Coin

“Or imagine a woman who has ten coins and loses one…” (Luke 15:8 NIV)

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One day, when he was eleven years old
he went next door to the widow’s,
as was already his habit,
to ask if he could be any help.

How often had he heard his mother:
“Such a shame, that son of hers never comes,
and I don’t even know what the daughter-in-law looks like?
They live in Capernaum. She might as well be all alone,
sonless, as to have mothered such a one.”

So he made it his business, in his good boy’s way,
to be somewhat of a grandson to her,
to poke his head in once a day,
and see what she was doing.

Often, almost always these days,
she was baking, or had just baked,
some sweet thing,
and had goat’s milk in a jug
in the cool corner of the room,
and was just about to sit down to a bite,
just something to keep her strength,
and wouldn’t he like to join her?

And then, after, there might be wood to carry in,
or water from the well…
she liked the water from two streets over,
and had gone to that spring faithfully each
day until her knees gave out…
or it might be the goat had not been milked,
or the milk skimmed,
or a loose hinge on the door to be retied,
or something in the rafters to be brought down,
or quail eggs to gather, a bit of weeding…
some little thing a boy could do,
that a son would, if he ever came…
and then, most days, that something sweet to finish
(“It will only go stale if it sits there…”)
and then home.

But this day, when he reached the door
he was astounded to find the whole
house turned upside down.

Clothes from a chest were over everything,
jars and jugs from the very backs of cupboards,
jars and jugs he’d never seen before,
stood on the table,
the spare bedding was in a pile on the bed,
and the widow was down on hands and knees
with the lamp, following a crack across the floor.

“Oh Y’shua”,
she said as soon as his shadow crossed her path,
“come help me. I’ve lost a coin.”

 Y’shua looked to the table where there were two
piles of shekels, one just slightly taller than the other.

“Is it not there on the table?” he asked.

“No, no…” she said, glancing up abstractedly
and pushing the hair back behind her scarf,
“there were ten, all my savings for the tax…
ten, and now only nine.
Where could it have gone?
Where could it be hiding?”

So he had gotten down with her,
and run his eyes and hands over the hard packed floor,
poked into cracks, fetched a sliver from the woodpile
to explore the deeper shadows,
unstacked and restacked the bowls,
turned over the clothing chest once more
as she muttered around him,
often doing what he had just finished all over again,
as he must, he knew, be researching
where she had already searched a dozen times.

Finally, dusty and worn, they both flopped down at the table.

She put her elbows on the worn wood
and propped her head in her hands.

There was a strange bump and a bit of world in the table.

“Gone.” and she clucked her tongue,
rubbing her eyes, her back,
reaching for the lamp to put it out.

“You shouldn’t worry Grandmother,”
Y’shua said,
“Our Father will take care of you.
He has many coins.
He won’t count one short against you.”

And there it was again.
As her elbows came to rest on the table
to lift the lamp, the table rocked,
just a fraction, just a little bump.

And Y’shua was up.

“Grandmother, wasn’t this table steady yesterday?”

She looked up at him, but her eyes were inward.

“Was it?”

“Has anyone moved the table?”

And a smile spread across her face.
“That goat! Last evening, when I first counted coins,
that goat got in here, he’s always after scraps,
and the door latch needs tightening again,
and he was all over the kitchen
bumping things
as I tried to shoo him out with my apron.”

And both of them were down
on hands and knees again
looking at the table leg nearest the pile of coins.

“Lift it can’t you?” the widow said,
as she poked with the sliver under the leg.

Y’shua stood and braced his hands
beneath the table top and pushed,
his face screwed up with the effort
and a grunt driven out, but the table shifted,
the piles of shekels slithered over,
and he heard her cry.

“Ahaa… there you are!”
And she stood, the coin held up,
caught between thumb and finger,
and then she carefully restacked the shekels,
                                                    two piles,
and placed the lost coin on the shorter.

“God is good!” She exclaimed.

“God is good!” Y’shua replied.

“Haah, that’s better!” she said,
dusting her hands and
putting the coins back in their jar.

“I must go tell Ruth and Jessie.”

She bustled around the one room,
tidying away the clutter.

“I’ve found the coin.
There is sweet bread in that cupboard,
boy, and milk from the goat in the corner.
I’ll bring them back to see.
Go get your mother and your brothers and sister.
We will celebrate. We will rejoice.
I have found the coin!

God is good!”

It was quite an evening by the end,
with neighbors coming by,
and some returning with sweets of their own,
even a small jug of wine…
it turned into a minor feast,
a night of laughter and tales
of loosing and unexpected finding,
a spontaneous neighborhood celebration,
a day to remember the goodness of God.

The day the widow found her coin.
Such simple rejoicing.
Such an unlooked-for,
glad-hearted celebration.

A bench mark experience.
The heavenly, unmistakable,
taste of restoration.

Y’shua would remember.

In the loosing, and especially
in the finding, God is good.

 

Who is your Father anyway?

 “At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I come down from heaven’?” (John 6: 41-2 NIV)
 

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Y’shua at eleven shuffled dust in the shade
of the house walls, bare footed,
bringing home a loaf of gift bread
from a neighbor to his mother,
hiking up his hem, leaping bars of
brilliance that leaked from narrow alleys,
kindled the sand, laid fiery red sea crossings,
all down the street toward home.

His thirsty eyes drank the dry noon,
the shimmer of heated air,
the half hearted complaints of sheep
sheltering in sparse shade,
the lazy squabble of sparrows after scanty crumbs.

Under his breath he wove the
too bright day into a psalm,
praising God his Father in the
silence of the heat of noon…
words of wonder shimmering
up in him, rising, waves
drawn by the overawing sun.

As he neared the blazing patch
of empty space around the
village well that edged his way,
the silence was suddenly stained
with mocking laughter,
the sun waves colored by a whimper of despair.

Y’shua slid his head around the corner,
holding the bread tight to his body,
blinking in the fierce light,
flicking back the hair that swung
beyond his forelock braids to see.

Beside the well a ragged muffin of a child
scrambled for a leather water jar,
its contents fast fading under the
voracious tongue of the sun
in the dust where they had spilled.

Five boys, twelve to fifteen,
kicked the empty bladder
like a ball from foot to foot,
making a cruel game of keeping
it instants ahead of the child’s frantic hands.

A rage of righteous indignation
(all out of proportion to his age)
rose in Y’shua, hot as the searing noon,
and he stepped out and pushed
through the standing sun
until he stood just outside
the jeering circle of older boys.

“Stop it”

The boys, all bluster,
sweat dripping down their braids,
turned to see what new sport
had come their way.

 “My Father doesn’t like that!”

 Why (their eyes said in sly sidelong glances)
it’s nothing but a barefoot, unclipped,
bread-carrying brat
looking lightning at us with his scowl.

They laughed. They knew this Y’shua.

Daniel, son of a carter whose axles
Joseph the carpenter had often turned,
stepped forward and reached
for Y’shua’s forelock braid.
“Here you little bastard,
born in sin, what do you say?”

Y’shua stepped away
from the reaching hand.
“My Father doesn’t like what you do.”

His eyes still blazed
but he bit at his lower lip,
shifted the bread to the crook of his elbow,
felt behind with a bare foot in case he had to run.

“Ha!” mocked the carter’s son
as the rest crowed up around Y’shua,

“His father, he says…as though the bastard knew…”

Like crows at a fresh kill, they all cackled over that.

(The muffin child, seeing his chance,
had long since grabbed the bottle and run.
Y’shua hoped him safely home
and offered silent prayer that
his parents would forgive him the empty jug.)

“Does the Lord love to see
any captive on earth crushed under foot,
that defiance of the most high God
which cheats a man of his rights,
or anyone treated unjustly…?”

Y’shua spoke the words of scripture from memory.
They trembled, alive on his tongue.
He was inwardly amazed at his own calm.

“Let us search out and test our ways
and turn back to the Lord.
Let us raise our hearts
with our hands to God in Heaven.”

And he suited action to his words,
raising the hand that was free of the bread,
slowly above his head, open palmed and pleading.

Daniel’s own hand whipped forward
like a striking snake to seize the upraised
wrist and the others surged ahead to grab.

Y’shua spun and ran,
hearing the heavy footfalls behind him,
diving into the dark shadow
of his home street beyond the well.

The boys came up short at the shadow’s edge.

“Hey Y’shua, born in sin…” they yelled, “who is your father?”

Laughter, brittle and sharp as pot shards,
scared his fleeing feet.

He turned, his hand on the door frame of home,
the bread still tight clutched beneath his elbow,
breath ragged, and looked back up the street.

The boys stood shimmering, shrunk,
foreshortened in the vertical sun
on the far side of shadow.

“Hay Y’shua, who is your father, anyway?”
echoed in the heated air all down the noon.

 

Crown

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10: 42-45 NIV)

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Mary looked in wonder on her first born son,
now 10 years,
where he played in the dust with his brothers by the door.

Only a week before they had seen their first soldier,
a Roman parading, guarding a puppet
of the puppet king with some proclamation
(and a new tax) to the provinces,
and had had to have “King” and “rule”
and “reign” and “tax” and “Rome”
explained a thousand times,
until their young ears were somehow satisfied
(and Joseph thoroughly tired of the subject)
and now…it was a game.

“Y’shua be king. Y’shua be king.”
chanted the younger sons,
holding up a cloth scrap cape
and a crown woven of brittle vines.

(Mary had to restrain herself
at the sight of the rough crown…
what impulse was this..?
to snatch and crush and burn..?
What pain the simple sight
of a child’s toy could bring.
She put a hand to her head
and one to her heart and wondered,
not for the first time, if she might be mad.)

Y’shua squatted eye to eye
with his younger brother, James.
“I cannot be king.”

“But you are the oldest…
you’re the first born…
you must be king.”

Y’shua shook his head and smiled,
“I am oldest…but you,”
he tugged affectionately
on his eight-year-old brother’s robe,
“are first born son of our father Joseph…
my father is God.”

James pulled impatiently away.
He had heard this story before.

“Y’shua, you be king.”
Stubborn, he held up cape and crown.
“God’s son can be king.
James will collect the tax.”

Y’shua laughed.
“God’s son is your servant…
he cannot be king.”

Instantly, the humor was gone from Y’shua’s face.
He listened intently,
sank back on his heels and into thought.

It was a posture Mary had come
to recognize, but not to love…
this slipping away to silence…
this withdrawal to communion with an unseen other…
from which Y’shua always returned
trailing glory and full of ideas
far too old for his age.

(Oh, she knew where he went—
knew, too, the voice he listened to
(for voices had spoken to her in her time)
but she could not repress a mother’s jealousy,
a mother’s fear…
her first born would be snatched away too soon.
Could not God leave a mother
her joy for these few years?)

Y’shua reached absently for the woven crown,
turned it in his fingers, tightened loose vine ends,
while his words came up from the quiet distance of his heart.

“God is king…but not king like the puppet of Rome.
His crown is kindness.
He wears a cape of mercy lined with forgiveness.
He needs no soldiers to protect his holiness.
His kingdom is hearts and his only tax is love.
We are all his children and his delight is to serve us…”

Y’shua focused finally on his brother’s face.
“And I am his son.”

He stood and dusted his hands
and placed the woven crown
on his brother’s head.

James snatched it off and frowned…
the younger sons’ faces crumpled,
lips trembling, toward a wail.

“All right…all right…I will be your king…”
Y’shua laughed, then serious again,
“but you don’t know what you ask.
You do not know what it is to serve a servant king.”

Y’shua draped himself in the tattered cape,
put on the woven crown,
walked resolutely into the merciless sun
of the street trailing his crowd of brothers
(already squabbling over
who would be captain of the guard).

Mary shuddered from the roots of her soul
and all but cried out loud.

She knew, she feared,
in the silent center of herself,
exactly what it meant to serve a servant king…

She saw, with a mother’s eyes,
the blood and thorns in the woven crown.

Crust

There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds. (Matthew 6:…25-26

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Mary punched the dough down hard,
kneading out her frustrations,
bruising fingers, brushing hair back
and streaking her face with flour.

“You must talk to him Joseph…
four years he is,
and already I can say nothing to him.
“‘Eat your crust,’ I say to his brother,
‘you don’t know where your next loaf is coming from…
’and Y’shua says, all innocence,
‘But mother, you must not worry,
the bread comes from my father.’

“‘Your father works hard,’ I say,
long hours bent over plane and chisel,
to buy us flour for bread, and don’t you forget it.’

“‘No,’ he says,
‘my father God gives it…
We make him glad. He loves us.’

“‘Oh, I am forgetting,’ I say,
‘with God for a father you don’t have to worry…
your belly will always be full…’”

Her breath caught and held on
the serrated edge between laugh and sob.

She turned from the work,
whipping hands on apron as she came,
halting, to the far shadowed end of the table
to take the stool across from Joseph and sit,
hands loose in her lap,
eyes half way to wonder from worry.

“I do forget, Joseph,
the way of it even,
the why of it I have never understood,
but I forget whole days at a time that he is not ours…
I don’t know what to say to him. How will he live?”

Joseph swirled the last sediment-laden
swallow of wine in his cup seeking, perhaps,
an answer there, before the pleading silence of his wife’s concern,
more wanting than his own,
pulled his eyes up and the words out.

“That’s maybe my fault as much as yours.
The other day as we came from
feeding and milking the goats,
you know how he’s always at my heel about the yard,
he asks, ‘Abba, who feeds the birds?’

I look to see what set him off this time
and there’s a flock of blackbirds
calling and circling off toward the waddy.

“‘Oh,’ I say, ‘God takes care of them…
’I suppose I was thinking of the Psalm,
toward the end there,
we heard at synagogue last Sabbath.”

He laughed, lightly, self consciously,
drank off the wine swirl and smiled
across to her, remembering,
and happy with it.

“You know the flowers there just by the path,
some weedy thing I should have pulled
before it got fair hold, I turned to them…
‘See how he dresses the grass,’ I say,
thinking of the psalms again,
‘in crowns and gowns any king,
even Solomon, would be proud of…
God takes care of his creatures.’”

“‘But why, Abba,’ he asks, ‘why does he care for them?’”

“‘Because,’ I say, and I don’t know what made me say it,
‘he loves them.
The birds sing his glory morning and evening,
day-long, and the flowers reflect
all the colors of his invisible robes.
It makes him glad. He loves them.’”

“‘And are we his creatures too?’ he pipes,
and I can’t help laughing at the seriousness of him,
but he deserves a serious answer, and I try.

“‘Say his children, rather,
more than creatures surely,
it is written, his chosen people.’”

“He gets that far off look of his,
standing there fingering a flower.

‘And are we more to him than the birds and grasses then?’”

“‘Surely,’ I say, and his face lights.”

“‘Then I will be just like them and make him glad.’
and off he goes,
running up the path as though the whole thing
was a great load off his mind.”

Mary stood and moved the circle of her distraction
to the floured end of the table to idle,
unseeing, before the loaf.

Joseph circled in turn behind,
“He’ll do it too…”
He put his hands on her shoulders and turned her to him.
“Or I don’t know him. Or his father.
You watch…he’ll never know an anxious day…”

He kissed her brow where the wrinkles brooded
like the spirit over the unformed substance of the first day,
then pushed her out to arms length
to catch her eye and smile once more.

“Nor should we.
He is who he is.
How could God be anything but glad?”

And he was off himself, back to the shop,
to the wood and tools, the smell of shavings,
the work, whistling,
the whole thing a great load off his mind.

Mary moved her hands into the dough,
listening to the babble of children’s voices
from the yard outside,
Y’shua’s among them, as full of joy,
as full of glory, as any bird’s.

Slowly, of themselves,
her fingers began the kneading,
kneaded slowly harder,
and slowly harder still.

Holding On (in the stable)

…the angel assured her, “Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus. He will be great, be called “Son of the Highest.” (Luke 1:30-32: The Message)
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Mary woke from a restless sleep,
head shifted slightly off the robes and blankets,
straw drawing lines across her cheek,
sticking, so she had to pick it away
with a half-awake hand.

Above her, too close certainly,
loomed the stomach and udder of a cow,
and for a moment she could not
think where or why she was—
a stable, surely,
but what was she doing on the floor of stable?

She hitched the cloak beneath her head
back up and rolled to her side again,
drew up her knees over the unaccustomed absence,
the pain and bone-deep weariness…
                                  and remembered.

She sat up, pushed the cow
over with an urgent hand,
clutched her robes about her
and rolled to her knees.

And Joseph was there,
             hurrying to her side,
drawn by even that little noise,
a bundle in his arms,
                  the baby in his arms,
held as he must have
held lambs in his shepherd days,
as tender as she might want,
and she sank back down
to receive that little weight,
more blanket and cloth than flesh,
to dig in, to unwrap, to find the face,
to uncover the eyes, the tiny hands,
of the miracle, and one hand caught
and held her little finger,
gripped the root of her heart,
and she fell forward into those eyes,
even as she lifted the mouth to her breast,
and he didn’t let go of her finger,
but held her fast, as he would, she knew,
hold her the rest of her life:
               first born,
               born of God,
               a miracle,
God’s son, her baby,
               her baby, her child.

Y’shua. God saves.

“Oh,” she sighed, “save me from this love,
from drowning in this tenderness,
in this living water of wonder.
I will lose myself gladly in these eyes.
                                                  My son…”

And then she looked up to
see Joseph’s puzzled smile,
and around to take in the
shepherds talking quietly in their corner,
glancing nervously at her, at the babe,
trying not to stare, and suddenly
the world was there again,
stretching hungry, ravenous, hurting,
centered unknowing on this moment,
reaching away to the limits of her imagination,
and she felt the pull, the demand, the need,
plucking at her child, pulling him away already.

It was a though God had reached down
and touched the surface of the waters in this child,
and already ripples ran to the horizon,
ripples that would build to waves,
waves into a flood,
                                     a second flood,
and this the ark with its few animals,
a man, his wife, a child,
these dusty shepherds who had come,
who had answered the first call of the heavens.

“Peace on earth” they had said.
                   “Peace at what price?” her heart demanded.

And she wanted to sink down
below the floor of the stable,
to root herself in earth,
to find a safe hole to hide
from the coming flood,
          the second cleansing,
to hide the baby, her son,
for she feared already, this flood
would be one of blood (his blood?)
to wash the world.

Only the grip of his hand,
        so tight on her finger,
the look in his eye,
          so calm, so trusting,
kept her from leaping up and
running as far and as fast as she could.

And then Joseph was there,
close, his hand on her back,
her face, brushing back her hair,
stroking the tiny cheek at the breast,
and it was all ordinary again.

An ordinary miracle.
A new baby. Her baby.
Ordinary wonder.

And something in her bowed and worshiped.

Her free hand reached and
caught Joseph’s little finger,
their eyes met,
and she held on
               held on tight.

 

Shepherd’s Watch

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over the flocks by night. (Luke 2:8 NIV)
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You have never seen such a sheepish
bunch of shepherds as they were
that morning when Miriam found them,
in the street, trailing back from the inn,
from the stables, if truth were to be told—
straw in their hair,
more than one with manure stains
where they had kneeled in the night,
red eyed with weeping and with wonder,
already now, in the cold light of dawn,
a little guilty at leaving the sheep.

They were shepherds, after all,
and the enormity of what they had done,
their utter dereliction of duty,
was bound to catch up with them sooner or later…

And here was Miriam, the most vocal
among the owners, ready to beat them
about the head with it right now:

“Look at you! Louts! Drunkards! Villains!
How long were my sheep alone,
unguarded, in the night, while you…”
she sputtered and strutted,
silenced by her own anger for a breath or two,
“Where did you sleep it off, in a stable?
You dare come creeping up to my door
without the sheep in the dawn
smelling of cow and donkey dung,
and you call yourselves shepherds…
sheep men? I ask you?”

And they had hung their heads and
taken it, not knowing where to begin,
how to explain…

“But you see,” said Ben, at last,
compelled to tell the wonder.
He was the youngest of them, barely fourteen,
and knew no better than to try:
“there was this great light in the sky,
shimmering curtains of wonderful color,
speaking and such singing…”

A few of the others cut their eyes
sideways at Benjamin, encouraging him,
silently, to go on,
since he seemed willing to speak for them.

“And they were saying about peace on earth and God’s will…”

And here Judah, oldest, and still a shepherd at forty,
nudged him from behind,
“Good will. It was ‘good will,’ and don’t forget the glory part…
‘Glory to God in the highest,’ they said…”

“And they said,” piped simple Nate,
“a king was born, and we would find him in a manger,
in a manger, wrapped in cloth, they said, in David’s city,
and we had to go and see, didn’t we?
A baby king. In a manger!”

“They told us,” added Jeremiah the joker, from the back,
“not to be afraid, though by then I had nearly wet myself,
the light all around and the voices out of the sky,
it was enough to frighten a stone I tell you…”

And now it was coming back to them all,
the awe of it, the mind and heart bursting
splendor of that heavenly choir,
the compulsion to get up and find this baby,
to bow down, to worship,
“and so,” Benjamin continued,
“we went, all of us, not a thought for the sheep…”

They were all nodding now, eyes up,
meeting Miriam’s, unashamed,
pleading for her understanding without expecting it.

“We couldn’t help it. A chance to see a king
born in a manger and all, we had to go, and we did.”

Miriam snorted, but she was just a bit daunted
by their assurance, by their willingness to meet her eye in this,
where they should have been, rightfully,
groveling before her, destroyed by their own guilt.

“And we found him, right there where the angels said…”

And so Benjamin became the first to speak out loud
what they had all been thinking.
“Angels.”
“Angels, yes angels!”
ran through them all like dawn…

“…in a manger in a stable back of Josiah’s father’s inn,
down on Straight Street, the one at the east end, not the west…
and there he was, just a baby, but the light about him,
the love, I tell you it brought us to our knees
right there in the straw, all of us,
as though the layers of sheep grime and
rough living had been stripped away in a moment,
and we were naked
(“and clean,” this from Judah again)
there in the presence of God,
better than any temple it was, that stable,
and I for one,” and he cast his eyes around his fellows,
“we all really, just fell on our faces and cried and cried,
and then I crawled right up and touched the tiny hand.

His mother held him up and I saw his eyes
looking right through me to my soul,
and I swear he smiled—the little lamb of God—
and I put my rough hand up and stroked his cheek,
and it was like touching God, I tell you,
it ripped the soul right out of me with love,
and I don’t think I will ever be the same…”

“The world will never be the same…”
And Judah stepped forward and looked Miriam in the eye.
“He’s the great shepherd come at last,
and your sheep are safe without us or anyone to watch them.
That’s what they said.
‘Peace on earth. The season of God’s favor.’

and I believe them! I know it is him.
He’s come! And the world had just better look out!”

He stepped back into the group and turned,

and they followed him, out to the fields
to fold blankets and fill water skins,
to take up their shepherd’s duty once again…

But you had better believe
they watched the sky by night with new eyes…

as they waited now,
for what the few short years of childhood
would certainly release into the waiting world.

The Birth

But when the time arrived that was sent by God the Father, God sent his Son, born among us of a woman, born under the conditions of the law so that he might redeem those of us who have been kidnapped by the law. Thus we have been set free to experience our rightful heritage. You can tell for sure that you are now fully adopted as his own children because God sent the Spirit of his Son into our lives crying out, Papa! Father! (Galatians 4:4-6  The Message
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Mary dozed along on the donkey,
swaying and sweating under layers of wool
and the relentless sun, brooding
over the life within by day,
rolling beneath the stars
and ripe baby weight by night,
seeking comfort, and taking it
in the touch of Joseph’s hand,
the crook of his elbow beneath her head…
in the memory and the promise
that echoed down the starry dome.

Joseph burst out laughing
feeding the donkey there in the stable.

Mary turned preoccupied eyes up and questioned.

“I was thinking, sorry, that this
is not exactly the place I would have chosen
for the birthing of the promised one…
the coming king…the savior of our race…”

The donkey shifted under
Joseph’s hand and nosed the feed bag.

“Sorry…”

Joseph poured the grain,
a silver moon-stream, into the trough.

“And I was thinking what a good
thing it was I didn’t have the choosing!”

Joseph knelt in the straw by her side.

Her hand came up and out to grip his left,
burying the pain in his carpenter’s calluses,
while he brushed, with the other,
the hair from her cheek where it clung
in the sweat and the tears.

He smiled despite himself,
and between times,
so did she.

He wailed in the sudden absence.

And then the nipple brushed his cheek,
he turned, blind butted, opened,
and was swallowed by the warm
sweet certainty of mother’s milk.

“Y’shua…” Mary murmured.

“God saves us…” Joseph stroked the downy cheek.

And the shepherds found them so…
believed the miracle,
and worshiped…

Joseph (in Bethlehem)

So Joseph went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her first-born, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:4-7 NIV)

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It was nights like this,
of course,
when he had to remind himself,
often, why he was doing this.

Every door shut against them.
No room. No room.
No room at the inn.
And he had to wonder,
if it was an obviously unwed
mother-to-be and
the man hauling her around
on a donkey
that they had no room for…

or if it was just that they didn’t want
responsibility for a birth on their premises,
the fuss and bother,
the hot water and midwives to be fetched,
the blood and the mess in their second best beds…
or if, maybe,
they just didn’t like carpenters from Nazareth.

And Mary, patient and frantic
by fits and starts, there on the donkey,
always withdrawn,
always somewhere he could not follow,
these days,
so wrapped up in the growing baby
in her womb that sometimes
he felt like a mere convenience—
someone to wait on her,
someone to load her on to the donkey,
someone to build the fire
and warm the food,
and fetch her water.

And it was not as if it were his child.
Always, right there in his face.

It was not as if this
joy of the first born son
would ever be his now,
and how could he feel
if not robbed, cheated,
betrayed?

He replayed the message
of the angel in his vision—
in his, it might be, dream—
over and over,
drawing assurance from an
increasingly narrow and empty well.

“This child is God’s. I have been told so.
God’s child by the Holy Spirit.
God’s child and I have nothing to fear.”

But it was hard. It was very hard.

It was always between them.
It was in the way Mary looked at him,
challenging him to doubt,
to fail her in this,
to let her down,
to come at her with blame…

and in her own moments of doubt,
when the irrational guilt was high in her,
it came at him in anger,
her anger, as though it was his fault
for agreeing to marry her anyway,
as though his sacrifice of manhood
in this had diminished him forever in her eyes—
as though she had wanted, after all, to be put aside.

It was between them when the growing
tenderness made him reach out
and caress her in her sleep.

It was between them when her fear
drove her into his arms in the night,
weeping, seeking a comfort
he could barely afford,
testing him all but beyond
what he could, as a man, endure.

She was so young, and so alone in this.
How could he not love her?
How could he not respond to her need?

And then there was God.

God invading his dreams.
God asking this of him!!!
God asking him to rear his child
(oh he had to believe that…he had to believe…)
to take this child as his own,
to be a father to one he had not fathered.

It was hard.

It was not like he had asked for any of this.
It was not like he had agreed to this,
had, remotely, bargained for this, w
hen he took Mary as his betrothed.

All he had wanted was a wife.
Someone to be there in the house
when he turned to it from the shop,
someone to bear him children,
(“Oh God, how could you do this to me!”)
someone to love him
and be by him even in age,
to make a life with, to share his bed,
to share his home, to share
all he was and all he might become.

It was his duty! To get children for the Lord.
He would not be a man until he had.

And now this.

This night in a town
strange to him by long absence,
this going from inn to inn
while Mary panted on the donkey
with each contraction, while
sweat beaded on her brow
and her hands turned white
where they gripped the saddle.
This hopeless, this endless,
seeking of a place for the child
(not his child) to be born.

It was hard.

And then there was the stable.
Finally, a kindness, even in condescension.
A stable. It might be worse.

Straw to fetch. A fire to build.
Water to get and heat.
Donkey dung and cow manure
to shovel out of the way.
Cloths to be gathered for the manger,
to be ready for the child,
for the baby, for the birth.

And he felt as alone as she must, a
nd as inadequate, and as afraid.

But somehow they got through it.

The peace of God descended
on them in the final moments, and,
when he first held the child,
when he wrapped him in the cloths,
when he held him up to the Lord for blessing
and, bringing him back down,
caught,
was caught and captured
by those eyes, his eyes, already
open and unnaturally aware,
he knew, right then, that it was so…

This was, no matter what else was true,
the Son of God. This was
Y’shua,
the Emmanuel, God with us,
the God who saves.

This child was God’s,
this child was his,
this child was Mary’s, his wife’s,
this child belonged to the world
and had come to set mankind free.

It was there in the eyes,
it was there in his own heart.
It was there in the sudden, irresistible
swelling of love in him…
and he wondered, “Is it always like this…

Is this what it always means to be a father,
to be given the Son or the Daughter of God to rear?

Am I blessed above all others in this birth?”

And he knew he was…and he knew he wasn’t.

So, when the shepherds came, impossibly,
ready to worship the newborn babe,
he was, as much as any man can be,

ready for them.