Luke's Findings
Christmas Program for 2023

I felt compelled to write a chronicle for Theophilus—“the one who loves God” about the life of our Savior and Christ, but now I must elaborate for my listeners who have asked for more.
I am, of course, happy to do so, if someone will meet the Savior.
—Forgive me! Here I am thinking out loud again.
Let me properly introduce myself.
I am Luke, better known as the Physician.
And I am so pleased to meet your acquaintance.
Now where was I… trying to start.
Being a physician, I’m very methodical, deliberate and definitive.
Necessary tools for my trade.
Which is also convenient for researching these writings.
Gentiles need to be shown, proven, verified.

So, I will start at the beginning.
Of course, I wasn’t there, but when I met Jesus, not even face to face but through His Spirit, He impressed upon me to write the narrative. 
I interviewed and researched His life, so even the Gentiles could understand and know who Jesus is—for that was why I wrote the Gospel of Luke.
I wish they would call it something else, for it is not my Gospel. It is merely my narrative. But I can understand why they did, to distinguish it from Mark’s and Matthew’s,
Well, I write to the Gentiles, so Jewish customs and practices, laws and procedures must be explained. Which means, I too, must find the explanation.
Rather than re-tell what I’ve already told you in the Gospel, perhaps it would be helpful if I provided background information used to write the Gospel.
My research led me to many people who were part of this story. How does one select who is include?
Well, of course, one must start at the beginning. Yes….the beginning.

The Jews had been anticipating their Messiah, well, since the beginning of time, when God promised in the Garden of Eden He would send someone to “crush the head of the serpent.” They saw Moses as a type of Messiah, for he indeed brought them out of the bondage of Egypt. They celebrate the Passover to remember that salvation.
They also saw God act as their Messiah during the time of Queen Esther, when they would have been totally annihilated had He not intervened. They celebrate Purim to remember what God had done.
But they still anticipated their Messiah coming.
His coming was incorporated in all that they do.

Even when celebrating Passover, they left an empty plate at the table if the Messiah came during their celebration. They  acted out their anticipation of his coming, as the head of the family would direct a child to go to the door to see if the Messiah had yet come. They were looking.
God told much about His coming, but even with the telling and remembering, His people were not ready.

The Jews expected Elijah, the forerunner, to come first announcing His coming.
So it seems fitting to include the story of “Elijah,” who was John the Baptizer.
This is where my quest for details required great care. John was born to a righteous, god-fearing couple, well passed child-bearing age—Zacharias and Elizabeth.
Both had died by the time I wrote.
But I found Zacharias’ service in the temple recorded.
When I interviewed those who remembered his service, one priest elaborated on that day when Zacharias served.
“We waited outside the curtain, praying for our sacrifice to be accepted.” The priest paused in his narrative to wipe his hands down his tunic, as if trying to make them clean by mere wiping. He looked up briefly before bowing his head again.
I asked, “What does the priest do behind the curtain?”
He looked up, his expression one of surprise.
I shrugged, “I’m a Gentile.”
Understanding showed in his expression and he nodded. “Once a year, and only once a year, the high priest enters the Holy of holies to offer the blood from the sin offering for all the people.” He paused, looking around, then lowered his voice as if embarrassed, “We lost the ark of the covenant where the blood was supposed to be sprinkled upon.”
I almost interrupted him to ask, “how?”, but caught myself. His manner made it not advisable. I wondered where the blood was sprinkled then. But that question and others, I kept to myself.
He raised his voice again and continued his story. “A cord is tied around the ankle of the priest—in case he’s struck dead, our sacrifice not accepted, we held the other end to pull him out.”
I was intrigued. Made me want to ask if there was a time the sacrifice was unaccepted. But that’s for another time. “How do you know if or when you should drag him out?”
He smiled, again wiping his hands down his tunic. “Before the priest enters the holy place, he cleans himself and wears a special robe only for this day. The hem has bells sewn on it. As he moves, we listen for them. As we listened for Zacharias’s bells, there seemed a fluster of noise, then silence.
Looking at the other priests, I saw their eyes were big, mouths open but silent. I tightened my grip on the cord.” He swallowed and licked his lips as if reliving the moment. “After some time, his bells tinkled again.” He let out a sigh and wiped his hands again. “Our sacrifice had been accepted.”
“When Zacharias did finally appear, his face shone and his eyes were as big as flatbread. We all asked him, ‘What happened?’
“Zacharias gestured for quietness and tried to speak, but nothing came out of his mouth. He tried several times, but could not speak.
“Someone ran for parchment so he could write what he had seen. ‘An angel promised me a child.’”
He completed his narrative, wiping his hands again over his robe. He looked up again, relieved as if the ordeal was over and he’d done enough.
I smiled, laying down my parchment. “You’ve helped me immensely.”
He finally smiled and nodded. He stood to walk me out of the courtyard of the temple, for that was as far as a Gentile was permitted to enter. 
Now that he wasn’t under pressure he added casually,  “The child never did amount to anything…never became a priest, lived like some wild man preaching repentance or some such nonsense.”
I bowed to leave, “Thank you for sharing and for your time.”

Any birth to a woman so advanced in years would be a high risk delivery for sure. One can see the Hand of God protecting both lives.
I interviewed several in Zacharias and Elizabeth’s village, Em Karem. One in particular gave (pause) shall I say, a ‘colorful’ account. She invited me inside her small village house. We sat on the floor by the fire.
She began. “No one knew anything—almost until the babe was born! But I don’t blame Elizabeth much for keeping hidden. How she bore that reproach all those years for not having a child, I’ll never know. The ladies gossiped horribly about how she wasn’t doing her duty, and it was God cursing her.
“It was many months before any of us saw her. By then, her condition showed from a distance. I could see her glow from across the well. I about dumped my water pot!
“I asked about her health. She said, ‘Her cousin had stayed with her over the rough parts of it.’
The woman tilted her head and pointed a finger at me, “You really should talk to her cousin. Elizabeth told me how her babe leaped with joy over the presence of Mary’s baby. Yeah, talk to her.”
I nodded. But couldn’t say anything more.
She continued, “Many, when they found she was with child, instead of rejoicing with her, rebuked her, ‘Why is she doing that being so old? How’s she going to take care of a child?’
“The entire village watched to see what kind of boy he’d be. Of course, the women had their own opinion­–Elizabeth did everything wrong—spoiling the boy. In fact, they weren’t surprised when he didn’t become a priest. Instead he went off into the wilderness, neglecting his aging parents!”
It was here I interjected, “Why would he become a priest?”
She stared, speechless, like she didn’t know anyone could be so ignorant! When she closed her moth, she peered at me carefully. “You ain’t a Jew, are you?”
I shook my head, acknowledging my ignorance.
She took a deep breath and continued, slowly as if that would help me understand. “Any son who’s a descendant of Aaron is trained to a be a priest. Of course, not all can be the high priest, only a select few. But all boys from the Levite Tribe become priests. Except John.”
“No one accepted Zacharias’s leniency toward even a ‘special’ child like John. But I think,” She paused, making sure I was listening.
I nodded.
She continued, “The men chastised Zacharias— how he wasn’t fulfilling his responsibility. And the women,” She shook her head. “They’re cruel in their accusations, especially after Zacharias’s death and John wasn’t around to care for Elizabeth. All that righteousness she learned waiting for their child was needed to be kind to those women who would later tell her how disobedient her son was to neglect her. It certainly wasn’t easy for her.”
“Yet God doesn’t show us the entire path we must take, He just gives us the next step. And for Zacharias, his priestly training taught John in the Scriptures that would bring men to God.
“For all could see the Hand of the Lord was certainly with him.
I nodded. It seemed a common thread that man’s viewpoint was different from God’s.

Her eyes sparkled as she told the next part of the story. “I was there when the child was born. I was the midwife. Now,” she shrugged, “I’m too old.” She sighed. “But I was there when John was born. Such a wee little thing. To see the pride on Zacharias’s face–though he couldn’t speak, he said a lot by his expressions! And to see the joy on Elizabeth’s face—ahhh. No one could take away their joy that day. That birth was a miracle hand delivered by God.
“And that baby…he wailed the minute he entered this world. Like he already had his message and he couldn’t wait to tell everyone!
“When they went to the Temple to circumcise and sacrifice on the 8th day,” She looked at me carefully, “You know about that law don’t you?”
I nodded.
She continued laughing, “Elizabeth told me later, when they didn’t call him Zacharias—that caused quite a stir—it’s not like Zacharias would be having another child to name after him! Elizabeth said, ‘His name is John.’
“They thought she was addlebrained! They turned to Zacharias. As if, they wouldn’t listen to her!
“He motioned for parchment and wrote, ‘His name is John.’
“That settled it. As Zacharias gave back the quill, his tongue was loosed and he prophesied the ministry of his son.”
“John wasn’t a common name before. But now, you can’t go down the street without hearing someone called that. I guess, everyone wanted God to be naming their child.”
We both laughed how man thinks.
“You know about John the Baptizers ministry, right?”
I nodded, but asked if there was anything she wanted to say about it.

She couldn’t help herself. “John may not have become a priest, like everyone thought he should, but he did the LORD’s work. With such a miracle birth, God kept him hidden until the right time. The child grew and became strong in the Spirit. He used the Law to point out wrong. Didn’t sit well with some; but he was right. When he left our village to live in the desert, some were relieved—their wrong wouldn’t be pointed out.
“People who saw him said, ‘he’s a wild man,’ with his long, unkempt hair, and his clothes made from animal skins. People said he lived on locust. Not enough to keep anyone going. People stayed away from him. Probably suited him too.
“When he finally came from the wilderness, his message was clear and God-given—as if an angel had told him, “Get started.”
I laughed and nodded as I wrote.
“He told people, “Repent and be ready.’ He paved the way for that cousin of Elizabeth’s baby to be recognized.
But that couldn’t take away all the hurtful things people said about Elizabeth and Zacharias. Maybe they were made righteous by the cruelty of their own people. They weren’t understood or accepted by their own.”
I thought for a moment. She was right. Often righteousness comes through great isolation—doing things no one else will understand, yet in obedience to God. I studied the woman. Her country manner tried to obscure her wisdom, but it revealed it.
She shrugged. “That’s all I need to say.”
I replaced my writing pen to its case and rolled up the scroll on which I had been taking notes. I packed my things in my bag. “You’ve been most helpful.” As I stood, I bumped my head on the ceiling beam.
She shook her head, “It’s not often we have people as tall as you.”
Rubbing my head, I nodded. “Thank you for your willingness to share your story.”
She seemed flustered by my praise. “It’s not my story. It’s a story the whole world should hear. You be sure to write it up good.” She saw me to the door and watched me leave.

Her interview left me excited to find the next person to elaborate on the story of Jesus’s birth. One of the few who would know, who was still alive. My sleuthing led me to Ephesus where John, the cousin of Jesus, had taken up residence.
When I arrived, I was greeted warmly and offered wine while I waited for the one whom I needed to hear.
I’m not sure what I expected from the mother of Jesus, but she was not how I pictured her.
She was small, bent from age, and walked with a slight limp. But when she raised her face and broke into a smile, it was as if heaven had entered the room through the light of her smile.
I couldn’t help myself, I smiled back. I reached to hug her. (A greeting with those who believe.)
She returned my embrace then gestured to the floor beside the fire. A stand was given for my writing needs.
She sat across from me.
A woman, whom I later learned was John’s wife, poured a cup of broth for her from a kettle over the fire.
Mary smiled her thanks.
Her hands, wrinkled with age, encircled the vessel to gain its warmth. “You are the physician who works with Paul?”
I nodded. “I do not preach, only care for his wounds.
John sat beside her, protectively. “We’ve heard much of his ministry.”
I nodded. “He’s suffered much to proclaim the message.”
“As all of us have.” John stated, more as an obvious fact than a boast.
I cringed. John would have known men and women who had died because of Paul—who was then Saul. He seemed to harbor no ill-feelings.
I nodded. “I wrote about this visit. You did not receive it?”
John nodded, “We did. I only wonder, how will your writing differ from Matthew’s or Mark’s?”
I smiled. “Matthew wrote to his people, the Jews. There are things that Gentiles would not know. Mark targeted Roman believers, often assuming a basic understanding of the Gospel. I write to those Gentiles who would not have that background, so they, too, will understand the message.”
John drank from his vessel thoughtfully. “It is needed.”
I opened my bag and removed blank parchments, arranging them on the wooden stand for writing. I opened my smaller bag that contained my quill and ink vessel. I arranged them on the floor within easy reach.
The woman laughed. “Makes me nervous to think my words will be read by so many.”
I placed my hand on hers. “Who are any of us? But clay in the Master’s Hands. I wonder, too, if I’m qualified for this job. But God doesn’t look at our ability, but our willingness then enables us through His strength to do what He wants.”
To put her at ease, I didn’t pick up my quill right away. “Tell me about His birth—as a Gentile, it is all in who your father is and what inheritance he will provide, so those kind of things will help too.”
Mary hesitated.
I encouraged her, “What was it like for you?”
She sipped her drink and cleared her throat. “I was nothing, and so young—14.  Just a poor girl from Nazareth. I was betrothed to Joseph, a good man, ready to provide for me as a carpenter. Not really a carpenter, because in that small town, there wasn’t enough work for just woodworking, he also did construction.
“I was planning the wedding. My sister Salome had already married, she already had James, but not you,” She turned to John with a smile as she rested her hand on his.
John patted her hand.
“The night was dark, no moon. I’d gone to bed. Must have slept, but a bright light woke me up. You know how you feel a presence, though can’t see it? The bright light hindered me from seeing anything, then I focused my eyes and could see a silhouette, then a being, an angel, stood at my feet. I shook, but couldn’t find my voice to call out.”
“The angel whispered— a loud voice would have been too much for me! ‘Mary, do not be afraid.’
“I took several breaths. But was still very much afraid. This angel knew me. And used my name.
“‘You will remain a virgin, yet have a child.’”
“Was I dreaming? My eyes were definitely open and this angel stood before me. My voice quivered, but I asked, ‘How can this be?’
“The angel smiled, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.”
“I gasped. This was the answer to our people’s prayers! Many women dreamed of bringing our Messiah into the world. God was allowing me to be that one! ‘Behold, the bondslave of the Lord, may it be done to me according to your word.’
“His next words would comfort me later, ‘Behold, even your relative Elizabeth has conceived a son in her old age; she who was barren is now in her sixth month.”
“I squealed in delight. My Aunt Elizabeth was a favorite of mine. Her barrenness had been a pain for me to see. She was so good with children. God was so good!
“The angel wasn’t finished. ‘For nothing is impossible with God.’
“The angel left. The light faded. And darkness returned.
“I sat a long time wondering how these things would work out. ‘The Power of the Most High will overshadow you’—that would be a place of protection, peace and comfort. What better place would I want to be! Yet when I only considered His power—what a terrible place to be if I wasn’t obeying Him!
“I would remain a virgin, yet have a child. That’s beyond my understanding—God had to be involved! I didn’t think how it would look to man, because God had spoken!
“I could hardly wait to tell Joseph!

It was several days before I could speak to Joseph, in the meantime I received another night visitor. This time there was no light, no voice, but a presence nonetheless. For I knew something; no, Someone had awakened me. That presence entered me, burning my bosom, filling me. Like it was cleaning my insides before it could take up residence. I sat up startled, clutching my belly.
“How can a mortal woman hold God and live? I grew anxious at the thought of such holiness and perfection residing in me! Even our great leader Moses could not see God, but only His back. And I was no greater than Moses! I felt undone, unworthy.
“If God had told His people not to even touch the Mountain where He had written the Law, how could my body hold God and live? Would my body be consumed by His holiness?
“The angel’s words returned to my mind, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.’
“Overshadow… a picture of a hen with her chicks, not consuming them, but protecting them with her wings, came to my mind. It had to be of God, for otherwise, I would have been quite distraught. Like the Psalms that says, ‘He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. (Psalm 91:1) God was overshadowing me!
“I relaxed as His presence settled inside me. As I relaxed, I sensed an indescribable peace flow over me. It was beyond all the trials of this world…like it had lifted me to live above this world, yet remain part of it. It’s hard to explain. But I would depend on that peace in the days to come. Though when trials came, I would still fight the fear.
“In the morning, I hastily did my chores and walked to where Joseph was digging someone’s foundation.
He smiled when he saw me, “Is everything fine?”
I never bothered him when he was working. I returned his smile, and nodded. He continued.
I waited, bouncing from foot to foot, unable to contain my message.
When he finally could stop, he wiped his hands down his sweating tunic and came to where I waited. 
I handed him a vessel of water. 
He drank, “Mary, is everything fine?” He repeated, concern in his voice.
I couldn’t help myself. I blurted, “I’m going to have a child!”
Joseph smiled. “Yes, we will be married soon.”
“No, Joseph, I’m going to have a child.”
Joseph’s smile left his face and so did his color. He stepped back, his arms dropping to his sides.
When I saw his reaction, I hurried, the words gushing out like they couldn’t be held any longer. “An angel told me God would put God’s child within me.”
He shook his head and studied me. His voice cold, “But you are with child?”
“It's from God…” I paused, his reaction finally registering. “What’s wrong, Joseph? It’s the Long-Awaited One. He’s coming.”
He looked down, shaking his head. “Mary, I don’t think we should see each other anymore.”
I stepped back. I hadn’t even considered he wouldn’t believe me. His reaction made me angry. “Joseph, I’ve done nothing wrong. I’m still a virgin. I waited for you, only God came first.”
He hadn’t looked at me. He just stood there his head bowed.
“You don’t believe an angel visited me?”
He didn’t look at me again. But his answer was filled with anguish. “Mary, I don’t know who I can trust anymore.”
“I didn’t do anything wrong. An angel told me it was from God. And when God came, it was like a cloud—like at Mount Sinai.” My voice fell. He wasn’t listening. I turned and fled.

“I had floated and skipped my way to see Joseph, but on my way home, I stumbled. I even fell a few times. I couldn’t grasp that Joseph thought I was unfaithful. Didn’t he know me?
“My mother saw me return, ‘What’s wrong?’”
“I blurted out, “Joseph, doesn’t want to see me anymore.”
She extended her arms, and I flew into them, my sobs wouldn’t stop. I don’t remember what she said, but she held me tight. Smoothing back my hair like I was a little girl,  she wiped my eyes. ‘Tell me.’
“And I did.”
“She listened without comment. Her expression softening as the story unfolded.
In retelling the story, I thought, ‘How foolish I’d been not to explain first about the angel, rather than blurt out I was with child.’ What else could he have thought? But to have him reject me?—I was hurt, angry and confused.
“When I finished, I asked, ‘Do you believe me?’
“She swallowed. ‘It’s a lot to take in. No wonder Joseph reacted as he did.’
“But do you believe me?”
“You are my daughter. We must tell your father. Joseph is a just man. He’ll come to his senses.”
She too had not believed me totally. I felt alone.
Had I only dreamed the angel?

Didn’t all the girls of Israel dream of being the mother of the Messiah? But it wasn’t a dream. God’s presence still resided in me.
I didn’t need confirmation, but when my womanly cycle didn’t come, my mother would know for sure. She finally believed too.
One night, I overheard my parents talking, Abba said, “Joseph has every right to have her stoned.”
I had to interrupt here. “He would stone you?”
Mary nodded, “According to Jewish Law, a maiden who is unfaithful to her betrothed, could be stoned.”
I nodded, the severity of the punishment new to me as a Gentile. It was common for children to be born out of marriage in my culture. “Sorry to interrupt, go on.”
She fell back into her story. “My parents thought it best that I remain hidden. This also reflected on them. For if Joseph wouldn’t believe me, who would?
“I once saw Joseph from a distance, he was going to a job. He turned his head away quickly before I would say anything. My heart broke.
“What would I do? How would I raise the Child alone?
So many worries—” Mary sipped again from her vessel. It was empty. “Would you mind?”

John’s wife took the vessel and refilled it from the kettle by the fire. 
She asked me, “Did you need your vessel filled?”
I’d forgotten I had a drink. I drank. “No, thanks.”
In the break of the story, I massaged my hand from writing.
Mary laughed. “I had so many worries—yet God—isn’t that what it’s all about? God had already worked out those details.”
I picked up my quill again and dipped it into the ink.
Mary sighed. “The angel had told me ‘Everything was possible with God.’ I trusted God to give me a child by His Spirit, but I felt I must work out all the other details.”
I added, “God’s ways will never be understood by man. When we try, we make God smaller.”
Mary nodded. “Exactly. Our God is so much bigger than we can imagine. Yet I felt so alone. God’s presence was with me, but not always in my thoughts. It’s hard to make your thoughts and your heart beat the same.”
I smiled. That was interesting way to put it, but true.
“Since you’re a physician, allow me to elaborate on things that aren’t commonly spoken,” She waited my consent.
I nodded. I laid down my pen and rested my hands.

She turned to John.
John shook his head, “I’ll stay. It’s fine.”
She picked up her explanation. “In Jewish law, when a young girl becomes a woman, it’s cause for celebration. She can soon marry. A husband is chosen. But a girl is not considered mature enough until she has menstruated one year, thus the betrothal is that long, to allow her to be completely ready for her husband.

“When I had my first, I had celebrated! What pride I had to dry my rags!” Mary laughed. “So proud, over something that we do not control.”
“A contract was drawn with Joseph.
“Joseph and I would wait that one year period. Joseph worked on a house, but often couples live with his family. I prepared what was needed for the house.” She swallowed, tears swelling her eyes even now.
“The Jewish Law dictates certain things with the woman’s monthly. She was not permitted to draw or carry water, cook or serve food, or go to the marketplace; it would make those things unclean for others. And when married, her husband could not approach her. It was her time to rest.
“The Law required a cleansing bath or mikveh by immersion after the bleeding was complete. Our little village had one place this could be done.
“Villagers, especially the old women, watched who came to use its cleansing.
“Being pregnant, I’d need no cleansing nor rags to clean. The omission would be obvious to all.
“I nervously approached my second time, one I knew I would miss.
“I placed my hand on my bosom, where no baby showed yet.
Soon the entire village would know. Would they accept my news?

“This time was supposed to be a time of celebration. Instead, I hid as in shame. I was angry at the villagers already, for I knew they would not believe. 
“I avoided my friends. And my heart ached for Joseph.
“My mother cautioned not to say anything. ‘Don’t try to convince them. They’ll see. God will make it right.’ But I knew they would not.”
“Mom hugged me a lot during those months. Now looking back, I think, that was all she knew to do.
“She, too, was grieving. Plans for the wedding had stopped. The joy of marrying her daughter was taken away, as the shame of the village fell on the entire household. And I was the cause.
“Yet I had done nothing
“I spent a lot of time talking to God. Repenting of things I could imagine. Hoping that would make things right with those around me. 
“But it didn’t.
“God’s ways are so unlike man’s, aren’t they?”
I nodded.

Her voice lowered and I had to lean forward to hear, “One night, I overheard my parents discussing a trip.
“Any trip was big. We never went anywhere.
“Abba was saying, ‘I could take her after the Sabbath.’
“My mother argued, “Wouldn’t she be safe without—”
“Abba interrupted, ‘You’ve not heard the news from Sepphoris.’”

Mary paused to explain to me. “Sepphoris was a Roman garrison just a few miles from Nazareth. At this time, the entire Galilee region openly revolted against Roman rule. Following the death of Herod the Great, the royal palace was attacked and looted. In response, the Romans burned Sepphoris and sold its people as slaves.
“This was four miles from Nazareth.
“Travel was especially unsafe—Roman soldiers, looters, revolutionaries, and normal thieves would molest and rob solitary travelers.
Mary shrugged, “It was then I sneezed, and mother hushed Abba. I thought nothing more about it.
“Until one day later that week, Abba rushed home, ‘A caravan outside our village is going to Jerusalem.’
“Mother immediately grabbed a sack. She turned to me. ‘Get your clothes, put them in here.’
“The trip was for me! They were sending me away, as if I’d done something wrong. I was angry, frightened and so many other feelings all at once. I tried to hear their instructions as I threw my clothes into the bag.
“As Abba hugged me, I could feel his body tremble. When I looked into his eyes they held tears. 
“Out of all those emotions, I managed to squeak through my own tears. ‘How will you pay for this?’
“He looked down and mumbled, ‘Your dowry.’”
“At my gasp, he added, trying to soften his answer, ‘No one will marry you now.’”
“I sucked in my breathe. My dowry was all I had. To hear the words so final made my condemnation complete. I had no time to process all this before my mother hugged me.
“She whispered, ‘Shalom.’ I wanted to cling to her, not leave. She gulped and pushed me away.
I ran to follow Abba to the caravan.

“When Abba left me there with the family, I swallowed as though flatbread stuck in my throat. I was afraid, angry, lost—It was my first time away from my family.
“But my mother’s words returned, 'Shalom’ means ‘God go with you.’ The angel had told me this baby meant—God was with me. How much more could God be with me when He was in me? His peace flooded over me and I was not afraid.  A strange calmness filled me, like I wasn’t part of all the things going around me. I was above it—floating. It was God. He carried me through this time.

The caravan family was friendly, but not welcoming. Their ways—so different from mine. 
“The woman was quite overwhelmed with several little ones. I took one and carried him. He settled in my arms and fell asleep.
The woman was surprised he stayed with me. “He normally won’t go with anyone but me.”
Perhaps he, too, felt the peace that surrounded me.
“I’d whisper ‘shalom’ and picture that hen with her chicks to remind me of Who I carried and how He promised to overshadow me.
“Though the reason for fears would still be there, peace would return again. Even though I don’t carry Him now, I still whisper His name and picture that hen, especially when I’m afraid. Peace returns and fear flees, even though the cause of the fear still persists. It is strange to feel peace in the midst of the trials. Somehow we think God will take away the problems. He does not. But He is with you through the problems.
“Our God is a God of opposites. He does things we don’t anticipate. His plans are not our plans.”

“Sitting around the campfire at the end of the first day, I wondered where I’d sleep. Would they expect me to sleep in the tent with them?  Would I be safe? Would I be safe if I didn’t? So many questions I hadn’t thought to ask Abba before I left.
“But God was in the details.
“The woman sectioned off a place for me to sleep and dress without threat.  Her little one wanted to sleep with me. She coerced him to come with her, but in the middle of the night, I was startled by someone sleeping with me. He had found me. I smiled. He must feel Who I carried too.
“Each morning I would have a rough start, as the meal to break fast was before the babe decided to let me eat.
“The woman sensed my condition, and gave me a tea. The days went better after that.
“After two days, I began to get excited. I’d soon see my aunt.
She, too, was with child. And she would believe me. She had to.

“A caravan would never go to such a little village, so at Jerusalem, the woman hugged me, and gushed over me, making the tears well up like I was leaving family again. And her little one hugged me tight. As I did him.” She laughed,  “I liked to think that God sent that little child to distract me from my own problems as I helped him with his small ones—ones I could manage.”
“Abba must have paid extra for them to escort me to Em Karem. The father and one of his sons took me.
“The four miles to Em Karem—I almost ran. I heard the man puffing behind me, and I willed my legs to slow down for him. I was almost there! I sang for joy and relief and so many things. My praise bubbled over.
“When I reached the village, I thanked them.”
“He bowed and returned the way they had come.

“Suddenly I felt bashful and unsure. I had been with Gentiles for 5 days, yet they did not condemned me for my condition. I touched my bosom lightly, but my own people would. My uncle lived on the outskirts of the village, at least everyone would not see me enter. Would my aunt believe me?
I swallowed, my praise suddenly quiet as fear took its place. Is that not how it is? Fear takes away our praise.”
I nodded.
Mary shook her head in disgust. “I wish I could say I was so full of faith, but I struggled. I burst through their door before I lost my courage. ‘Shalom!
“My aunt was stirring something at the fire when she turned and saw me. She felt her bosom, which was showing, and cried, ‘Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb! How is it, that the mother of my LORD would come to me?’
“I flew into her welcoming arms. She hadn’t been told ahead of time that I was coming, but she knew. God was preparing the way before me.
“She continued, ‘When I heard you, my baby leaped for joy! Blessed are you who believed what was spoken to her by the LORD.’”

“My heart overpoured with relief, gladness, praise—everything—all at once. Here was a place I wasn’t condemned but believed, where the angel’s message was accepted, even before I told her! Here was safety. My doubts and fears fell away. ‘My soul exalts the LORD! My spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For He has regard for His bondslave. For all generations will count me blessed. For the Mighty One has done great things for me. And holy is His name.
“His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him.
“He has done mighty deeds.
“He scatters the proud.
“He brings down rulers from their thrones and exalts the humble.
“He fills the hungry with good things and sends away the rich empty-handed.
“He gives help to Israel His servant in His mercy.
“As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his descendants forever.”
Mary paused in her praise. And sighed deeply.
“What a wonderful time we had together.
“I could rejoice in the baby given me.
“I felt whole again.
“And God was truly my peace.”

She paused to take a long sip of her drink.
I leaned forward, “How long did you stay with your Aunt?”
She smiled. “Three months. It was so hard to return to my family.”
She shrugged, “But it would not be the hardest thing I’d have to do.” She laughed. “Good thing God doesn’t show us all that we must do; He merely takes our hand for the next step.”
I nodded. Putting down the quill and taking a drink from my vessel. My hands were cramped from writing so fast. I wanted to quote those praises.

“As I returned to Nazareth, I heard someone calling me. I turned and met Mary, Joseph’s sister, running into my arms. She was breathless, ‘Mary, where have you been? I’ve missed you.’ She hugged me and suddenly stiffened and stepped from me, looking at my bosom, by then the baby was showing. Her face ashen.
Her voice lost its emotion, ‘No wonder Joseph has been beside himself.’
I hurried to tell her, “’Mary, I’ve so much to tell you, I’ve been to my Aunt Elizabeth’s. She’s with child, given by God.’ I stopped, for she wasn’t listening. She stepped farther from me, as if I had leprosy. I hastened to say, ‘I saw an angel. He told me,” But I stopped.
“She backed away from me, shaking her head. ‘So the rumors are true. I couldn’t believe, but now I know.’
“‘No! Mary, do not believe all you hear. There’s more to the story.’
“She shook her head, ‘I’ve seen enough.’ She turned her back to me and ran from me.
“I wanted to run after her, to tell her about the angel, about the Good News. But I couldn’t.
“It was all I could do to stumble the remaining steps home. When I arrived, I ran to where we folded the bedding for the day, fell on them, and sobbed. What a different reception from the one Elizabeth had given! Where had my joy gone?”
“But my thoughts were too much on what man thinks, and I realized even as I sobbed, God was still with me. He had not left me. He never would. I would hold Him more tightly in the days that followed. Because man was not to help.”

“But while I was at my aunt’s and God was refreshing me, and enabling His Son to develop with praise, He was also preparing Joseph to take me as I was. Fore when I returned, he approached my abba to ask to continue the wedding. When my abba asked, ‘What made you change your mind?’ He told of his own visit from an angel, confirming what I had tried to tell him.
“You cannot imagine how relieved I was. How I had worried over how I would care for this Child by myself…How at a loss I felt thinking of being without Joseph.”
“My parents were also relieved. But my dowry was gone. Joseph would marry me anyway—such a godly man. We would start out so poor, staying with his family—since no house would be ready.
“Joseph reminded me, ‘God, Who owns everything, is this Child’s Father; we will hope in Him.’ It was something we would cling to in the days to come.”
“Instead of a great wedding feast, ours was quite small. Those attending were critical, for the baby’s coming was obvious, in spite of my baggy tunic. So foolish to try to hide the Child that the world was waiting for—when everyone was talking about it!
“Instead of the great joy I had anticipated, I endured my wedding ceremony—I never felt so relieved to be done with something as I was with that!
“All the cousins and relatives! Of course, Elizabeth and Zacharias could not come, with the distance, after their baby…though I had hoped they could.
“Joseph’s change of heart was reassuring, like God did have the details.” She drank then.

Because it seemed a natural break in her story, I asked,  ‘Your praises reflect so much of your history. How do you remember them so well?’”
John nodded. “We pass our history down through stories.”
Mary added, “Though women are not educated, we listen to our stories. That’s why feast days are so important. They remind us to take time to remember. And by remembering we don’t lose our history.”
John added, “It’s important, not just from a historical aspect, or a traditional aspect, but so we don’t repeat our mistakes and forget God.”
Mary nodded, “We must know our heritage. I can give you our genealogy back to Adam.”
“Wait!” I had rested my hand while we talked, “I must write this down!”
She laughed. “It’s important to us, but why would Gentiles think so?”
I adjusted my parchments to write. “Such a genealogy connects God to all men.”
She gave the names, while I wrote.
Afterwards I laid down my quill and rubbed my hands. “Wow! That is powerful—Makes me feel my responsibility—to tell His story.
John added, “It’s important to get it right.”

Grapes and cheese were put before us in a bowl. 
I took some and ate.
Mary mused, “Where did I leave you?”
I prompted, “The wedding.”
She nodded. “Yes, the wedding was endured. And we would never consummate it until after the birth of Christ. The angel had instructed Joseph and we obeyed. Though it was difficult, for we, of course, lived with his family.
“Living with his family—especially when they did not believe, was hard. Joseph left for work every day, but I remained behind with his mother and sister.
“Joseph’s mother would not even look at me. As if I had ruined her son.
I cannot blame her, for that is how it looked. But it hurt just the same.
It wouldn’t have been so bad had Mary believed, but she wouldn’t until much later.
“And so, it was hard—to feel the unwarranted shame, yet want to rejoice that our Savior would soon be born…
“God does keep us humble, for I would have become very proud.”

“Caesar Augustus, the emperor at the time, ordered all to be counted, not where they lived, but where they were born. We made plans to travel to Bethlehem, where Joseph was born.
“This was not a good time for travel. Everyone would be taking what money they had to pay their taxes. Rioters were rampant who would molest, rob and kill for no reason. Roman soldiers tormented, for they aren’t paid well, as you well know.”
I nodded. “It’s not advisable to travel unless you have to, and you had a baby coming soon.”
Mary nodded, and wiped a wisp of hair from her face. “I could not stay behind— the village would be deserted; for all must return to their birth-city, nor would Joseph allow me.”

“Acquiring a donkey to carry his tools would further set us behind to have enough to live by ourselves.” Mary sighed. “Such little things, that were big at the time…would cause me to worry.” She shook her head. “My family would caravan with Joseph’s family and others.
“My family would stop at Jerusalem; Joseph’s family would continue on to Bethlehem. There’s safety in numbers. The trip would be several days.
Me, with all my emotions in a turmoil, and not being able to share with anyone. I was miserable. Only a few days, but oh the worry those few days brought.”
Mary paused, and laid her hand on mine, “I know you don’t need all these details, but just thinking about the time brought all this back.”

I smiled. “This is wonderful. It’s a testimony to God—He uses all of us—weak, broken, unfit—to carry His message to all men.”
She nodded, getting back to her story. “We did get to Bethlehem, and it was crowded. Even our little caravan couldn’t find space outside the city to stay, nor did Joseph feel there was enough men to protect us, so we ventured into the city to find a place. But when we entered the gates—we could not even move down the streets—the people were everywhere!
“The streets were loud with all the people and animals. The smells hit me like a wave— the animals, unwashed travelers,  waste thrown down the middle of streets, mixed with ale and foods from inns. I paused to swallow. I raised my tunic and lowered my hood, hoping to filter the smells and not lose my flatbread from the noon meal.
“We made little progress. All the inns were crowded. No place could be found.
“Joseph asked, “Should we return to the caravan?”
“I couldn’t bear the thought of having the baby in his mother’s presence. ‘We’ll find someplace, anywhere, Joseph. But please don’t go back.’”
“He paused to study me. ‘It’s has been hard for you.’
I smiled. Then a pain tore across my bosom and I had to concentrate. The baby would be born soon. 
There would not be time to return to the caravan.
“That jerked him into a frenzy to find some place. A horse and rider pushed by, Joseph followed in his wake. His pace quickened as he led the donkey behind the horse.
“He followed the rider. He seemed to know where he wanted to go. He wove through the streets, creating a path for us as we went. He stopped at a stable, where he dismounted and gave the horse to a servant and left. We entered the stable.

“Immediately the noise was muffled, the chaos of the crowds left behind. I breathed deeply, smelling the hay and horses. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I saw horses in stalls. Could hear them munching on their grain.
“I sighed. I could rest.
“After the servant took care of the horse, he turned and saw Joseph. Our donkey spoke of a load bearing animal, not a high level official. Nor were we rich enough to give him great payment. He scowled, ready to send us away.
“Before he could throw us out, Joseph asked, ‘May we stay here?” He motioned to me. “My wife needs a place to rest.”
“At that moment, the pain was so intense, I screamed out. The timing could not have been better.
“The man’s expression turned from anger to concern as he saw my condition. He pointed to a corner and left.
“Joseph surveyed the stall. The corner was dark, but protected from drafts. The hay was old, trampled, in need of changing. He started to complain, when I squeezed his hand in pain. When the time passed, I nodded to the place with a smile. “It’s perfect.”
“He looked frustrated. ‘This is no place to give birth to God’s Son.’
“I told him. ‘It’s safe. Quiet. Protected. Perfect.’ I started to sit when he hurriedly removed his robe for me to sit on.
“And the baby came.

“The servant must have told the innkeeper’s wife, for she appeared when I needed her and stayed to help.”
“Jesus was born. The Son of God, born in a stable.

“Joseph drug a manger over for me to put Him in—we didn’t want to lay him on the floor. He was such a wee-thing. We didn’t even have a blanket. The innkeeper’s wife found some swaddling cloths used to wrap horses’ legs. She showed me how to swaddle him in those.
“Such a treasure to hold in my arms, after so much worry…God provided a way.
“It was like that all through His life. God told. We worked hard to listen and obey.

“When the shepherds came—we were astounded!”
I hated to interrupt, but I had to know. “How did they know to come?”
Mary’s voice raised, as she exclaimed, “They followed a star!  You must find one of those shepherds. Their story of all the heaven’s angels coming to tell them of Jesus’s birth! You must.”
I nodded, “I will.”
“There’d be enough who were young at the time, who would remember. They spoke of the entire night sky being lit up with the angels’ brightness.”
“And the shepherds fell and worshipped Jesus.”
“To have such confirmation to the angel’s message—“ She put her hand over her heart. “Was so,” she paused unable to find the right words, “was so… enough. All the shame others had laid on me, all the worry I’d do something wrong. All the stuff…lifted like a burden. God would walk us through the days ahead. To have God with us would change everything! I couldn’t find words to tell what I felt. My heart would burst!”

“When the shepherds left, Joseph squeezed my arm gently. ‘When we stayed here, I kept telling myself, ‘This was wrong. This is God’s Son. He should have the best of rooms, even though we can’t afford it. But if we were in a fancy room, those shepherds could not have come to worship. They’d never be allowed in.’ And he was right.”
“I was slowly learning, this task to raise Jesus to manhood would be filled with unexpected things. So many reassurances that we were doing the right thing. So many nudges here and corrections there to make sure we continued to do the right thing.
Yes, my heart would burst with all the praise!

“When we took him to the temple after the eight days for his circumcision and naming, the streets were no less crowded in Jerusalem. We called him, “Jesus” just as the angel instructed.
“We returned again to Jerusalem.”
I interrupted, “But you had already named Jesus.”
James explained, “After a woman finishes bleeding, she must present an offering of cleansing. Also they present their firstborn child to the LORD, for the Law of Moses says, ‘Every firstborn male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the LORD.’”
I nodded.
Mary resumed her story, “We had sold the lambs given us by the shepherds to pay our taxes.
So our meager offering for God was two young turtledoves. Even that was a hardship, for the temple where we purchased them charged heavily for them. Nor could we have brought them with us.
“This bothered Joseph. He thought it so wrong that the Romans took what could have been presented to the LORD.
But I told him, ‘This is what we have; God knows we don’t have more. God will be well pleased.’

“When we walked up the stairs of the temple we met an older man, he seemed to be waiting for us. He asked if he could hold our baby. I was hesitant. But Joseph nodded.
When the man had him in his arms, he cried. ‘LORD, You are releasing Your bondservant to depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen Your salvation. You have prepared for all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and glory of Your people Israel.’
“Joseph and I looked at each other. Joseph’s eyes were big. Can’t imagine mine being less. But the man wasn’t finished. He looked at me, almost like he could read my soul and said, ‘Behold this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed—and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.’”
“His prophecy was disturbing. I didn’t know what he meant by the sword, but it would indeed pierce my soul.

“We found out later the man was Simeon. He died shortly afterward. But God had honored His promise to him.

“Anna, a prophetess, lived at the temple. She’d always been there, as long as I could remember. She approached us, wanting to see the baby. She, too, praised God for the redemption that was coming soon.
“We left the temple that day, marveling at what God was going to do for His people and for the world.

“We eventually ended back in Nazareth. Jesus grew like any child. But all could tell he was different. The grace of God was upon Him. And He did no wrong.” Mary laughed. “I know many a mom would say the same about their own sons, but all those around could attest, if they were honest and without jealously, that Jesus was filled with God.”

It is here, that I break the story and inserted what I found by searching the area of Bethlehem for the shepherds who have been there the night of that birth. Many remember a mysterious glow in the hills of Bethlehem outside the city on a cold, moonless night. Those who were there, tell of angels—not just one, but a multitude, a host, more than could be counted that arrived after the first angel told his message of the Christ Child born that night.

I do enjoy music, have heard great music in my younger days, but to hear a heavenly choir? That would be something.
Of course, when I wrote the Gospel, I never said they sang. But it is assumed because they praised God, they sang. It is a common means of expressing praise and therefore acceptable to admit.
When the shepherds retold the story years later, their faces shone with a light, their eyes sparkled with joy. It was indeed a heavenly visit.
To hear them tell their story, they ran to find the babe!
Though the night was far spent, they woke people to tell the news.
I would like to have interviewed what those recipients thought when they first heard the news from these shepherds, late at night, bothered by the outcasts of the city, but too many years had passed to locate any. Many would not listen, but those who did were not disappointed.

So many people used by God to shepherd His Son to earth.
How should I tell such a story?
It contains too much of God to adequately show His glory, power and love.
The people were not special. The place wasn’t special, though foretold long before He came. Yet God became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory—the glory of the only Begotten Son of God.
How do I take such simple words to portray the splendor of this great event?
I can’t.
God’s Spirit must soften hearts to see the invisible world behind all the “real” world we see.
And as the Spirit shows these truths to the hearts of men, they will see clearly what great things God has done.


I write about what you---
women, wives and moms---
about your family, faith and future.
I write about what's hard, what helps and what heals.
I show you how it's done. And not done.
I hold your hand as you find what matters to the Savior.
And let go of those things that mattered to you, but not to Him.
I write about what Him.
               Sonya Contreras

Author of Biblical fiction, married to my best friend, and challenged by eight sons’ growing pains as I write about what matters.

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