I watched as Joseph appealed to the last possibility of a place to stay. I heard the discouraging words of the Inn Keeper and saw Joseph’s dejected face. Then I had a crazy idea.

I know in a place like this there are a lot of other fellow animals. They have to stay someplace. So I headed down the nearest path to the tavern Joseph was at. Bingo! I could see a small cave about 100 yards from the tavern and I saw another donkey in front tied up. So, I sauntered down to him and told him my whole story.

This donkey’s name was Searcher. And looking at him I knew why. He had only three legs. He told me that he’s wondered all his life why the Maker made him this way. When I told him who this arriving child was he excitedly declared, “Maybe this child is the answer I have been searching for! Do you think we could have him stay here with the rest of us?” I simply smiled my big donkey smile and said, “Hee Haw! That’s exactly what I had in mind.” I headed back to Joseph and met him on the way up as he was carrying Mary toward me accompanied by a pleasant looking, middle-aged woman. I recognized her. Just as I had left she came to the door as the Inn Keeper and Joseph were talking. I think she is the Inn Keeper’s wife. It is possible she has my same idea. “Maker, please make a way for this child, Mary, and Joseph, “ I prayed under my breath.

Next week: The Inn Keeper’s wife’s journal…

Monday, December 5, 2011

Joseph's Diary

June 17, 6 B.C.
Hallelujah! Glory to Yahweh! I have been given a wife, a woman of unsurpassed beauty. Her name is Mary. We were engaged yesterday afternoon. Last night I dreamt of our first meeting. I saw her struggling at the well.

“Let me help you with that,” I offered. She looked up from her jar and into my eyes and I was overcome.

Here eyes were dark as olives. Her skin was like silk, beautifully brown. I felt the silk as our hands brushed against the jar. Her lips were full with the color of a dark rose. I was captured by her beauty.

But as we went to rest under a sycamore tree, I was captured by her gentle reflective spirit. She was a woman who ran deep; as deep as the well she drew water from.

It was that day that I fell in love with this deep, beautiful, young woman who loved Yahweh like no one I had ever known. The next day I told my parents, “Yahweh has given me the woman I will marry”.

July 13, 6 B.C.
Confusion. Mary has left suddenly for her cousin Elizabeth’s home. She seemed distracted, so unusual for Mary. She left in such haste and was vague as to the reasons why. A quick kiss on my cheek and she turned and hopped onto the caravan. We waved to each other. She had the strangest look on her face. Wonder? Perplexed? Joy? Troubled? I think all of the above.

“Go with her Yahweh,” I whispered under my breath. I felt something slide down my cheek, an uninvited tear.

October 17, 6 B.C.
I looked up from my workbench to see what all the commotion was about. Then I fairly screamed for joy as I ran to the coming caravan. It was my Mary. The caravan stopped. She slid into my arms with a half smile to meet my unrestrained one. “Dear Mary. What is it?”

Joseph we have to talk. She led me to our tree. The one we had carved our names into.
“Joseph… (tears)…Joseph”…”Mary, what? You can tell”…

My hand brushed her swollen abdomen. Silence between us. The type of silence from the heart that turns inward on itself.

“Joseph, it’s not what you think.”

“And what do I think Mary? What can I think but that you could not find completeness in me? You’ve betrayed me but you’ve shamed Yahweh. Mary, Mary how could you?”

“Joseph, I understand how upset you are but please let me explain.”

She was frantic to explain to me, as her heavy tears pounded the dirt beneath us at the foot of our tree.

“Joseph, you must believe me. I have not been with any man. I would never betrayed you but most of all I would never shame Yahweh as you suggest.”

She cupped my face in her silk, brown hands. As always when she looked in my eyes I was overcome. I knew I had to listen to the Mary I thought I knew.

“Joseph this is the doing of Yahweh. An angel visited me. I am not making this up. He told me that God has chosen me to bear the Messiah. This pregnancy…my pregnancy is by the Holy Spirit. I don’t understand this Joseph but I gave myself to Yahweh in obedience. Joseph! This baby will need a father.”

I pulled back from her in sadness and disbelief. What had happened to my Mary? Was she ill?

“Mary, though I could have you stoned I will not. I could never do that to you. The woman I love. But there is no way I can be part of this with you. I cannot take on your shame. I will divorce you quietly and secretively. Your life will be spared and I will move. I loved you Mary. I still do. Yahweh be with you and have mercy on you.” I turned my back and walked away, listening to her sobbing. I wept as well.

October 18, 6 B.C.
I bolted from sleep covered in a cold sweat. I quickly wrapped myself in my clothing. I had to get to Mary immediately.

I ran the few hundred yards to her home. Our sleepy little village had not stirred as of yet. The morning sun was peeking above the hills like it was announcing the coming of a different type of light about to enter the world. And I knew the name of that Light.

I came to Mary’s window and pulled the curtain aside. I heard quiet sobbing from the left corner of the room. There sat Mary, on her mat, face in her hands.

“Mary,” I whispered as loud as I dared. I startled her. She looked up in panic. “Mary, it’s me Joseph.”

She looked around and arose, gingerly tip-toeing across the room to the front door. I could tell she was confused and a bit fearful. I took her hands in mine after I embraced her. Don’t be afraid, Mary.

She pulled back and said, “Joseph, you are sweating. Are you ill?” I smiled back at her and said, “Mary, you will make a wonderful mother. Come with me beloved.” I then walked her to our tree and told her of my visitation.

“Mary, the angel that came to you also came to me last night.” He said, “Joseph, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. She is pregnant by the Holy Spirit.”

Mary looked into my eyes with her mouth open. Then her mouth formed the most beautiful smile I had ever seen. It was a smile of Light like the morning sunrise. I saw the Light in her eyes and I felt the Light in her womb as we embraced.

She repeatedly kissed me saying, “My dear, sweet Joseph. We will make it through this. We are in Yahweh’s will though it will mean suffering. But we will make it through this by his mercies.” Her tears again watered our tree. Through my beloved Mary would the Tree of Life come back to us all.

Next: A donkey’s journal…