The Innocents

King Herod paced. “They should have returned by now.” He grabbed the nearest servant. “Why haven’t they returned by now?”

“I am unsure, Your Majesty.”

‘You are unsure. Pah! You are useless to me.” He released him with a shove. “I want an answer. Someone give me an answer!”

The servant cleared his throat. “Perhaps they chose not to return.”

Herod glared at him. “I told them to return. I told them that I wanted to venerate this child that they sought. Oh. Ahh. Ahh! I see. They don’t want me to find this child. This newborn king of theirs.”

Madness swirled in his eyes. “They wish to supplant me. They can’t. I am King! This is my land. This is my throne. None shall ever take it from me. It’s rightfully mine. This crown. This throne. This land. It’s all mine. None shall take it from me. Not those three men. Not even this unknown child whose star led those men here. I will live beyond the lifetime of the Pharaohs. I will live forever.”

He looked at his reflection in the mirror and readjusted his crown. “I will be king forever.”

Herod turned to his royal guards. “Go to Bethlehem and kill all male children two years old and younger. I think that will be sufficient to remove this thorn, this potential usurper to my throne.”

The leader of his guards spoke up, “Your Majesty, I don’t think—”

Herod slapped him across the face. “I gave you an order. And you will obey me. Kill them all.”

The leader bowed stiffly. “Yes, Your Majesty.”

 

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The Three Wise Men

“It will be a long journey back to Nazareth.” Joseph patted the donkey’s neck as the animal ate his hay. “Eat well.”

A camel’s guttural cry startled Joseph. He stepped outside of the stable and stopped short.

Three men dressed in extravagant robes sat on their individual camels.

Joseph rubbed the hay’s dust off his hands. “How may I help you?”

The tallest one, dressed in a black robe with silver trimmings, spoke, “We are searching for the newborn king. His star has led us here.”

“Then, come. Come inside.”

The three men got off of their camels.

“Please wait a moment.” He entered the stable alone and walked over to Mary, who slept with the baby wrapped in her arms. “Mary.” His voice was soft and gentle. “There are men here.”

She opened her eyes.

“Kings from the looks of it. They wish to see Him.”

She rubbed the sleep out of her eyes and sat up.

“I don’t think they mean Him any harm.”

“Then, let them in.”

And so he let them come in and see the sleeping Child in her arms.

The three kings knelt on the stable’s coarse floor and laid gifts before her.

“I bring gold.”

“Frankincense.”

“And myrrh.”

The tallest one looked up at Mary. “For this Child is more than an ordinary child. I knew this to be so when I saw His star and how it moved across the sky, leading us here. He is the light that will break through the world’s darkness. Some will see His light. Some will not.”

The short one, dressed in red and gold, bowed his head. “But His light will fill the world.”

The third one, dressed in royal blue and white, said, “From ocean to ocean. And from sea to sea.”

 

Jesus Meets Simeon

After Eli and his clan left, Joseph sat beside Mary.

Mary held her baby in her arms and gently rocked Him. She sang Him a lullaby her own mother had sung to her.

The melody was gentle and the words were sweet.

Joseph smiled. If only this moment could be live in my mind forever, so I could never forget.

He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and sang along with her.

And the baby fell asleep in her arms.

***

The time came to present Him to the priests in the temple. Mary and Joseph travelled to Jerusalem. Mary carried the baby and Joseph carried the sacrifice – two turtledoves.

The baby watched with wide open eyes as the world passed Him by. Every sight and every sound was both new and old to Him. And it was all wonderful in His eyes.

They entered the temple and He cried out – a single joyful sound.

An elderly man with a long white beard approached them. “Excuse me. May I see your child?”

Mary and Joseph exchanged looks.

“I am Simeon. I will do no harm to your child. Please. May I hold Him?”

“Yes.” Mary offered her child to him.

He took the baby into his arms. Peace came upon the old man’s face. “O Lord, my Lord! Praise be to Thee. For now Thou dost dismiss Thy servant, O Lord, according to Thy word, in peace. Because my eyes have seen Thy salvation which Thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples. A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.”

Mary and Joseph wondered at his words.

“Blessed be the Lord and may His blessings rain down on you, the parents of this beloved child. Behold this child is set for the fall and for the resurrection of many in Israel and for a sign which shall be contradicted.”

He returned the child to Mary’s arms. “And behold. Thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed.”

A chill came over her. A sword shall pierce my own soul. she thought. What does it mean? She looked down at the child in her arms and hugged him tight. “My love, my son, my darling You. Unworthy, I love You.”

 

Little Eli

Author’s Note: Sorry! I missed my usual Sunday post due to family obligations. I was going to wait till next Sunday to post this, but I decided Ehh. I’ll just post it now. So, here you go:

Eli had been named for one of the great prophets of old – Elias. His mother had hoped that God would give him a glorious destiny and her child would be remembered in time unforgotten.

So far that glorious destiny had not manifested itself. He was just Eli, the youngest and smallest shepherd of his father’s clan.

He tried so hard to prove himself, to show that, great destiny or not, he had worth. But his oldest brother teased him and tousled his head covering out of place. “Little Eli. You will never grow into Elias. You’ll always be Little Eli. Little Eli.”

His taunts made Eli feel as if he were smaller than a hearth cricket.

Then, one night…

He sat out in the fields watching the sheep. It wasn’t an easy job. There were always one or two spring lambs that would try to explore what lay beyond the flock’s safety. He couldn’t remember how many thorn-laced brambles he had crawled through in his short life. It was one too many, he knew that for certain.

He burrowed deeper into his layers of clothes. That was the problem with watching at night. The nights were almost always too cold.

“Hey, Little Eli. Are you asleep?”

“No. I’m awake.”

“Hey, Little Eli. Are you watching your sheep?”

“Yes, I am watching.”

“Hey, Little Eli. My sheep are better than your sheep.”

He pulled his head covering lower.

“Our father gave you all the runts and rejects.”

“Because he knew that they are smarter than the other sheep.” Eli smirked at his brother. “It takes a smart shepherd to keep the runts safe and out of harm’s reach.”

“Pah.”

“Ha! You have nothing to say to that, do you?”

“Nothing that should be said.”

Eli looked up at the sky. Ten thousand dots of light amidst the midnight blue. “It is a beautiful night. So silent. So bright.”

“I can’t argue on that. Ah! Little Eli! Look!”

Eli followed his brother’s point and quickly rose to his feet.

A stranger dressed in unfamiliar robes walked amidst their flock.

Eli grabbed his shepherd crook and ran down the hill. “If you stretch your hand to any of my flock, I’ll—”

The stranger raised his arms and his robes turned into purest daylight.

Eli tripped and fell. He stayed on the ground – his face covered by his hands.

“Fear not.” said the stranger in a voice as beautiful as a newborn lamb’s first cry. “Behold, I bring you tidings of great joy that shall be to all the people. For, this day, is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. This shall be a sign unto you: You shall find the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.”

Eli raised his head. He could barely look upon their visitor – so bright was his clothing, so beautiful his countenance. Yet, he didn’t want to look away.

Suddenly, a whole multitude appeared full of brightness and great glory. It was so many more than he knew to count.

They sang out in clean, pure voices, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men of good will.” It was one sentence  and fifteen simple words, but the sublime perfection of their music made it sound like eternity.

Their song ended both too soon and too late and Eli longed for more. But they disappeared as flames snuffed out – swiftly, suddenly gone.

The last one disappeared.

Eli sat in the new darkness too awestruck to speak.

His brother approached him and knelt beside him. “Did you see that too? I wasn’t dreaming it, was I?”

Eli looked up at him. “If so, I dreamed it too.” He stood. “Go. Gather the others. Let’s journey to Bethlehem.”

“But how will we know the way? How will we find the child?”

“God will provide.”

***

A new star appeared in the sky. One as beautiful as their visitor had been. Eli followed it and lead his clan to a small stable.

It wasn’t gold gilded and their visitors were not there. Just a man and a woman and a child. A newborn babe asleep in the manger.

Eli stepped forward. “May I see the child?”

The woman looked up at her husband.

“We mean you no harm. Angels came amidst our flock tonight and spoke of this place and of this child.”

“Then.” she said. “Come and see Him. My son. My dearly beloved one.”

Eli approached the manger and looked down at Him.

He was to all appearances no different to any other child of Galilee. But Eli thought of the angels’ words and he understood. “This child is the long awaited one.” He knelt in humble adoration.

His brother came and knelt as well, along with the rest of their clan.

“Glory to God in the highest.” said Eli.

“And peace to men of good will.” said his brother.

“And blessed is His mighty name.” said Mary, the child’s mother.

Joseph’s Dream

Joseph was in turmoil and his soul was sorely troubled.

Mary had returned from visiting her cousin Elizabeth. And she had news of her own to tell.

She trusted him.

So, she told him.

He had kept up a brave face for her, but, after she went home, it all came crashing down.

Mary.

His beloved Mary was pregnant.

She spoke to him of an angel and the message that he had borne. He didn’t doubt her words. Nor did he doubt the power of God.

Yet, there were rules in their society. Rules that he was loathe to obey.

I could send her away. Yes. And after she gives birth, she might return to me.  But if people were to suspect. But how could they suspect? But if they could…If they did…I couldn’t hurt her. I couldn’t bear to see anyone else hurt her.

Oh, Mary. What am I to do?

He went to bed that night with a sore heart. Good God, help me! What am I to do? What am I…What am…

As he slept, he dreamed of a beautiful sky, bluer than any he had ever seen. A figure clothed in sunlight appeared. “Joseph.” The voice was like new flowers in the spring and the running of clear streams. “Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost.”

His words and his voice unbound the fears inside Joseph’s heart. Joseph could feel the tension leave him, even as he slept.

“She shall bring forth a son and thou shalt call His name Jesus. For He shall save His people from their sins.”

The angel left and Joseph slept in peace.

 

Mary’s Song

Elizabeth sipped her cup of water and thought about the life growing inside of her. To be barren for so long. she thought. Only to conceive now in such a late hour of my life.

She smiled. This child will be someone special. I know this to be true. He will not be a mere merchant or fisherman. No. He will be someone more. God will call him to his service. And, as Samuel of old, my child will say, “Here I am.”

She dwelt on long thoughts of her child and what manner of man he would be.

Her thoughts moved to Zachary, her husband, and her joy diminished. Mute for six months already. He will speak again, if God so wills, but oh! Oh, how I miss hearing his voice. My beloved Zachary.

She heard the light tread of footsteps on the stone floor somewhere behind her. She turned in her seat and saw Mary.

“Cousin Elizabeth.”

Elizabeth gasped as the child in her womb leapt. It wasn’t just a simple kick or a rogue flutter. It was a leap of pure joy. And Elizabeth understood why.

“I have heard your good news.” Mary said. “I have come to help you any way I can.”

“Oh, Mary.” She approached her young cousin and embraced her. “Blessed art thou amongst women.” She released her  and regarded her with joyful tears. “And blessed is the fruit of thy womb. How is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

“How do you know?”

“As soon as the sound of your greeting entered my ears, my child leapt with joy.” She rested her hands on Mary’s shoulders. “And blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord.”

Mary pressed her hands against her chest and bowed her head. “My soul doth magnify the Lord and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.” Her words were like a song and her voice was like music.

“Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid. For behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed, because He that is mighty hath done great things to me.”

She raised her head. “And holy is His name. And His mercy is from generation unto generations to them that fear Him. He hath showed might in his arm. He hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He hath put down the mighty from their seat and hath exalted the humble. He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He hath sent empty away. He hath received Israel His servant, being mindful of His mercy. As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed for ever.”

Once I Could Not Speak

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When will the long awaited one come? It was the question in everyone’s minds and on everyone’s tongue.

Zachary stood in the temple to perform the incense offering. The question came to his mind as well, only to meld into thoughts of his wife, Elizabeth.

For so long, we have waited for a child to come to us and none has come. Elizabeth…My beloved Elizabeth.

But it is too late for us now. We are both too advanced in years. When the long awaited one arrives, he will not spring from my seed and Elizabeth’s womb.

His heart ached at such thoughts.

When, Lord?

Why?

We have served Thee with love and faithfulness. Why hast Thou left us childless and barren?

Why hast Thou forsaken us?

He bowed his gray head.

Elizabeth bore her grief well, but it was always present.

He longed to lift that grief from her, but he could not.

Only God could.

He knew that and believed it whole.

Lord, Lord. Hear my prayer. The prayer for my wife. The prayer for my people.

A beautiful light filled the room. One far lovelier than the fairest sunrise and more fragrant than the most potent myrrh.

Zachary raised his head to see a young man made out of light. His hair was as gold-thread. His eyes blue as a morning sky. And there was no fault or ugliness in him.

Yet, Zachary was troubled. It is surely an angel of the Lord. He knelt and bowed his head. But why has he come to me? What have I done?

The angel spoke and it was like a new mother’s lullaby and it was like fresh air. And it was like the coming dawn.  “Fear not, Zachary, for thy prayer is heard.”

He raised his head and gazed at Heaven’s messenger in wonder. “My prayer?”

“Thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son and thou shalt call his name John.”

He sat back on his feet. I shall have a son?

“Thou shalt have joy and gladness and many shall rejoice in his nativity. For he shall be great before the Lord and shall drink no wine nor strong drink. He shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.”

This is all too much. How can Elizabeth and I have a son? We’re both so far advanced in age. It isn’t possible. How could this be?

“And he shall convert many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias that he may turn the hearts of the fathers unto the children and the incredulous to the wisdom of the just to prepare unto the Lord a perfect people.”

“This is a great thing you have spoken of, but I don’t…I…Whereby shall I know this? Behold, I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”

A fearsome darkness passed the angel’s countenance.

Zachary doubled over in a cower.

“I am Gabriel, who stands before God. I am sent to speak to thee and to bring thee these good tidings. Behold! Thou shalt be dumb and shalt not be able to speak until the day wherein these things shall come to pass.”

“Dumb? Unable to speak? Why?”

“Because thou hast not believed my words, which shall be fulfilled in their time.”

The angel disappeared. The sudden absence of his light made the room like deepest night.

Zachary raised his head and tried to speak.

But his words and his voice were gone.

***

For the following nine months, Zachary remained mute. His voice and his words were locked shut and tight. He communicated only by gestures and written words.

He watched his wife, his Elizabeth proceed through her pregnancy. Joy lived inside her breast. She smiled and laughed and rejoiced for, at long last, she carried life inside her womb. Her cousin Mary came and stayed to help her.

Even if he could have spoken, he knew not what he would have said. He wanted to shake his head in disbelief, but how could one disbelieve what is right before their eyes?

***

At last, her time had come and she gave birth to her son. And he was alive and well and perfect.

Zachary looked at his newborn child and wept from joy.

My son.

I have a son.

Elizabeth looked up at him with her eyes bright with joy and love. “I have a son. Blessed be God.”

***

The day for the child’s circumcision arrived.

Zachary, still mute, stood beside his wife. Their families stood in a cluster behind them.

The priest looked at Elizabeth. “What will be the child’s name?”

“John.”

The priest frowned and the relatives muttered.

“He ought to be named after his father.” muttered one.

“It is the right thing to do.” said another.

“Tradition.”

“Custom.”

“There are no John’s in the family.”

“His name will be John.” Elizabeth said firmly. There would be no changing her mind. So, the relatives gave up on her and turned to Zachary.

“You want him to be named after you, don’t you?”

“Of course, you do.”

“What is this John nonsense?”

“Why would she want to name him John of all things?”

Zachary looked at his wife, his Elizabeth, and their son. He smiled.

“Come, come, Zachary. Tell her that you won’t stand for this nonsense. And it is clearly nonsense.”

He gestured for something to write on.

The priest gave him a writing tablet.

Everyone fell silent as Zachary carefully sketched out his message.

The priest took the completed message and read out loud, “His name is John.”

In that moment, as the priest spoke, Zachary could feel his voice return.

He raised his hands to heaven and cried out with a great joy: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; because He hath visited and wrought the redemption of his people. And hath raised up a horn of salvation to us, in the house of David his servant. As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, who are from the beginning.”

“Salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us. To perform mercy to our fathers and to remember His holy testament the oath which He swore to Abraham our father, that he would grant us. That being delivered from the hand of our enemies, we may serve Him without fear, in holiness and justice before Him all of our days.”

He took John from Elizabeth and, holding him tenderly in his arms, continued in a softer tone. “And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest. For thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways to give knowledge of salvation to His people, unto the remission of their sins.”

John yawned and fell asleep in his arms.

“Through the bowels of the mercy of our God, in which the Orient from on high hath visited us. To enlighten them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. To direct our feet into the way of peace.”