Month: December 2015

Advent Stories: The Refugees

Egypt

Joseph: Well, another long day of travel. It really worked out, joining this caravan. We don’t even need to stop for directions. You know, it won’t be so bad, living away from home for a while. Like an extended vacation. The Nile is great this time of the year, I hear. I’ve always wanted to visit…tour the pyramids…wrestle crocodiles….

Mary: Hmm? Oh, yes, maybe so.

Joseph: You didn’t hear a word I just said.

Mary: Something about Egypt.

Joseph: That was a lucky guess, wasn’t it?

Mary: Do you think much about Jochebed?

Joseph: You mean the crazy old weaver who lived down the road in Nazareth?

Mary: No. The mother of Moses.

Joseph: Can’t say that I do. To me, that story didn’t get interesting until the flaming bush. There’s just something about fire….

Mary: Do you suppose she felt guilty that her son lived when so many others died?

Joseph: If she did—and she probably did not, because that doesn’t make any logical sense—I’m sure her husband talked her out of it. He said something like, “Jochebed, you are not the one tossing those babies in the Nile. That would be Pharaoh, and God will hold him accountable for his evil actions.” Right, Mary?

Mary: Herod murdered the babies, Joseph. All of them. We escaped, and they didn’t, and we didn’t even warn them.

Joseph: My dream told us only to flee immediately. Nothing else. We couldn’t have known what would happen, and there was nothing we could do to stop it even if we had.

Mary: I suppose not.

Joseph: Let’s talk about something else. I’ve been working on a list based on our people’s long and storied history: Things Not to Do When Fleeing to Egypt. One: Do not pretend your beautiful wife is your sister. This never works out the way you planned. I guarantee that was Abraham’s idea. No woman would be that idiotic. So never fear, I will loudly and immediately proclaim that you are my wife, so there’ll be no mistaking it.

Mary: No one here will know us. It’ll be very lonely.

Joseph: We’ll find others. We can’t be the only Israelite refugees to Egypt. It’s all the rage in our history, you know. Which brings me to Rule Number Two of Fleeing to Egypt: Do not sell your brother into slavery to a random passing caravan. Even if he’s incredibly annoying.

Mary: Joseph….

Joseph: Rule Three: If you do sell your brother into slavery, make sure he’s an administrative genius who can save your entire family from famine.

Mary: Joseph.

Joseph: Not interested in my thrilling overview of Isaiah’s prophecies against Egypt, then? Because that was coming next. You’re giving me that look.

Mary: What look?

Joseph: The it’s-your-turn-to-change-the-baby-look. But Jesus is asleep, so it can’t be that.

Mary: Can you be serious for just a moment? Honestly.

Joseph: Honestly? I’m exhausted. I couldn’t protect my family—my own wife and child—and now we’re running to a foreign land for who knows how long, with no idea what will happen next and no promise that anyone will help us. And I’m hot and sore and tired of eating stale bread and tired of walking and just…tired. Does he know, Mary, what his visitations and proclamations and miracles are doing to us down here? Does he care?

Mary: He cared for Hagar.

Joseph: Wrong race, my dear. Hagar was an Egyptian.

Mary: Hagar was a mother wandering in the desert who left her son under a bush and crawled away because she couldn’t bear to watch him die. Until an angel provided a way of escape and spoke promises over her. And Hagar named the Lord “the God who sees.” I’m glad we have those stories, at least. The old ones.

Joseph: Like Joseph. The one I was named after. I asked Father to tell me the story over and over again when I was young. I remember ever detail of it, could probably quote it to you to this day. Once he was living in Egypt, he named his sons Manessah—meaning “to forget” because he wanted to forget his past and his family. And Ephriam—meaning “fruitful” because God made him fruitful in the land of his affliction. Mary…I don’t want to forget. I don’t want to prosper in the land of affliction.

Mary: We didn’t name our son Manessah or Ephriam. We named our son Jesus. “God saves.” He brought us out of Egypt once before.

Joseph: We weren’t there. That was generations ago.

Mary: But God hasn’t changed since then.

Joseph: We’ve done a reversal. I am Sarah, laughing at the angel’s promise, doubting. And you are Abraham, counting the stars in the sky, holding your precious son close, but ready….

Mary: What?

Joseph: Nothing, dear. It was a bad analogy, that’s all.

Mary: You were going to say, “Ready to sacrifice him on the mountain if God asked it.” I know the story too.

Joseph: But he won’t ask it. That was a test, just for Abraham. You know our God doesn’t require the shedding of human blood.

Mary: The angel said “He will save the people from their sins.” Doesn’t that sound like a sacrifice to you? Or the words of Simeon at the temple: “This child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel…and a sword will pierce through your own soul also.” If God asked it…oh, I don’t know if I could. I don’t know if I could even watch.

Joseph: He would not ask it. He would never ask a mother to do such a thing.

Mary: He asked all those mothers in Bethlehem to watch their children die.

Joseph: Mary.

Mary: How could he do it? Could you hear the wailing, rising up the valley? “Rachel, weeping for her children.” It was the most terrible thing I’ve ever heard.

Joseph: You remember what Joseph said, at the end of his life, don’t you? It’s the Fourth Rule for Fleeing to Egypt: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive.” There are evil people, Mary, who do evil things. But God means it for good.

Mary: “That many people should be kept alive.” I’ve thought and thought about it, Joseph. Everything the angels said, the prophecies of Zachariah and Elizabeth and Simeon…and still I can’t understand it.

Joseph: In all the stories, God never expected his people to understand. Sarah and Abraham, Hagar and Joseph and Jochebed—there was only one thing they had in common: they heard a promise from God…and they believed.

Mary: I know. I know. But, Joseph…I just want to go home.

Joseph: We will. I know we’ll come up out of Egypt, because he has promised we will. And I believe.

(To read the rest of the Advent Stories, go here.)

 

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Advent Stories: The Wise Man

Just look at the sky tonight! It is, I believe, the most wondrous sight of this beautiful, terrible world—more than mountains, more than a sunrise or sunset. You see, stars are both order and beauty, science and art, all at once. We can predict them, chart them, map them…but we also use them to tell stories.

You must pardon me if I ramble. I have traveled a long way. All of us have.

WiseMen

Most members of my caravan speak your language. We are scholars, and it was taught to us many generations ago by the seer Belshazzar—you would know him as Daniel—and his fellow exiles. And so you understand our words, but still you seem to be puzzled by what we seek. When we tell you that we have come to pay tribute to the King of the Jews, you whisper in fear and confusion.

Your King Herod especially. I saw it in his eyes. He feels threatened by this, by us and our journey and the news we bear. I cannot understand it. He may be…how can I say this tactfully in your language?

Crazy. There is no tactful way to say that, perhaps. So there it is. A crazy man is a dangerous thing. A crazy man ruling a nation….

You have surely heard of our Nebuchadnezzar. His pride was punished by your God taking away his strength of mind. He was like a wild animal for seven years before he was restored. I have to admit, it gives me great satisfaction to imagine your Herod eating grass and braying like a donkey.

It was with great reluctance that Herod gave us the information we sought…at first. Then he replied with hasty apologies and grand statements of his intent to worship the king as well.

It did not…. How shall I put this? It did not feel very genuine. Nebuchadnezzar took seven long years to repent of his pride. I am doubtful your Herod accomplished the same in fifteen minutes. (more…)

Advent Stories: The Prophetess

Never get old. It just isn’t worth it.

Really, the noise in the marketplace today! It would’ve deafened me if I weren’t already deaf. I could barely get to the women’s court in the temple. It must be those Zealots again, causing trouble. Young people these days. Barely have time to pray, but they think they’ll start a revolution!

Change is coming. I’m old. I hate change. I consider it a major deviation from my routine when I eat an extra spoonful of lentils for breakfast. But what sort of change it is, whether it will be for the better, I can’t say. These are dark days.

Anna

That’s why I come here, to the temple, every day at precisely the same time, and have for so many years I’ve lost count. Do you know there are still a few who try to get me to leave? “A woman’s place is in the home,” they say. Young people these days. They can’t name the Ten Commandments, but they can give you ten reasons why everything you’re doing is wrong.

Well, when you’re eighty-four and a widow with no family to care for, a woman’s place is right here, I say. Like Miriam. Like Hannah. Like Deborah. Like all the women of faith who praised the Lord while the men were out being patriarchs and warriors and kings. It gives us a purpose, we with no children to raise.

Will anyone remember me when I’m gone? Will anyone look around the women’s court and say, “Where is Anna?”

Simeon would. But, oh, some days I think Simeon is older than I am, or at least more worn out. The way he shuffles along, rasping out that the time is near, that the Messiah is coming.

He can die in peace now. He has seen him. So have I.

Did you pass by them, the ordinary-looking couple with the baby? The man was a bit scruffy—young people these days—but he brought his son to be dedicated as the Law commands, so I suppose that’s all right. The mother was young. So very young…. What was her name again? (more…)