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A Strange Christmas

(This is a collection of 3 short stories I wrote for this year’s Christmas services at CrossRoads at Arlington Church.  Note:  If you attended one of the services, you know there were 4 readings.  Only 3 are posted here.  The fourth one (the first one read) was a “modified” version of another writer and I don’t have their permission to post it here.)  

Merry Christmas!  

MARY

Mary sat on a donkey, pain enveloping her entire body.  She didn’t know whether the pain came from the hours they’d spent traveling to Bethlehem or her pregnant state or some combination of the two.  More than anything she wanted to get off this animal and away from its stench.  And to lay down on a bed.  Oh to lay down and rest.

She watched Joseph arguing with the innkeeper.  How many inns had they stopped at that night?  Ten?  Fifteen?  With the census, nobody had a room.

Please, please have a place for us, she prayed.

When the angel told her she was pregnant with the Messiah, she thought that things would be different than they turned out to be.  Nobody believed her.  Her friends walked the other way when they saw her.  Her parents put her out of the house.  At first, even Joseph wouldn’t talk to her.  His family and friends advised him not to marry her.  The rabbi confronted her, “Admit your sins and ask God to forgive you.”

“But I’ve done nothing wrong.  An angel appeared to me,” she said, but he waved her off.

Weren’t the religious teachers supposed to know the Scriptures?  Didn’t they know?

“Do not be afraid,” the angel had told her.  And she thought the angel had meant the pregnancy.  She never expected people to doubt her.

Elizabeth believed her, and eventually so did Joseph.

Joseph came back outside.  He grabbed the reins of the donkey and started walking without speaking to her.

“Joseph,” she said.

He didn’t respond.

“Joseph,” she said again.

He stopped in front of a barn and turned to look at her.  “I’m sorry.  I couldn’t do any better for you or for the child.”

Joseph opened the barn door and led them in.  He helped her off the donkey and found a place for her in the hay to lay down.  The barn smelled, well, like a barn, with urine and manure and the odor of unwashed animals.  The animals, corralled in various corners of the barn, expressed their irritation at having to share their quarters.  They stammered and sneered and snorted.  Joseph grabbed a couple of blankets and tried to make her comfortable.

Mary leaned back against a stack of hay.  She felt a sharp contraction in her side and back.  She grimaced and tried to breathe.  “Joseph, I think…I think it’s time.”

He knelt down in front of her, unsure of what to do.

Mary closed her eyes and focused on the day the angel visited her. There was a bright, shining light and a voice unlike one she’d ever heard.  At first, she thought she’d died.  When she realized she was still alive, she dropped to her knees and covered her face, hoping that whatever this was, it wouldn’t kill her.

“Mary,” the angel said, “God has chosen You.  You will become pregnant and bear a child.  He will be the Savior of the World.”

A sharp pain struck her side and she was jolted back to the present.  She opened her eyes and looked at Joseph kneeling in front of her.  Just over his shoulder, she could see the animals trying to sleep.  The moonlight streaming through the barn door provided the only light for them.  This was not how or where she’d imagined the birth taking place.

“What a strange idea this has been.”

THE RABBI AND HIS STUDENTS

“All right, boys, we’re almost done for today.  Before we dismiss, does anyone have any questions?”  The rabbi could tell that his class of ten year old boys were getting restless.  Maybe if he allowed them to ask questions, they might learn something.

One boy raised his hand and stood up.  “Rabbi, can you tell us when the Messiah will come?”  Before the rabbi could answer the question, the young boy continued, “Because I want to be part of his army that dethrones the Romans.”  He turned and wielded an imaginary sword at one of his classmates.  The other boy slumped back in his chair as if he’d been killed.  Most of the others hooted their approval at the imaginary defeat of a Roman soldier.  The boys loved nothing more than playing games of war in the courtyard.  No one ever wanted to be the Romans.

Perhaps allowing the boys to ask questions had been a mistake.

The rabbi shushed the boys to be quiet.  “We do not know exactly when the Messiah will come, but we must always be on the lookout.  Many have claimed to be the One and many will claim to be so in the future.  But when he comes, we will know.”

Another boy raised his hand.  “So how will we know?”

The rabbi smiled.  “Do not worry, it will be obvious to all and we will be able to recognize the Messiah when he is among us.  He will fulfill all of the promises of Scripture, he will be majestic and powerful, a greater warrior than David and smarter than Solomon.  He will make these Roman Emperors look like the fools they are.  We will overthrow these unholy Romans and take our place as rightful rulers.  We will be vindicated.”

Another boy raised his hand.  Now he had their attention.  “Yes, what is your question?”

“My uncle says the Messiah is already here.”

The rabbi nodded his head.  “As I said, many have claimed to be the Messiah, but they were not the one.  When He comes, we will know it and we will tell you who He is.”

“But my uncle says He met him.  His name is Jesus.”

“Jesus.  That’s a very regal name,” the rabbi teased.  “We have three boys by the name of Jesus in this class.  Is one of them the Messiah?”

The other boys laughed.

The rabbi stopped himself.  He must help this young boy.  “Tell me, when did your uncle meet this Messiah?”

“When the Messiah was born,” the boy answered, “My uncle was working in the field as a shepherd and an angel appeared to him and his friends.  The angel told him exactly where to go in Bethlehem and when they arrived, the angel appeared again, telling them that this was the Messiah.”

“So tell me, where in Bethlehem did your uncle find this Messiah?” the rabbi asked.  The boy squirmed in his seat.  He knew they were going to make fun of him.  Part of him wished that he hadn’t spoken up.  “In a barn,” he answered.

The other boys howled with laughter and the rabbi tried to contain his own laughter.  “Your uncle says that the next King of Israel, our Savior, was born in a barn in Bethlehem?”

The boy nodded his head.  “That’s what he says.”

The rabbi shushed the other boys to be quiet.  “I think your uncle might be spending a bit too much time outside with the animals.”

“It’s true,” the boy whispered, but none of the others could hear him over their laughing.

The rabbi felt sorry for the child.  After all, it was his responsibility to teach and mold these boys in the ways of God.  He walked over to the boy, leaned down, and whispered into the boy’s ear, “What a strange idea your uncle has.”

JOHN THE BAPTIST

John sat with his face in his hands.  How long did he have to live?  Days?  Hours?

He always knew that his own death and execution might be a possibility.  People in power killed prophets, particularly when you referred to them as “snakes.”  That sort of criticism was never looked upon kindly.

John didn’t fear death.  He regretted nothing about his life.  As he preached, as more people turned their lives to God, John knew that those in power wanted him to stop.  They’d sent their emissaries, pleading with him, warning him, to tone down his message.  But, John couldn’t and wouldn’t.

There was no use dwelling on what had taken place.  He’d do it all over again.

His thoughts turned to Jesus.  He replayed the day that Jesus asked John to baptize him.  John thought that he’d heard the words, “This is My Son,” come from heaven.  Had he actually heard that?

If Jesus was the Messiah, then when would the revolution begin?  Would John’s own arrest be the incendiary event that launched the overthrow of the Romans?  Would John be saved?  Would he be spared from his certain death?

Was John right about Jesus?

Was he the One?

“You’ve got a visitor,” the Roman guard growled, pushing Andrew in front of the bars.  “Keep it quick,” the guard said to Andrew, “or I’ll throw you in there with him.”

John stood up and looked through the bars.  “Thank you for coming.”

“How are you?” the disciple asked.  Once the words flowed from his mouth, he wished he could take them back.  How would a man awaiting his execution be?  “I’m sorry,” Andrew said.

“Don’t worry about it.”

“Is there anything I can do for you?”

John pondered the question.  He wanted one thing.  Not to escape from this prison or from his coming death, but to know.  To know without a doubt.  But he feared sending Andrew on this mission.  It’s not that the task would be dangerous, but he didn’t want to cause worry or fear or even doubt to creep into Andrew’s own mind.  Yet, he needed to know.

His parents had told him about Jesus’ birth.  The angel that had spoken to his own father had spoken to Mary as well.  The miracle of Mary’s conception.  And then he’d heard Jesus speak and teach, wise beyond his years.  It wasn’t that he doubted what his parents told him or what Mary and Joseph had said or even what he’d seen with his own eyes, but he wondered.  Well, maybe he was doubting.

John looked back up at Andrew.  “I need you to go to Jesus.  When you speak with him, I want you to ask him one question and then report back to me with his answer.  But you must do this quickly, I’m not sure when Herod will execute me.”

“Of course.  I will go as soon as I leave here.  What shall I ask him?”

John locked eyes with his disciple.  “Ask him this, ‘Are you the One?’”

Andrew left on his mission and John sat down in his jail cell, placing his head in his hands.  He replayed what he’d seen and heard and knew of Jesus.  Sitting in this jail cell, it seemed so strange that John would even know the Messiah.  Who was John after all?  Just some preacher in the wilderness.  Why would the Messiah want to know John?  There in his jail cell, awaiting his execution, it seemed like such a strange idea.

He looked up and awaited the answer from his friend.

***********
(c) copyright 2011 Chris Dikes.  These stories may not be reproduced, transmitted, or published in any form without the expressed written consent of the author.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. December 25, 2011 at 8:20 pm

    I didn’t know you wrote those. I enjoyed them so much! Great job!

    • December 25, 2011 at 9:01 pm

      Annie
      Thanks so much for the compliments

      Chris

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