Dare to Believe

DF-09134 Nativity , May 18, 2006 Photo by Jaimie Trueblood/newline.wireimage.com To license this image (9139053), contact NewLine: U.S. +1-212-686-8900 / U.K. +44-207 659 2815 / Australia +61-2-8262-9222 / Japan: +81-3-5464-7020 +1 212-686-8901 (fax) info@wireimage.com (e-mail) NewLine.wireimage.com (web site)

chilled

hungry

an overactive imagination

or an illusion?

 

Did they really see

what they thought they saw?

 

Running as told to do

as if their life depended on it –

through the fields,

to the valley below –

running,

expecting to find,

what?
a baby

lying in a manger

 

did the angel realize

just how many mangers were in

the little town

of Bethlehem?
still they ran

due to unheard of visits from heaven’s messengers

in the middle of the night

to a sheep trough

 

something inside – deep inside

told them to

hope!

 

and so they did

 

three empty mangers

five cows

three pigs

dozens of chickens

and

no baby –

 

their imagination?

a misplaced hope?

 

a baby’s cry pierces the silence

pierces the doom

that had begun to discolor

the hope

that defies understanding

 

stepping in closer

peering toward the dim light

the baby nurses at his mother’s breast

 

finished

his father lays him gently

in the manger

 

cooing has replaced crying

satisfied and soothed

the baby sleeps

as strangers

join in awe and celebration

of an unknown king

precious and perfect in every way –

 

could this really be?

do we dare to hope

do we dare to believe

do we dare to praise this infant

who will save us all

from our sin,

and give us a second chance

to live

again?

That Very First Christmas

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“Mary – I am so sorry. I feel I’ve let you down. God gives me a task to do and we end up here – in a barn.”

“Joseph, it’s all a part of God’s plan. Remember the scriptures.”

Joseph was trying so hard to make things as comfortable as possible. Who would’ve known she’d end up about ready to give birth in a stable? He chuckled to himself.  ‘Who’, indeed. He was just thankful there was clean hay.

“I don’t understand how having a baby in a barn is part of God’s plan for a future king.  However, I am not going to be the one to tell God that this is a little out of the ordinary.” Joseph then piled some fresh hay behind Mary’s back. He stopped and bent back so that he was able to see her face. “It is a bit out of the ordinary – don’t ‘ya think?”

Mary smiled. “There’s nothing ordinary about any of this Joseph.”

Joseph saw her wince as she positioned herself for the next contraction.

“Are you sure I can’t do anything?  Something?” Kneeling beside her, sweat dripped from his brow.  “Are you warm enough? Is there enough straw behind your back?”

“Jo-seph,” she said, stressing both syllables of his name as the pain increased.  “Please – just hold – my hand!”

He wiped her forehead with a cool cloth.

“I should have listened to Seth when he told me about the census traffic and left a bit sooner.  Then that donkey…  Seriously Mary – that’s the slowest thing I’ve ever seen! I could have carried you faster,” he said, trying to lighten the moment.  “Then – I can’t even find you a decent room here in town.  If I had listened, maybe you wouldn’t have to be smelling the fragrant aroma of this barn.”

“Joseph,” Mary said, breathing normally once again, “You know everything happens for a reason.  We are in the Lord’s hands.” Mary braced herself once more for another contraction.  “They’re coming faster.”

Joseph watched as Mary’s face became the expression of concentrated effort by submitting to the pain inside her body. For some reason, ‘they’re coming faster’ made him all the more anxious than he had already been feeling.

“You know,” he said, as if convincing himself, “It really will be fine.  God keeps His promises. That much I have learned.”

Joseph rested his hand on top of Mary’s shoulder.  “It’s incredible to think about, you know – how this baby is going to be King.”

Joseph’s face shined with excitement and awe.  Mary exchanged glances with the cow a few feet away.  Did they understand what was happening?  Did God let them in on this secret? she wondered.  Were they amused with how nervous Joseph was, as evidenced by his non-stop monologue?

Mary smiled.  “It’s overwhelming, but – could you not think about that right now and just hold my hand?”

Joseph took Mary’s hand as her next contraction started.  She squeezed his fingers tightly as the pain intensified and Joseph wanted to scream. This young woman – the one he believed was meant for him – had been singled out and chosen to carry the Son of God.  Mary had a faith that, on occasion, he found himself envying.

He had watched her begin to care for this baby months ago. He watched how seriously she had taken the role God had given her of carrying this precious cargo – a promise, made hundreds of years ago, about to be fulfilled.  The promise of a King, bringing hope and salvation to the world. He was awed and humbled to be a part of this plan, no matter how unbelievable it seemed and he had to admit – it was pretty unbelievable at first. How many years had his people waited for God to make good on His promise and now, here he and Mary were – key players in the story?

Joseph looked down at his wife.  She was tired.  He pushed her hair back once more and spoke as he held her hand in his.

“You know Mary – I don’t know how, but this little guy’s gonna save the world.  Who knows? Maybe He’ll be able to teach that donkey to move a little faster!”

Mary smiled faintly as beads of sweat ran down her face. “Anything’s possible Joseph.  But for now, we have a baby to deliver.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

As Mary rested, Joseph held the newborn in his arms and looked at the baby’s perfect little face so fragile – so innocent. So… miraculous.  Joseph took a deep breath and then he smiled.

“Welcome to the world, little man.  Welcome, Son of God.”

The Chosen One

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Murray stood as tall as he could, which was difficult considering he was the shortest angel. The meeting was about to get underway. He found a spot in front where he wouldn’t miss anything.

A great announcement was made by the King and Murray wasn’t sure if he would be able to contain his excitement. As soon as the meeting was over, Murray rushed to find Gabriel, his mentor.

“Who do you think He’ll choose?” Murray asked Gabriel. “Do you think He’ll choose an angel-in-training? Do you think He might consider me? Do you think I have a chance?” he kept on, trying to catch his breath.

“Slow down there, young one. There is no need to be anxious. The Lord God will choose wisely the one needed for each task. He knows best.”
“I wish I could have been the one to tell Mary the good news – that she was chosen to be the Baby’s mother or even the one who was chosen to talk to Joseph about not getting all worked up over how things were going in his relationship with Mary.” They took a few steps and Murray continued. “I just hope He picks me to be the angel that sits on top of the stable where He told us He’s going to have the baby be born.” And as an after thought, he added, “I only wish it wasn’t a stable but something a little tiny bit more spectacular.”
Gabriel stopped and turned to Murray. “Son, if your heart is in the right place and you desire to serve for the right reasons, it doesn’t matter where He calls you – to a stable or a stage.”

Murray bent his head low. “Yes, sir.” His head was back up in an instant. “Mr. Gabriel, sir, can you tell me again what it was like to tell Mary the good news?”

Gabriel was amused at the littlest angel’s enthusiasm. He was sure to become a great addition to the army of angels. So much energy and such a willingness to serve anywhere, but still in need of maturity.

“It was humbling to be chosen.”

Murray only heard Gabriel’s story once. Gabriel never talked about it. If I was chosen, I’d tell everybody! Over and over again!, Murray thought to himself. But that was not Gabriel’s way.

“Come,” Gabriel motioned to Murray. “We have been summoned.”

Gabriel did not elaborate and flew with great intensity toward the throne. As he approached, his head was down and his wings fluttered slightly as he sang, “Glory and honor and praise to you, oh King of Kings. Holy are You Lord, my God.”

Murray didn’t need to be told to approach the Lord in worship and awe. No one needed to be told. God’s presence commanded nothing less.

Gabriel kept His head bowed as God spoke.

“Gabriel, it’s time for the multitude of angels to be assembled. Are they ready?”

“Yes, Lord.”

Murray glanced over at Gabriel. Why does he never look at the Lord? , Murray thought as he kept his head down as well, wanting badly to look up into the face of God.

“Have you appointed the stable angel?”

“Yes, Lord.”

“And the kings are taken care of?”

“Yes, Lord.”

“Well done, Gabriel. Thank you.”

“Yes, Lord.”

Gabriel stood and before taking flight sang, “Holy are You Lord God. Glory and honor belong to You alone.”

Murray and Gabriel flew to where thousands of angels gathered while waiting for orders. Gabriel immediately set about giving instructions.

“Michael, gather 40 to take with you to the stable. Put 10 at each post surrounding the manger and you stand center guard. Daniel, you take 5,000 and announce the good news to the shepherds. After leading them to the stable, join the other warriors who are already there.”

I have not even been chosen, Murray thought. What’s wrong with me?

Gabriel and Murray watched as the heavenly armies took flight. The force of air that moved at their departure blew Murray back and he caught his breath. How he wished he had been in their company. Just as he was about to question Gabriel, Gabriel was off once again.

“Come,” Gabriel shouted. Murray followed obediently. “We must tell the kings to warn Mary and Joseph about going home.”

“What kings?” Murray asked, somewhat annoyed.

“That’s what holds you back,” Gabriel interjected.

“What do you mean?” Murray asked, softening his attitude.

“Some of your self remains within your spirit.”

Murray flew silently. Gabriel slowed and then stopped in flight, looking at Murray.

“Do you understand what I’m trying to show you?”

Murray looked at Gabriel. Gabriel could see Murray’s eyes open wider.

Wanting to be the one atop the stable. Wanting to be the one to lead the multitudes in song before the shepherds. Wanting to be the one to give Mary the good news and tell Joseph not to fret. Wanting to be the one. Wanting badly to look upon the face of God instead of being content with basking in His glory. All these thoughts filled Murray’s mind.

“It’s been about me, hasn’t it?”

Gabriel nodded. “Self cannot serve for God’s glory.”

Murray took a deep breath. “Sir, I’m ready.”

Gabriel gave Murray an accepting nod and smile. “I know you are. Come on,” he said, “we’ve got work to do.”
Murray and Gabriel came to the Orient where the three kings were sleeping. Having gathered for political purposes, they were now all fast asleep after participating in the day’s gatherings.

Gabriel instructed Murray on what to do and Murray went inside the castle walls while Gabriel stood guard upon the highest peak of the castle.

Murray entered the rooms where each king slept. He stood beside each bed and as the men lay sleeping, Murray told them they must follow the bright star shining in the night sky to where the holy, baby King lay. They would hear of King Herod’s wicked plan and warn the holy Baby’s parents.

When Murray finished his task, he joined Gabriel.

“Did you speak to them in their dreams?”

“Yes, sir.”

Gabriel took a deep breath. “Good.”

“Do you realize what part you have played in God’s plan of redemption?”

“No, sir.”

“You’ve instructed the three kings to find the Holy Baby, and on their way they will learn of King Herod’s evil plan to destroy all baby boys. Murray, you have played a part of saving the Chosen One.”

Murray looked at Gabrielle and smiled. “And that way, He can save the world.”

“Exactly, Murray. Exactly.”

A Child Shall Lead Them

Asher ran quickly through Bethlehem , not even stopping when the sharp stone pierced through the tender flesh on the bottom of his foot. Nothing would distract him, not even the pain that seared up his leg whenever his heel hit the ground.
He turned off the main road into an alley and soon threw open the wooden door to his family’s home.

“Mother!”

“Slow down, my son. You will hurt yourself.”

She was awkwardly pouring water from the wooden bucket, into the pot above the fire. Asher swiftly moved to help her before the water spilled onto the flames below.

“Mother! You’ve got to come back with me. Let’s hurry! It’s incredible!”

He handed the bucket back to her as she thanked him.

“Asher, sit in that chair and calm down.”

Her tone was firm and he obeyed, feeling like a five year old again, instead of the stout, rugged fourteen year old he had become.

“Tell me what you are talking about.”

“The king we’ve waited for! I know it’s him!”

“What king?”

“Mother, quit kidding around and come with me!” He started for the door.

“Asher, where is your brother Aaron?”

“He stayed with the flock.”

“Why are you not in the fields with your brothers and here instead, speaking of nonsense?”

“Mother, you’ve got to come and see for yourself!”

Asher stood in the frame of the doorway holding the door open as he waited for his mother to follow.

“Asher, I don’t know what you are talking about, but you need to be tending your father’s flock with your brothers.”

“But mother – it’s him. I know it! You’ve got to come with me!”

“Asher, get back to the fields with Joshua and Aaron and stop this now.”

Asher’s heart beat so quickly, he thought it was going to burst. Just then, he remembered his father’s stories, the very thing that caused him to find the child in the stable.

“Mother”, he said, certain she would not dismiss him now. “There were men – sent from God – they were all in white and beautiful. They told us about the child just born, so we went. Aaron thought they were a hoax, but Joshua and I are sure they were angels. Mother, please – come with me!”

Asher’s mother stood still, processing what her son had said while he waited.

“Go get Joshua and get back to helping Aaron with your father’s sheep. Now.”

Asher wanted to ask why she didn’t believe him. Instead, he turned and stepped back outside and proceeded back to where he came from.

As he approached the small lean-to behind the town’s inn, he heard the soft murmur of voices. A small fire was burning inside and Asher knew, by the way the logs were stacked upon the bare earth, that his brother had built it for the little family. Cold inside, the heat of the fire warmed up the small space where the family quietly looked down upon the new life before them.

“You can come closer.” The mother didn’t appear any older than Asher himself, and he accepted the invitation, hunkering down right beside the trough.

“Asher!” Standing back in the corner, his brother Joshua whispered at him loudly, as if stopping him short of making a mistake.

Asher looked over at the woman, her kind eyes and smile softening the moment. Then her husband spoke.

“It’s okay. We named him Jesus.”

Asher smiled shyly. Looking back at the baby, he seemed drawn even closer. He sat on his knees and he put his arms on the side of the trough.
What was this new fascination about a baby?, he thought, never before mesmerized.

The child’s eyes opened. There was something different about those tiny eyes that kept Asher staring back.

“Hi.” Asher’s voice was soft as he slid the palm of his hand under the baby’s.

The tiny hand grasped Asher’s finger.

“He’s so beautiful.”

Asher smiled at the mother and she turned to look up at her husband who stood beside her.

“Yes, he is beautiful. He likes you.”

Asher felt emboldened. “Can I come back later?”

“Of course. We’ll be here a few days, I’m certain.”

Asher smiled and looked back at the baby. Lifting himself up, he bent over, compelled to kiss the child’s head. As he did, Asher softly whispered,

“Welcome little king. Welcome.”

I tell you with certainty, “Unless you become like a little child, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Matthew 18:3 NIV

A Baby Changes Everything

 

image“It’s time,” God told Gabriel, one of His chief angels. “Joseph needs to know. He’s beginning to fret over the news about Mary and needs to know that what she’s telling him is real.”

“Do you want me to take Michael?” Gabriel asked the Lord.

“No, this mission is for you alone. Go to Joseph while he sleeps and tell him what the plan is. Then he will find peace within. Go right away. There are many steps to this plan and timing is critical.”

“Yes, my Lord.”

And Gabriel was off. He found Joseph snoring, deep asleep in his bed. Gabriel debated whether to wipe the drool from Joseph’s chin or not and thought better of it. You never know how a grown man will react when being awakened by a stranger.

As Gabriel stood beside Joseph, he saw a picture of Mary on Joseph’s nightstand and remembered that innocent, young face from delivering a message to her, not long ago. What a privilege he felt, to be a part of such a plan that would change the world.

Joseph’s breathing got quiet and he started mumbling and Gabriel knew this was the time to speak to him.

“Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your bride, because what’s going on with her is God’s plan. She is going to have a son. Name him Jesus when he is born because he’s going to be the one to save his people from their sins.”

Joseph stirred and when he opened his eyes, Gabriel was gone.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Mary and Joseph married earlier than they had planned, Joseph now being on board with God’s plan with Mary.

She had been visiting her cousin Elizabeth for several months before she and Joseph married and as soon as their house was put into order, Mary’s time to deliver the little wonder growing inside of her was soon due. That’s when they got the news.

Joseph was being called to Bethlehem for a census being taken that year of those belonging to the line of his great great great great grandfather, about 28 generations removed, King David. They arose early one morning to beat the morning rush and afternoon heat. It helped somewhat, but in Mary’s condition, the travel was hard and slow and seemed like one steady stream of donkeys and families after another. She was beginning to feel that she was further along than she had thought. And so, what would have normally taken Joseph four days to journey between their home town in Nazareth to Bethlehem where, they were to register, took them a good seven days.

Mary was exhausted when they pulled into town. The donkey was exhausted. Joseph couldn’t relax until he found some shelter because he knew his wife was not feeling her best.

She sat on a bench under the cool shade of a tree while Joseph went inside the inn to get a room. She saw him come back out, apparently rattled.

“There are no vacant rooms.”

“That’s okay. We can go somewhere else.”

“That might be a problem. The guy at the counter told me there are no vacancies anywhere. Everyone’s in town for the census and hotels are booked solid. We should have made reservations.”

“Joseph,” Mary said, her face contorting unnaturally, “I hate to tell you this, but” she winced, “I think I’m going to have this baby tonight.”

“What can I do? Tell me what to do. I don’t know what to do,” he said.

“Joseph,” she smiled, her contraction passing. “It’s okay, but we have to find a place somewhere.”

“I’ll be right back. Surely someone can help.”

He ran back to the inn and was soon back again.

“The clerk at the desk said we can stay in his stable. He just cleaned it out today.”

“Fresh hay. That’ll have to do.”

Joseph led her to the back of the inn where they found the stable. At least this way they were all together – just he, his wife, and Jed, their donkey.

Spreading some blankets down he had taken out of the packs off the mule, he helped Mary get settled in one of the back stalls, where hopefully they would have a little more privacy. “Are you okay? Can I do anything? Tell me what you need.”

She laughed. “It’s okay, Joe,” she said tenderly. “My cousin Elizabeth told me what to expect. I was there when she had little John. We’ll do fine.”

He kneeled next to her. “Give me something to do,” he said softly. “I want to help you, however I can.”

She smiled while waiting for another contraction to pass and then, looking around said, “Over there – get that trough and we can use that for his cradle. It’s not as beautiful as the one you made for him, but it’ll do.”

Joseph did as his wife asked, filled it with fresh hay and covered it with a soft blanket. And then they waited. One contraction passed after another, getting closer together, and a few hours later, Mary was holding the son of God in her arms.

She and Joseph lay there on the hay, the beautiful, small, bald baby boy in between them. Mary cradled him under her arm. “Isn’t he the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?”

“Look how tiny his toes are,” Joseph awed.

The baby opened his eyes and looked about.

“Hey, little guy,” Joseph said, clearly stepping into his new role. “I’m gonna sort of be your dad for a while, okay?”

“Can you imagine Joseph? Did you ever think you’d be looking into the eyes of God?” Mary asked softly.

“No, Mary. I can’t really say I did.”

And little could they imagine just what God had planned for the years yet to come.