Thursday 12/12 ~ “Marks of an Apostle”

The scripture for today, December 12 (12/12), is 2nd Corinthians 12:12 as found in the New Testament of the Bible:

00-PAUL COVER-Thumbnail-“The things that mark an Apostle ~ signs, wonders and miracles ~ were done among you with great perseverance.”

This is so interesting. These are not things that mark Christians in general, but the Apostles.

Jesus told his Apostles that, when they taught the world about Jesus and baptized them, miracles and signs would accompany the believers (Mark 16:17). The miracles and signs followed conversions of believers by the Apostles to whom he was speaking.

Acts 3:6f and 9:40f involved healing by the Apostle Peter, and Acts 20:9f involved healing by the Apostle Paul which they performed to prove their words were the Words of God.

In Acts 6:5-6, the Apostles laid their hands on seven men to serve the church in a special way. Of those men, Stephen performed miracles (6:8) and Philip performed miracles (8:5-7), both to prove their words were the Words of God.

In Romans 1:1,11, the Apostle Paul said he wanted to visit the Christians in Rome so he could impart some spiritual gift. In 1st Corinthians 1:6-7 the Apostle Paul said he imparted spiritual gifts to Christians in Corinth.

We have no examples in the New Testament of anyone other than an Apostle passing on the power to perform miracles. Even the writings of the “Apostolic Fathers” in the late 1st and early 2nd century say things like “Even down to those times there were a few miracles being performed including raising the dead.”

Yes, the reason for the miracles was to prove the words of the miracle performer were the Words of God (which had not yet been written down). Now that we have the New Testament (Jesus’ and his Apostles’ teachings in written form) we no longer need the miracles.

They were “marks of an Apostle.” The miracles including, healing, renewing the maimed (making limbs grow back), and bringing people back to life. All of them.

Interesting, isn’t it?

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00-PAUL COVER-Thumbnail-PAUL: THE UNSTOPPABLE.  One reader declared,  “WOW!  OH, WOW!”  Paul was a stubborn man.  He said of himself, “I was a violent man.” Jesus had to strike him blind and let him stew in his confusion before letting the facts sink into his stubborn head: Jesus, whom he persecuted, was the Son of God.  He spent the rest of his life trying to convince the rest of the stubborn world. He suffered the same kind of torture he had meted onto Christians in his youth.  A stubborn and amazing man.   To BUY NOW, click a book cover or paste this……….https://amzn.to/34ktQnT

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They Rocked the Cradle that Rocked the World ~ chap. 2

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2—ELIZABETH

Bastion of Barrenness

How can two women—one much too young, the other much too old—change the direction of a nation that its officially selected leaders could never change?

How can two women who no one ever heard of actually believe their sons—not even born yet—will grow up to lead the nation into freedom from the most powerful force in the world?

The audacity. The simplistic nerve.

Besides, the old one—Elizabeth—is way too shy. Has been all her life. Can’t prod her to say anything in a group. That is, if you ever catch her in a group. More like a wall flower. Sometimes even a recluse.

Don’t be surprised if her son turns out to be just like her instead of bold enough to actually lead the nation as she thinks. Don’t be surprised if he shies away from people like she does. Don’t be surprised if he becomes a hermit. Just like his mother.

Then there are their husbands. The young one doesn’t even have a husband. Got pregnant anyway. And the old one’s husband? If ever opposites attracted, it certainly was so of Elizabeth and Zechariah. Zechariah talks too much. Never knows when to shut up.

When her husband goes to serve his month-long term at the temple once every other year, she doesn’t go with him. Too much excitement. Too many people. Too public.

In fact, she’d rather not live in Jerusalem at all like some of the priests’ families do.

Actually, she doesn’t like city living anywhere. She likes the quiet country life. Deep down she has always been a country girl, even now that she is growing old.

Elizabeth should have gotten used to the idea by now. What idea? The new one. She is with child.

Pregnant at her age? How can it be? She knows. Her husband knows. But no one else knows. It is a miracle. But how do you explain a miracle? A sixty-five-year old woman just doesn’t become pregnant.

And to complicate things, her husband has been unable to talk since the angel came to him with the news of her imminent pregnancy. He could have explained it to people. Elizabeth can’t explain anything. She wants to be excited about it, but so many other things are going wrong.

  • BC 7
  • An Obscure Village in Province of Judea, Palestine

“Thank you, Oh God, for answering our prayers. But, why now?” she prays at night. “My baby needs a father who can talk. Why now?”

Elizabeth’s one long braid hangs straight down her back with many strands coming loose. The large gray streak in her hair begins above her forehead and swirls back almost to her crown. It is almost white. Her clothes are wrinkled most of the time from being in bed so much, but she does not care.

“Elizabeth, are you sure you need to stay in bed all this time?” Zechariah scribbles on the small clay tablet he carries with him now. “It’s been three months.”

Though older than Elizabeth by five years, Zechariah has a little gray hair showing at his temples. Unlike his wife who never cared much what her clothes looked like, Zechariah takes pride in his appearance.

Frustrated and frightened, Elizabeth pats her abdomen, indicating she must rest for the sake of the baby.

Her husband does not agree. But what does he know? He’s never had an expecting wife before.

Several moments later he returns with her lunch, consisting of a square of cheese, a small loaf of bread, and a goblet of milk. He leaves it within her reach, then returns to his work in the other room.

Elizabeth has not eaten since yesterday. Nausea continues. But she forces down what she can. For the sake of the baby.

When she is through, she gets out the scroll she keeps nearby and continues reading.

Though not allowed to attend synagogue school with the boys in her village, her father had made sure she had an education anyway. Elizabeth had always been quick to understand things. Once she had learned to read to a sufficient proficiency, she began asking if she could read some of the scripture scrolls. By the time she was a teenager, she had become an avid scroll reader, and read every one she could lay her hands on. After marrying Zechariah, a priest with access to all the scripture scrolls, she had decided to memorize as many as she could.

Yesterday, she had left off reading the account of the kings of Israel where Elijah was interacting with the king and queen, and with the pagan priests.

The angel had told her husband that her baby would be strong like Elijah, and would prepare people for the coming of the Messiah, the Deliverer.

“Oh, God.” she prays. “Help me raise this child so he will be strong, and so he won’t run from his responsibilities.” She pauses. She reflects. “…Like me, God. I hide because I’m afraid. Afraid of losing the baby, afraid of explaining things to people. I guess I’ve been afraid of people all my life. Help me also to not run from my responsibilities.”

By the end of the day, she feels she has prayed in vain. She cannot imagine herself standing before her neighbors and allowing them to gape at her. How is she ever going to teach her son to stand before kings?

_____

It is now four months. Zechariah leans over her, smiling. As he looks into her eyes, he pulls back her covers, takes both her hands, and gently encourages her to get out of bed. As usual, Elizabeth hesitates. But this time she realizes she can no longer use her old excuses.

So with tears in her eyes, she swings her feet around, stands, puts her arm in his, and walks out to the courtyard. Each step seems easier than the one before.

The warm early summer day feels good. She feels the sun warm on her pale skin, and the breeze flowing gently through her hair. He leads her toward her cushion. He has bought her a new one. She notices, smiles, and says “Thank you.”

As she walks, her tears recede. She smiles. It is nice.

Of course Zechariah is right. I do need to get up and around more. The chance of losing the baby should be passed by now. I need the exercise. I need to stay strong. For the baby.

She gathers her skirts around her and her husband helps steady her. She sits and looks around as though a visitor in her own courtyard.

“Zechariah, thank you for cooking for me, but you forgot to clean up around the cooking oven.” She smiles at him. “We’ll need to put some of these things away soon.” Her shelves along the wall are empty, with cooking utensils on the cobble stone under them. Her normally everything-in-its-place husband has shown her how much she is needed.

After a little rest, she gets up and begins putting things where they belong. Sometime later she puts one hand on her chest and one on her abdomen. “I didn’t think I would be this tired. I’ll have to rest before I finish.” She returns to the cushions her husband has prepared for her. “I’ll have to gradually gain my strength back.”

After a short respite, she continues to silently work her way around the courtyard putting things back in their proper place. The light things, that is. She doesn’t want to endanger the child, of course.

But, as usual, she must do it in silence. Always the silence. How is she ever going to be able to raise their son with her husband not able to talk?

She the introvert. He the extrovert. That’s why her parents had consented to her marrying him with his outgoing personality. He would make up for her social shortcomings.

With things half in order, she heads back to her bedroom. Zechariah looks up and stops her. He leads her over to a bench and smiles. She recognizes that smile. It’s the smile that she responds to when she lets him have his way. “You’ve been up for a while,” he writes. “That is good for you and the babe.”

She knows somehow, she is going to have to be used to staying up during the day.

And so she does.

Each morning Elizabeth rises, washes, rebraids her hair, and then goes to her cushion. After another rest, she prepares the first meal of the day. Then she rests again.

She knows in a little while someone will appear at their gate from the market with the food for the day. Zechariah will answer the gate as long as she is not ready to tell the world about her pregnancy.

As always, in the afternoon, she gets out the scroll and reads once more about Elijah. She does not really have to read it because she has now memorized it. But sometimes she likes seeing the reassurance of the words written on the parchment.

She thinks of the ups and downs of Elijah’s life. He had performed unbelievable miracles, then wanted to die. He had stood up to the king and queen, run for his life, and then returned to his country to put his life in danger again. Will that be the kind of life her son will lead, once he is grown and has begun his life as a prophet? Will he endanger himself as Elijah had? Will he appear before Herod, as Elijah had his own king? Couldn’t he be like some other prophet who wasn’t in so much danger? But, as she thinks over the old prophets, she realizes they all had hard lives.

Oh, God. Don’t let my son have as hard a life as Elijah.

Zechariah returns home. He has been gone to take care of some business. He sees her reclining on the cushions in the courtyard napping, the scroll on the cobblestone next to her. He sets aside the scroll she has been reading.

Gently he wakens her.

“Oh, I didn’t know you were back,” she replies, frustrated with no one to have a real conversation with.

_____

It has now been five months since Elizabeth has become pregnant. Five months of trying to absorb the whole thing and of praying in deep gratitude, but also frustration over her husband’s inability to speak.

Five months of reading about the first Elijah, knowing that the son within her must declare to the people that their Deliverer will come in their life time. Will the people be glad to hear him make the grand announcement? Surely they will. But will King Herod? Of course not. How is her son going to handle King Herod? Will he be brave enough? Brave like his father? Not shy like his mother?

“Elizabeth, you must start getting out. The neighbors keep asking about you,” Zechariah scratches out on his clay tablet.

“Not that again. I just can’t bring myself to do it. How will I explain it to people?”

“You’ll figure it out,” her husband gestures with an outward sweep of his arms.

Although she smiles in agreement, she knows she is not going anywhere.

I’ve changed. How did I let this happen? I can’t even leave my home any more. I used to like being around my friends as long as there weren’t too many at a time. But now… She looks over at her frowning husband. He does not push the issue and leaves her alone.

What if the sensationalist gossips find out I’m going to have a baby in my old age? What if news reaches other towns? Then what happens to our privacy?

So many reasons to stay to herself. Some good. Some not good.

The warm summer sun allows her to stay out in their courtyard most days. She hears people out on the street. I wonder if some of those voices are my old friends. Why did I back away from everyone? Why am I so afraid? I’ve been afraid before, but nothing like this since I became pregnant.”

“It’s not me. It’s just not me,” she declares to her husband one day during their evening meal of lamb stew, bread, and a few grapes. It had taken her all day to prepare it, but she had managed.

I want so to be happy. But I haven’t been able to control my depression. It’s not like me.

“Being pregnant?” he scribbles back.

“Being so selfish,” she replies. “What if my friends have been needing me?” she responds unexpectedly. Then she recites her mental list: “Rebecca. Judith. Hulda. Rachel.”

Elizabeth puts both hands on her husband’s shoulder and uses his strong body as leverage to stand.

She turns and looks at the large pots along one wall she had used in the past to take food to the sick. “Those pots have been up on that shelf since last winter. What has happened to my friends? Have they needed me and I wasn’t around to help?”

With new resolve, she goes to her bedroom where she keeps her cloak and comes back with it on. Sitting down again she takes the cloak back off. “What will I tell people?” she wonders aloud.

“I’ll go with you,” Zechariah writes on his tablet. “I’ve already explained to them why I can’t talk. They know about you.”

“They know?” Why hadn’t she thought of that? Of course they know. Zechariah could never keep a secret. She has been in her own world too long. Her own selfish world.

She imagines her husband going first to their relatives and then to their neighbors and finally to the synagogue. “The Deliverer is coming!” he must have written to them. “The Deliverer is coming! He’s going to be a friend of the family. He’s going to be a personal friend of our son.”

Zechariah interrupts her thought. He takes his elderly wife’s hands, and slowly she rises up from her seat. He is smiling again. That smile that says, “I’m going to get my way now.”

He helps her put her cloak back on, then slowly walks with her to the front gate.

She can do it. She knows she can. As long as he is beside her, she knows.

Zechariah opens the gate and Elizabeth follows him out. She looks at the familiar sights and, though nervous, feels glad to be back.

They turn and walk slowly up the street. Zechariah grins and his eyes sparkle. A few people pass them, not noticing. But then the inevitable.

“Is that you, Elizabeth?”

Her best friend, Rebecca, grabs her hands. “Oh, Elizabeth. I had heard you were pregnant. But I thought Zechariah was just getting senile and making the whole thing up. He was right. Elizabeth, just look at you.”

The women hug. “Come see me, Elizabeth. I’ve been missing you.”

Little by little people recognize her and stop to talk. “Is it true? You’re going to have a miracle baby? Oh, Elizabeth, it is true! I’m so happy for you!”

Little by little Elizabeth realizes she does not have anything to explain. I brought my worry upon myself. I hadn’t realized how much people loved me, and would therefore believe me. I needn’t have stayed away from them as I had.

Days go by. Gradually Elizabeth returns to her old life. But a life that is different. It will never be the same again. For now she is pregnant. People on the street hear her say softly but proudly, “God did this for me. He’s been kind to me after all, and I will never again feel embarrassed because I could not have children just like all of you.”

In the evenings she ponders how irrational she had become in her fear. She had been embarrassed when she could not have children. Then, when she became pregnant, she had become embarrassed by that. How inconsistent humans can be sometimes, she thinks.

“God, forgive me,” she prays sometimes. God knows what she means.

_____

It is now six months. Elizabeth has had a lot of visitors. Everyone in the village has wanted to see this old woman who isn’t supposed to be pregnant but is. The men slap Zechariah on the back. The women exchange stories about their own pregnancy experiences, and what it is like to hold one’s own baby.

With the attention, Elizabeth finds herself talking more and more about Elijah. “He’s going to be like Elijah, you know,” she tells people. She has told this every time she has seen them. They smile with happiness for their friend.

Often at night she wonders who the Deliverer will be. Will I recognize him? Who is the mother? Is she pregnant yet? Do I know her? Is she in seclusion too? What is her name? Will we mothers ever meet?

Then she reminds herself he has not been born yet. But he will be soon.

  •  Nazareth, Province of Galilee

 Mary is up early preparing breakfast for the entire family by herself. She has not really slept anyway.

The Son of God… The Son of God… The words echo through her mind continually as they have all night.

“Mary! What’s the special occasion?” her mother asks, delighted with the surprise breakfast.

“Could I go see Aunt Elizabeth? Please, may I?” Mary is quite aware that Elizabeth is actually her cousin, but she is older even than Mary’s parents. So Mary feels more comfortable calling her aunt.

“Well….”

She turns to her father. “Please? I just want to go away awhile before my wedding.”

“It’s a long trip down south,” he responds. “But I guess it will be okay.”

“Oh, thank you, Father. Thank you, Mother. I love you so much.”

“We love you too, Mary” they answer, perplexed at her sudden expressiveness.

Mary spends the rest of the day washing and drying clothes and packing them in her tote. Little sister, Salome, makes suggestions on what she should take on her vacation.

Their parents think she’ll just be gone a couple weeks. But, if Elizabeth is truly pregnant, Mary knows she’ll be pregnant too. The confirmation she needs. She has to get some advice from Elizabeth on how to handle the family. And Joseph. And her friends. She really needs time with Elizabeth right now. Elizabeth will be the only one who truly understands.

The next day at dawn, the family takes her to a caravan forming at the city gate. “Now stay close to them. Herod’s soldiers and the Roman legionnaires on the road should leave you alone. This caravan leader is known to them. They won’t bother him. So stay close. Stay safe,” her father warns over and over.

Mary glances at the tall, rotund, middle aged caravan leader. His clothes are practical for a traveling man, and he wears no jewelry or anything of value a highway robber might want. He carries a sword at his side and a dagger attached to his leg. His dark eyes dart side to side watching for highwaymen lurking in the sidelines, men who he has long ago learned to recognize.

Alternately, he surveys the people in his caravan, locking on to each person’s face individually. He notices Mary, smiles and waves. He winks at Mary’s father who has paid him a little extra to deliver his little girl to her destination safely.

Mary works her donkey into the small group, demanding no attention by the others. Not by word, demeanor, or anything else.

Though Mary believes deep within her soul that her body now protects and nourishes the offspring of the Creator, she looks no different. No halo given her by God. She has not made for herself special clothing or jewelry to display how holy she is. She is just Mary.

  • On Road Between Provinces of Galilee and Judea

 Mary settles as comfortably as possible on her donkey, riding side saddle. She follows the caravan down the hill that is Nazareth. Turning slightly, but keeping her balance, she waves to her family watching her until the travelers are out of sight.

Out on the road, she leans securely on her tote, closes her eyes, and prays.

God, please let Aunt Elizabeth be pregnant. If she’s pregnant, then I know I am. God, I believe I am, but I can’t know for sure yet. It’s too soon. Give me this sign. Help me know for sure. Like I knew for sure yesterday. Please, God, let Aunt Elizabeth be pregnant.

Sometimes Mary briefly dreams. Often she is in a half daze. Sometimes it is a whispering in her soul.

Gradually the terrain changes. The flat land is left behind. It is getting hilly.

The caravan stops at a public well. Everyone goes to the side of the road, sits on a saddle blanket on the ground while their animals rest, and bring out their lunch. Nearly all have bread, many have fruit, and a few have dried meat.

Mary eats some cheese and fruit she has brought with her. She must not skip meals any longer as she used to do when busy with something too interesting to break away from. Now she eats for two.

Strange. Yesterday I was just a teenager planning my wedding. Today I am different. I’ll never be the same, will I?

Several talk quietly among each other. Mary does not. Her father had warned her not to talk to anyone unless they were close neighbors, and none of them are. Some lean back and take a quick noon-time nap. Mary is among them.

Lunch over, the caravan leader announces for everyone to finish filling their water skins, watering their animals, and remount.

On the road again.

Please be pregnant, Aunt Elizabeth, Mary continues to repeat silently. God, please make Aunt Elizabeth be pregnant.

It is almost mountainous now. Fewer trees as they wind around curves. Leaning. Swaying. Panting.

Her thoughts go deep. What about Joseph? Will he believe me? Will I lose him?

Her soul whispers a prayer. Oh God. I am blessed among all women of the world. Why did you choose me? But you did. May I be worthy of your confidence in me. And God? Can you touch Joseph’s heart so he will believe me?

She shifts her weight on her donkey. She is so light, the donkey does not flinch, but keeps trudging on down the road.

Mary feels God leaning low and protecting the traveling group with his own hand.

And God, give me a sign I really am pregnant. May Aunt Elizabeth really be pregnant. Just like the angel said. I believe. Help me keep on believing.

  •  Obscure Village in Province of Judea

Elizabeth finds herself looking out the window facing the street. She does not know why. She just does.

She goes for a walk. She watches the women pass by. Perhaps the Deliverer’s mother is in Jerusalem. That’s where the government is. Perhaps she is there.

I wonder if I’ll be able to meet her while our sons are babies, or if I’ll have to wait until they are grown and they find each other. Well, I may not live that long. It would be so nice to know her now. Then I would have someone to talk to who understands my situation. And I’d understand hers.

“Holy God, does she—whoever she is—need me?”

It is now late afternoon. Elizabeth is busy preparing their evening meal. She also listens for something out in the street. She is not sure for what. Or for whom.

_____

At long last, just as the sun swells into a red glow in readiness to slip away, Mary’s caravan stops at an inn for the night. She will go on into the village. Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Zechariah live here.

“Got everything you need?” asks the caravan leader. “Your father said this is where you leave us.”

“Yes, but does anyone know which house belongs to Zechariah the priest?”

“The priest? Yeah, I know where he lives,” the man replies. “I can take you there myself.”

“Is it far?” she asks.

“No. Just take this street down two blocks, turn left, and his place is the third gate on the right.”

“Thank you, sir. I think I can find it by myself. Thank you for everything.”

Moments later, Mary and her donkey stop in front of Uncle Zechariah’s and Aunt Elizabeth’s house. Her heart in her throat, Mary slips down, stands in front of the gate and stares. A little fear wells up inside her. What if Aunt Elizabeth is not pregnant?

Well, God, this is it. Mary prays. If Aunt Elizabeth is pregnant, then I know for sure that I am. God, please let Aunt Elizabeth be pregnant.

Mary ties her donkey to a post, takes her tote down, and then pauses. Please, God. Please…

She knocks and waits.

What will she find? Will she be given that final confirmation of the angel’s promise? That final confirmation of her faith? Or was it all a trick?”

The gate slowly opens.

Mary takes a deep breath.

And there stands Aunt Elizabeth. There she stands… Pregnant! Very pregnant and protruding very nicely, thank you!

“Oh, Aunt Elizabeth. You are. You are pregnant!”

The gate remaining open, the old woman and the young woman fall on each other’s necks in immediate understanding, embracing and refusing to let go. Tears rush to their eyes. They sway back and forth with each other. Locked in love and faith. Locked in divine understanding and ultimate submission. Locked in a kind of holiness thus far known only to three people in all the world.

Elizabeth steps aside, lets Mary in, and shuts the gate.

Mary lays her hands on Aunt Elizabeth’s shoulders. They look into each other’s eyes through glistening tear drops, and weep all over again. Their embrace returns as before.

“Aunt Elizabeth. Aunt Elizabeth,” Mary whispers. “It was an angel after all. It was God’s true message.”

She pauses, slowly gaining control of tears still wishing to slip down her dusty cheeks.

“I know now that I am really pregnant with the Son of God. Oh, Aunt Elizabeth, how could it be happening to me, of all the girls in the universe?”

Elizabeth pulls back and puts Mary’s hand on her protruding womb. “He’s kicking, Mary,” she whispers with a grin. “Feel him!”

She puts Mary’s hand in her own. “He’s leaping with joy even inside my womb,” she says a little louder. “He can hear us talk. He knows. He knows, just as you and I know.”

Elizabeth smiles at Mary. “Not only has your faith been confirmed by me, but my faith has been confirmed by you, dear sweet Mary.”

“You are so favored by God!” she exclaims excitedly. “You, Mary, are favored above all other women in history.”

Could this be Elizabeth talking? Shy Elizabeth? What is happening to her?

The older woman hugs Mary once more, then continues as though telling the whole world. “Your baby, Mary, will be given God’s mightiest esteem! What an honor this is, that the mother of my Deliverer should visit me!”

Mary blushes at the role reversal she is feeling. After all, she is just a teenager, and her elderly cousin is looking up to her.

Zechariah, on the other side of the courtyard, realizes his wife has left his side and gone to the gate. She isn’t back yet. He wonders if she needs help getting rid of a peddler.

He walks in that direction, then sees his wife with a younger woman he seems to remember, but older now. “Zechariah, it’s Mary!” she announces to him.

Zechariah looks at the young lady, smiles, and under that scratches, “D-E-L-I-V-E-R-E-R?”

Both women nod their heads yes. Zechariah holds out his arms and embraces his young cousin. So many blessings in this one family. How could it be so?

Zechariah responds to Mary with special understanding, for he had been told by the angel months before even Mary knew. Thank you, God! his heart shouts.

Now the message is a reality. Hardly able to control his happiness, he mouths the words bursting within his soul. “Thank you, God.,” and he raises his arms toward heaven.

Knowing he cannot converse with the women, he goes over to his wife’s favorite cushion, pushes it over a little, and makes room for a new one set aside for guests.

Satisfied, he returns to his earlier task. He picks up the little stick figure he’s been carving. But his hands are shaking so, he puts his work back down. Instead, he stares into the hearts of his family. And of mankind.

The women need to talk. It will be good for my Elizabeth. I can already tell a big difference in her.

Elizabeth moves around to Mary’s side and directs her toward their seats. Elizabeth shifts them around a little so she and Mary can sit opposite each other. The two women rejoin hands and look into each other’s eyes. Elizabeth continues in an excited whisper. Like sharing a delightful secret.

“When you came in and greeted me,” Elizabeth explains, “the instant I heard your voice, my baby moved in me for joy!”

“All those prophecies the angel explained to me,” Mary relates, “all those things predicted hundreds of years ago…”

“You believed that God would do what he said, Mary. That is why he has given you this wonderful blessing.”

“I’m about to burst,” Mary explains. “I’m delirious with delight! God chose me above all other women in the world. Me. It is true. It is really true.”

“Oh, Mary, I’m so happy for you.”

“God is now going to show how strong he is before our tyrannical government,” Mary declares. “He’s going to pull them out of power, and in their places put their victims. At last the oppressed poor will have the money of the rich so they can live decently. He has protected every generation, and he will protect ours.”

Elizabeth hadn’t realized her young cousin knew so much about what is happening in their country. After all, she lives up north away from all the politics around Jerusalem.

The women stare at each other in silence, knowing how unable they are to truly express the inexpressible. Moments later, Elizabeth interrupts their thoughts with the more down-to-earth matters.

“Oh, you must be starved, child. Sit right there while I warm up some stew for you.”

Zechariah smiles as he watches his wife become her old self again.

Stew duly consumed, Elizabeth escorts her young cousin to a bedroom. Mary’s tote is already in it. “This is our guest room. We want you to stay as long as you need to.”

“Aunt Elizabeth, I don’t know how to tell everyone back home. I don’t know how to explain it. It was hard enough for me to believe, and I saw the angel in person. How am I ever going to explain it to my family? And my neighbors? And my Joseph?”

Such questions. How can Elizabeth help Mary with them when she has so many questions of her own?

“We’ll exchange some ideas about it in the morning,” she replies. “And, Mary, I’m so glad you came. For selfish reasons I’m glad. I needed someone to talk to.”

_____

Days come and go. Mary gets settled in. She does everything she can to take work off Elizabeth so she can rest as much as possible. Mary even does the daily food shopping for her, and the laundry. But Elizabeth insists on doing the cooking. She loves to cook. So Mary cleans up afterward.

“Mary, can you read?” Elizabeth asks after lunch and their afternoon naps.

“Yes. I guess I’m lucky. My grandfather, Matthat, taught me to read. He said I had a good mind and should be able to read the scriptures so I can teach them to my children.

“He didn’t rely on whoever you married someday being able to read?” Elizabeth asks.

“I don’t know.  I guess my grandfather didn’t think our village rabbi understood the scriptures as much as he should.”

“Making sure the women in the family could read has apparently been a tradition in both our families,” Elizabeth explains.

That evening, Elizabeth pulls out two scripture scrolls, handing one to Mary.

“Okay. We’re going to read until we find a prophecy about our respective sons,” Elizabeth instructs.

All becomes quiet. Zechariah looks over to them sometimes nodding approval and admiration.

“Look, Aunt Elizabeth,” Mary says excitedly. “The prophet Malachi said your son will be as great as the prophet Elijah, and will turn the hearts of the fathers to their families instead of fighting.”

“Look here what I found,” Elizabeth responds. She had long ago memorized the psalms of David but knows Mary needs to see them in writing. “David prophesied your son will rule forever.”

Taking Mary’s hand and looking deep into her eyes, “You are blessed above all women, sweet Mary.”

Then back to searching through the scriptures. Excited with the revelation of one prophecy, and awed by another. Alternately elated and filled with wonder. A little at a time building up each other’s confidence. And their own.

Gradually, the two women adjust their routine. Elizabeth sleeps a little longer in the morning. Mary can’t eat in the morning. But she does manage to prepare some kind of breakfast for Zechariah and Elizabeth by the time they are up. They have to eat it away from her, though. If she is around food too long in the morning, she becomes nauseated.

And they talk. Talk and encourage and reassure.

“Oh, Aunt Elizabeth, how am I ever going to raise God’s Son? I won’t know what to say or do.”

“Just be the kind of mother your mother has been to you,” Elizabeth explains. “God wants you to take care of the human side of his Son. That’s all. God will take care of the rest.”

Housework, napping, meals and going for walks fill their days. Reading God’s Word for explanations of their sons fill their evenings. And the prayers. After listening to God talk to them, needing to talk to God.

“Please help us raise our babies,” Elizabeth prays.

“Yes, God, we are just human. We will need your help,” Mary adds.

_____

Mary eventually takes over the responsibility of preparing the evening meals. With Elizabeth now in her seventh month, Mary does as much as she can for her. She always finds out what Zechariah is in the mood to eat for his dinner from his scratches on his tablet.

Elizabeth sits nearby on her cushions. From there she tells Mary where everything is she needs for the meal. They chat almost unendingly. Always something to talk through.

Sometimes up. Sometimes down. Their emotions. Wondering why them. Then accepting the best they know how. Then excitement. Then back to doubt. And all over again.

Now and then Zechariah wanders over to them and stands with his head bobbing back and forth between the two women, watching them talk and reply to each other. Then he grins, points to his useless mouth, and shrugs his shoulders as though to say, “It’s just as well I’m unable to talk; I couldn’t fit a word in anyway.”

The women know what he means and grin, handing him a goblet of juice to occupy his stomach until meal time.

Mary’s womb is beginning to swell some now. She has no more doubts that she is indeed pregnant. As pregnant as Elizabeth.

“Sometimes I’m really afraid of what my family will do,” Mary tells her one day.

“You know, Mary, you have the scriptures to back you up.”

“Even if they do believe me, our neighbors won’t. They’ll be so cruel to us.”

“You had your choice, Mary. You could have stayed there and quickly married Joseph, and no one would have been the wiser. But proving that you conceived, even though a virgin, was vital and you knew it. You had the wisdom to come here away from Joseph. That took a lot of courage. God knew you were brave. You’ll survive through the neighbor’s taunts. You’re strong.”

“But the neighbors, Aunt Elizabeth, will want to have me arrested for committing adultery.”

“Joseph is the one who will have to press charges. If he is the kind of young man you say he is, I just don’t believe he’ll do it.”

“I’m scared, Aunt Elizabeth. What if they succeed in stoning me? I am so scared.”

“They won’t. You’re carrying God’s Son. He will protect you. Somehow.”

Elizabeth sounds so strong and wise when she gives advice to others. Deep down, she wonders about how she will deal with her own life. Will she have the courage to teach little John courage?

God, don’t let me fear the crowds like I do, she prays without Mary knowing.

_____

The days go by. Then weeks. Elizabeth is now eight months along in her miracle pregnancy.

The elderly woman rests more and more. Mary spends more time taking over responsibilities of the house, and rests herself. She prays alone, then asks Elizabeth for the answer.

“God, will help you raise your baby. God will help your family understand. And Joseph will understand,” Elizabeth repeats to Mary as she has so often. “Joseph will love you and still want you, Mary. If he is the kind of young man you say he is, he will still want you.”

Elizabeth prays yet another prayer. God, help Zechariah and me to live long enough to raise our son. Help us teach him properly. Help him not be like me. I’m so shy. Make him like Zechariah. Zechariah always knows how to handle any situation. Zechariah is brave. Make him like his father.

“There is going to be so much pressure from the neighbors and gossips,” Mary says for the tenth time in two days. “They won’t believe me. I know they won’t. They’ll think my baby is illegitimate. They’ll treat us terribly. I don’t think I can take that.”

“You are officially betrothed to Joseph,” Elizabeth replies as she always does. “He will stand by you and give you courage, just like Zechariah stands by me. He’ll help you face the neighbors and everyone else. You just wait and see.”

“But what if Joseph won’t finalize our marriage?”

“Have faith in God,” Elizabeth advises both Mary and herself. “God will help Joseph through all this. I believe your Joseph will play an important role in your baby’s upbringing.”

“I keep praying he will, Aunt Elizabeth. I keep praying he will. I love him so.”

_____

Days go by. And weeks. Elizabeth is now in her ninth month.

“The responsibility of raising God’s baby is overwhelming,” Mary repeats one morning, absent-mindedly laying a freshly-washed plate in her lap. “Can I do it?”

“If the Lord hadn’t believed you could handle it, child, he wouldn’t have chosen you,” Elizabeth always replies. Once more, God has used Mary to give his answers to Elizabeth herself.

“But my family.”

“You have a good family. Once you have had a chance to sit down with them and point out the fulfillment of the prophecies made about our Deliverer hundreds of years ago, they will believe. Besides, my own baby will be proof to them, just like it was to you. I know them. Their faith has survived many things,” Elizabeth continues, trying to maintain her self-confidence for Mary’s sake. “It will survive this too.”

“Do you think it will help if you sent my parents a letter? Kind of warning them that I’ll have some shocking news? I’m three months along now. I can’t hide it.”

“I tell you what I’ll do. I’ll write them a letter you can take home with you after you’ve seen little John for yourself.”

_____

Two days later, just as the sun is half way to its noon-time pinnacle, Mary is pleased to assist in the birth of the miracle baby of Zechariah and Elizabeth as he is presented to the world. In a little house of a relatively unknown priest. To a woman too shy to be a miracle mother.

Aunt Elizabeth holds her gift from God and weeps in deep joy.

“Who would have ever thought I would finally have my own baby to rock and love like all the other women? Who would have ever thought any of this would happen? Oh, God. Thank you. Thank you.”

Mary watches as Elizabeth hands the baby to her husband, then leaves the room.

For a moment filled with holiness, the threesome, all gifts from God to each other, merge in heart and soul. The impossible has grown from a spark of hope to a blaze of glory. The impossible has emerged from the horizon of doubt to shining victory. The impossible has become possible.

Zechariah thinks to himself, “At last a son to pass on the family name. Our family will not die out after all.”

Zechariah is wrong. His son will grow up, announce the Deliverer, and be executed as a political threat. Without a wife, a son of his own and a grandson for Zechariah. But for now, Zechariah does not know any of this. It is just as well.

“Mary,” Elizabeth whispers to her husband, half breaking the spell. “She needs to hold our miracle.”

Zechariah understands and takes the baby to Mary who has been waiting out in the courtyard. This had been their moment. Surely this means her moment will come too.

Mary takes the miracle baby in her arms. He opens his eyes briefly and speaks to her heart. She instinctively kisses him on the cheek, then holds that cheek next to her own. How warm it is. How warm and reassuring the God of love is. The Life Giver. The Miracle Maker.

She takes the precious baby in to Elizabeth and hands him back to his mother ever so gently. Elizabeth and Mary smile. Their hearts touch. Miracles do happen. Mary believes now that she can handle anything.

Two weeks later Mary decides it is time to return home. Zechariah’s voice had returned to him a week earlier. Everything is okay in their home now. Very okay. Mary knows it is now time to face her parents. Her neighbors. Her Joseph.

The next morning at dawn, Mary peaks in Elizabeth’s room to say good-bye. Luckily, she is awake. The two women embrace.

“Our sons. They’ll be friends someday,” Mary says walking slowly backward toward the door.

“Yes, they will. Perhaps they already are.”

They Rocked the Cradle that Rocked the World ~ Chap. 1

Front Cover-LgThumbnail

1—MARY & HEROD

Dayspring Dawning

  • BC 23
  • Nazareth, Province of Galilee, Palestine

It is night. It has been night for a long time. Forty years night. Self-rule taken from the country. This time for good. Bitter, bitter night.

Mary has just been born. There is not much gladness. They name her Bitterness. That’s what Mary means.

Since Mary’s mother was a toddler, the country has been ruled by a madman. He killed half of the citizens of Jerusalem in order to take over—many of them right there in the holy temple itself.

And just two years earlier when Mary’s parents were married, things got worse. One of King Herod’s spies uncovered a plot to assassinate him. He had the would-be perpetrators tortured and executed. The people in turn tortured and executed the spy. Herod in turn tortured some women until they confessed who had killed the spy. Will it never end?

How will such innocence, as that which baby Mary has, ever survive in a world like this?

Baby Mary begins to fuss and cry in her little bed. Her little heart-shaped face contorts, wrinkles form around her eyes, and her little mouth puckers in readiness for an out-and-out wail.

Her mother, hair falling down around her eyes, leans over and picks up her baby. She sits on the well-worn cushions nearby and rocks, hums and dreams of better days for her little one.

Silent night? Holy night?

Sarah only wishes it were. Her eyes grow misty and she looks up as though searching through a blackness.

“God, why aren’t you saving us from all this?” she whispers. God knows and understands. But does he care?

_____

Satan is laughing. He is in control. He will always be in control.

*

But heaven is stirring. It’s almost time. A thousand years have come and gone. Another thousand. Another. And another. It’s almost time.

In a heavenly realm somewhere, a conversation is taking place.

SON, I’VE SELECTED YOUR MOTHER. SEE HER DOWN THERE? SHE IS STILL A BABY, BUT SHE WILL BE STRONG. SHE WILL LOVE YOU THROUGH IT ALL.

And I will love her, Father.

  •  BC 19
  • Antioch, Syria    

“Hail, Caesar!”

Julius Caesar,  sovereign ruler of the world, has just been assassinated. Now Augustus Caesar rules. He is a friend of Herod. He’s visiting his friend. They have been celebrating. People worry they are also plotting for who knows what. Will things grow worse?

Caesar is on his portable throne, gold embellished with inlaid mother-of-pearl, holding audience. Next to him is a table with silver chalice for his wine. He sets his square jaw, lowers his head and lifts his eyes as though bored with the whole thing.

The self-appointed ambassadors of the common people among the Jews bow prostrated before him.

“You may rise,” Caesar growls. “Now, what is it that is of such importance that you would interrupt my holiday?”

The group of men rises and their spokesman steps forward. He has dark hair mixed with gray, and his brown eyes are clouded just enough to make one wonder how much he can really see. He leans on his cane, trying to hide trembling hands.

“Your Majesty, King Herod is bringing atrocities on our people in Gadara. And, uhhh…”

Caesar waves his hand at them as though shooing away a fly. “Wait outside,” He orders. “I will send for Herod and find out if this is true.”

The ambassadors bow and back out, still bowing low.

The ambassadors, now waiting in an anteroom, hear Herod ranting through the thick walls. They know they are doomed. Revenge is inevitable.

They look at each other knowingly. They had understood from the beginning it might come to this. They scatter. Rather than be tortured for treason until dead, they take their own lives—swords, high bridges, cliffs—anything to escape the torture.

Bitter night. Deep bitter night

  •  Nazareth, Province of Galilee, Palestine

 Mary is now four years old. She does not understand the violent world she has been born into.

“Right down the road,” Heli, Mary’s father, tells his wife upon hearing the news. “Just twenty-five milles from here our own countrymen have to resort to suicide rather than face the wrath of the very one who is supposed to be our protector. There’s no escaping Herod and his power.”

Mary crawls into her father’s lap. He acknowledges her only briefly as she snuggles in and leans her head against Heli’s chest. She has trouble getting his attention.

Mary watches her mother, Sarah, set down a bowl of raisin cakes for refreshments near Heli, then return to her seat.

As her parents resume their talk, impetuous Mary wiggles loose of her father’s hold and steps over to her mother.

Sarah takes her into her lap. Mary looks up at her mother’s sad face. In confusion, she reaches up and wipes a tear from her mother’s cheek. That is the way it had always been done when Mary had cried.

“Don’t be sad, Mother. Mary will take care of you,” she says in her soft voice.

“Oh, sweetheart, you’re too young.” Sarah manages a slight smile.

“How am I supposed to protect you and Mary?” Heli continues. He takes a raisin cake, rises, and paces. “If the leading men of the city cannot stand up against King Herod, who can? Who are we?”

He seats himself again, hangs his head, and whispers, “We are nothing.”

He raises his head and slams his fist on the table beside them. “Where is God?” He shouts. “He has got to pull our country out of this mess!”

Mary is pulled out of her reverie in her mother’s lap by her father’s sudden outburst.

God, where are you?

_____

WELL, SON, DO YOU THINK YOU’RE READY FOR THIS?

“Oh, yes. I’ve thought it through many times over the past centuries. I’m definitely ready to travel to earth.”

  •  BC 18

 Mary is now five years old and much too young to understand the turmoil that is going on outside of her little world.

“Why can’t we go to synagogue, Mother?” Mary asks.

She is seated on the floor, rolling a little ball between her feet while her mother puts some loaves of bread to the courtyard oven.

“Why can’t I visit my friends on the Sabbath?” Mary asks.

Her mother shakes her head. Her work done with the bread, Sarah turns her full attention to her very inquisitive daughter.

“Well, because King Herod will not allow us to assemble in groups any more. He’s afraid we’re planning his downfall.”

Mary stops playing with her ball and looks over at her mother. “Is he afraid of falling down?” she asks.

Taking Mary’s hand, her mother walks over to the steps that lead to their flat roof. She turns, sits on the bottom step, looks into her daughter’s eyes, and smiles.

“I’ll teach you a new song if you promise not to sing it in public.”

“But, why, Mother? Why can’t everyone sing the song?” Mary’s little brow crinkles into a frown.

Sarah forces herself to keep smiling. “Our king is afraid of the happiness in the songs. I think he’s just afraid of happiness.”

“Doesn’t he ever laugh?” Mary is confused because all the grownups around her laugh, at least part of the time.

Sarah puts her arms around Mary’s waist and puts her in her lap. “Probably not, sweetie. I heard he spies on us personally. Puts on a disguise and spies on us.”

“What’s a disguise?” Mary’s inquisitiveness never wears out.

Her mother sighs. “It’s where you put on a mask,” she replies patiently, “and don’t let people know who you really are.”

“Can we wear masks sometimes, Mother?”

“I think we already do,” she whispers, looking away from her daughter, her eyes seeing nothing much.

Now Mary’s dander is up. She jumps off her mother’s lap, puts both hands on her hips, and pronounces, “If I ever see that mean King Herod, I’m going to tell him he’s being naughty.”

“Oh, sweetheart, you’re too young to understand,” her mother responds. Then, quickly changing the subject, and putting her smile on again, she announces, “This is a song about love…”

_____

Satan is growing nervous. He has heard things are not the same in heaven. That always makes him anxious. Indeed, he has every right to be.

*

…WHAT ABOUT THE ADJUSTMENTS?  THEY’RE INFINITE.  DO YOU THINK YOU CAN HANDLE THEM?

 Like giving up streets of gold for streets sometimes littered with putrid garbage? I can handle that, Father.

  • BC 17
  • Rome, Italy

 “And so, Sovereign Ruler Caesar, it is with the greatest of regret that I bring my two oldest sons before you—Alexander and Aristobulus—for trying to overthrow the country.”

It is Herod’s day at the highest court in the world. The charges being brought by himself against his sons are, of course, normal. Everyone will understand his position. After all, kings must defend their kingdom.

He is dressed in tunic with purple stripe edging and wears a small crown in deference to the emperor. His beard, grown out to please his Jewish subjects, has been carefully trimmed and combed.

“Sir,” Alexander begins when given a chance to defend himself to Caesar, “he is listening to lies!”

His father stands aside with a smirk. He knows his sons will never convince Caesar. He and Caesar have been friends far too long.

“Why would we want to assassinate our own father?” Aristobulus continues. “Would we have more wealth or prestige than we have now? No. He is our father. We love him.”

Tears in the eyes of his sons and in the eyes of Caesar.

No tears in the eyes of King Herod. He has no feelings. Instead, he is stunned. Has Caesar now turned against him? Has his old friend sided with his incorrigible sons instead of him?

Herod’s brows furrow down toward his eyes as he looks in disbelief at his emperor. His teeth clench. He leans his head forward to hear better, hoping he has misunderstood what Caesar has just said. But his sons are smiling. He had heard right. Indeed, Caesar must be turning against him now.

Suddenly Herod thrusts his head high as though trying to make himself taller and more imposing. He clenches his fists at his side. He wants revenge against Caesar, but dares not, lest he lose his throne and perhaps even his life.

But revenge will come. How dare his sons defy their own father! Some day they will be executed. So he begins the wait. Herod is frustrated because he cannot have his very own sons executed. Not yet.

But he will continue to execute lesser men. For the sake of the country.

  •  Nazareth, Province of Galilee, Palestine

 Mary is now six years old and is being taught happiness at home, even though the kingdom she lives in is not very happy.

She has a baby sister named Salome. “Can I hold her, Mother?” Mary asks.

“Come over here and sit on this cushion close to me. Then you can hold the baby for a little while,” her mother replies.

Carefully the exchange is made. Mary runs her hands over the baby’s thin, silky hair. “I’m going to have a baby someday, aren’t I, Mother?”

“Yes, indeed, you will, little Mary. I hope you have a house full of children.”

“And I will never let anyone hurt my children. I will always protect them like you and Father protect Salome and me.”

“If it were only that easy,” her mother whispers.

“What did you say?”

Her mother sighs. “Oh, nothing. Isn’t little Salome beautiful?”

Moments later, Mary becomes wiggly and her mother gently takes the baby from her.

She stands and twirls herself around the courtyard.

“Mary, you’re going to be dizzy and fall,” her grandfather admonishes with a frown and a smile.

Mary is so happy her grandparents have moved in with them. It had become harder for Matthat to bring in fire wood and do all the other necessary things to keep his house in proper condition. His legs aren’t as strong as they used to be, and his hands tremble.

Matthat looks over at his daughter. “Why in the world did you name that little girl Mary? Bitterness just doesn’t seem to fit our happy little girl.”

Mary stops twirling, puts her hands on her waist, and glares at her grandfather in mock disapproval, the twinkle in her eyes remaining bright.

“I’m sorry, little one,” Matthat responds. I shouldn’t have been thinking out loud.”

Not sure what thinking out loud means, Mary brightens at a fresh new thought.

“Do you want to hear my song, Grandfather?”

“You composed a song? How bright you are, Mary. Yes, indeed, I want to hear your song.”

Mary stands at her grandfather’s knees, hands down by her side, eyes sparkling.

I am excited with God.

I am so thrilled with him.

 Matthat applauds appropriately while his wife, Eve, waves a handkerchief in approval with her arthritic hand.

Mary grins proudly.

“How can King Herod hate his own children?” Mary’s father interjects, spoiling her shining moment.

“Doesn’t he like his children?” Mary asks. “I’ll be their friend. Do you want me to go to Jerusalem and be their friend?”

“Oh, sweet Mary,” Grandmother Eve responds. “You could never have any influence over the most prominent family in the country. Besides, you’re too young to travel so far from home,” she adds, reaching out for Mary’s little hands.

_____

Satan does not like what he is hearing. He must make people more bitter. He wishes he could make Mary bitter. Doesn’t she realize that’s what her name means? Maybe when she is older he can make her bitter. He must work harder. Harder on Mary. Harder on the world. Before it is too late.

*

YOUR POWERS, SON.  YOU KNOW YOU’LL HAVE TO GIVE UP MOST OF YOUR POWERS MOST OF THE TIME.  CAN YOU HANDLE THAT?

 You mean like when I’m angry at sinners and tempted to call lightning down on them? It wouldn’t serve my purpose. I’ll use my powers only when necessary to prove I am from heaven, no more.

  •  BC 9
  • Jerusalem, Province of Judea, Palestine

“Here we are, gentlemen,” King Herod announces to his closest and most trusted associates. “We have a supply of torches. Everyone should have one.”

It is dark once again. It always seems dark. Tonight it is worse.

Each one in the small entourage wears a hood to camouflage their identity in case they are discovered.

They say nothing. They are dumbfounded at what is about to take place. But they must follow orders.

Their king walks among the night-time shadows through the royal cemetery to the vault. “Break the seal,” he orders, looking at one of his Levitical temple guards.

The seal broken, Herod leads the way into a large vault. His lusty grin broadens, despite the dust that grabs at his breath.

It is the tomb of King David and his son, Solomon. In the back is a door opening into a tunnel. Herod orders the soldiers to enter the tunnel first. It is musty. The air is stale and thick. Thick with death.

“The national treasury is back here. At least, that is what I have been told all my life.” Herod tells them.

A little farther back, torches held high and going strong, they see ahead another door. Passing through it they see a large room, much of it containing gold plated furniture. Everyone searches among the furnishings for hidden treasure as Herod drools unabashedly. Deeper and deeper into the room. Closer to the actual crypts of David and Solomon.

Suddenly a flash.

“Ahhhhhhh!”

Lit torches. Gasses ignited. A hideous scream.

“Ahhhhhhh!”

Clothes on fire. Put it out! Stop the fire! Save him!

A second man throws himself on the first.

“Ahhhhhhh!”

Both on fire. Both in flames. Running. Screaming. Tortured beyond endurance.

“Ahhhhhhh!”

Then it stops.

The others back up in horror. Away from Herod. King or not, they will pursue no farther. What price for money?

Herod looks at the remains of the two men and watches as the others leave him behind.

“Stop, deserters! Traitors! I’ll have you flogged for this!” Better yet, they need to be executed. To keep his secret. The secret of a madman.

  •  Nazareth, Province of Galilee

 Mary is now fourteen years old. She understands now how bad things are out there.

“Greetings Mother! Greetings, Grandmother! What’s for dinner?”

Her heart-shaped face is now graced with high cheekbones and fuller lips, but with the same fiery eyes of her earlier childhood. She flings her shawl toward a corner, and it flies uncooperatively only a few paces away.

“Uh, Mary, wash your hands and help your grandmother finish cutting the bread,” Sarah says without looking up. She is almost through dishing up the lamb stew from a large pot by the oven into smaller bowls.

“Despite how much your grandmother’s hands hurt,” Mary’s mother continues, “she insists on helping anyway. I declare, Mary. You are getting more like your grandmother all the time. Always doing things your own way.”

The eyes of Mary and the elderly Eve meet in mutual satisfaction.

“How was your babysitting this afternoon?” Grandmother Eve asks.

“Oh, fine. I can’t wait to have children of my own. They are so much fun.”

“And work, don’t forget,” her mother adds.

“What about the Herod’s soldiers and Roman legionnaires? Did any of them bother you?” Heli asks walking out to the courtyard to greet his eldest daughter.

“Nope,” Mary replies. She places her hands on her hips and stares momentarily at her father. “No one pays attention to someone like me.”

_____

Satan grows nervous over Mary. He has figured out Mary will have something to do with his overthrow.

*

HOW ABOUT GIVING UP YOUR SPIRIT BODY?  YOU’RE GOING TO BE TRAPPED IN A HUMAN BODY THAT CAN TOUCH AND SEE AND HEAR ONLY A FEW FEET IN ANY DIRECTION.  CAN YOU HANDLE THAT, SON?

 Yes, Father. I can handle it.

  • BC 8
  • Jerusalem, Province of Judea

Spies everywhere. King Herod claims it is for the good of the country. He’s out of control. Therein lies his ultimate control. There is no stopping him.

People are tortured. Tortured to confess what they did not say, plot, see or do.

“It’s my sons. They’re trying to take over again.” Herod paces in his throne room.

He stops, glares at one of his aides, then resumes his pacing. His hair is disheveled, his beard unkempt, and his eyes bloodshot. He has not slept all night again.

“I knew not to trust them. My own flesh and blood.”

His robe flies behind him as though the faster he walks, the faster his problems will go away. And his sons.

“We’ve got to find eyewitnesses,” he declares to one of his puppet advisers.

He whirls around and charges toward the door. “Take their friends into custody,” he shouts at one of the Levitical temple guards on duty. “Make them tell you what Alexander and Aristobulus are up to. They must be stopped.”

He turns back to his adviser, as though having to prove his decision is the right one. “For the sake of the country, they must be stopped!”

  • Jericho, Province of Judea

 Things are no different in his summer palace.

“Even here people are against me.” Herod declares, brooding upon his throne.

“Everyone’s plotting to take away my crown, even though they know in their hearts I love my people and want only what is best for them.”

His sister, Salome, is seated on a lesser throne next to him. No one else is in the room. She has just passed on more bad news.

“How many of the women in my family are in on this?” Herod asks.

“A hand full. Small, but dangerous,” Salome explains while running her fingers around the golden chalice holding her wine.

“But they all hate each other”

“Only in public, dear brother. In private, they have their meetings and make plans for the next step to dethrone you.”

Herod laughs. “Others have tried it and failed. These women are nothing.”

Salome gets up from her throne, bored with playing royalty for now, and faces her brother. “They’ve found allies among some of your officers.”

Herod’s smile disintegrates.

More executions. The women. The officers. Eliminated. No more threat. For the sake of the country.

King Herod grows more irrational. Irrational with power and control. He does not know true power nor true control. The time is close. Time for the true Power to arrive.

  •  BC 7-5
  • Nazareth, Province of Galilee

 “How could he do it, Father? How could the king have his own sons executed? Will he stop at nothing?”

Mary is now sixteen years old. Sweet sixteen, and engaged to a young man named Joseph. Sometimes she thinks about whether she should bring children into such a world as this.

Mary will receive her answer soon, in a few moments. She is not aware. Nor is the world. Satan is. Is it too late to make Mary bitter?

“He’s a monster, Father. How could he just sit there and watch them snuff the life out of his very own sons?” Mary stands with her hands on her hips. “I could never allow anyone to execute my son.”

Heli has just arisen from his afternoon nap. His hair is mussed and his eyes are only half open.

“Father, did you hear me?”

Eve brings her son-in-law a mug of juice. He takes a swig, and looks over at his daughter.

“King Herod has become a slave to power,” Heli finally says. “I’m just glad my father didn’t live long enough to see all this.”

“To think,” Mary continues. “That while we were having lunch yesterday, just a hundred milles away he was sitting there watching them execute his sons.”

Heli looks down and shakes his head.

“Was he this bad before I was born?”

He looks up at his innocent daughter and nods.

“He’s sick, Father. How can God let this go on?”

Mary plops down on a cushion near her elder. She speaks softer now. “Maybe people are right. Maybe there is no hope.”

Heli puts his strong hand on her shoulder and forces a smile. “Never give up hope, sweet Mary.”

Mary’s father stands and announces, “Who wants to walk to the city square and back to get some fresh air?”

Heli’s skin is more leathered now from his years working in the sun as a stone mason.

“Son,” now-widowed Eve responds, walking over to him. “You just want me to exercise more. I’ve known you since you married my daughter. Well, if you walk slowly, I guess I can go along.”

The summer days are long and the heat extends into the evening. Everyone decides to go but Mary.

“I want to go over my wedding plans some more. Is it okay if I don’t go along?”

“It’s okay as long as you keep the gate barred,” her father replies.

“No problem. I’ll be fine.”

The family leaves and Mary is alone.

_____

BUT, SON, HAVE YOU THOUGHT OF THE CROSS YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO ENDURE FOR THEM?  CAN YOU KEEP YOURSELF FROM CALLING ON YOUR POWERS TO DELIVER YOURSELF FROM THE TORTURE?  CAN YOU HANDLE IT, SON?

 Father, we love those people. Only when they see I am really dead can you step in with the powers of life to resurrect me and show them you’ll do the same for them.

_____

Mary gets out her swatches of bridal fabrics and goes up to the roof where there is a slight breeze.

She takes along a clay tablet on which she has written a list of things that must be done before the big day. A few of the items have been scratched out, but not near enough. Everything must be planned precisely. Her wedding will be the perfect wedding. People around town will be talking about it for months.

She reads over her list, then moves her attention to the colors of fabric she’s considering wearing on her wedding day. Her wedding with Joseph. How she loves him. How lucky she had been that her parents accepted her request to marry him and that his guardian, Simeon, had agreed to Joseph’s request to marry her.

Suddenly she hears a man’s voice behind her.

“Congratulations!”

Mary jumps up and turns around. How did that man get in the house? Trembling, she backs away from him.

“Don’t hurt me,” she blurts out.

“Hurt you? Never in a thousand years.”

The man stands where he is a moment, then wanders over to a bench, sitting with his hands loosely in his lap.

“Who are you? How did you get in here?” Tears of fear escape from her eyes.

“I just came to congratulate you, Mary.”

Summoning up a little more courage, she puts her hands on her hips and demands, “How did you know my name?”

“Oh, I know all about you. Please forgive me for not introducing myself. My name is Gabriel. Actually, I’m an angel.”

Mary snickers deep in her throat and her eyes flash in disbelief. She inches over far enough to put her hand on a club used to clean rugs.

“You’re not kidding me. Who are you? Just leave before I scream.” Her eyes flash, but she knows she does not sound convincing.

“Please listen to me just a moment. Then I promise to leave. See, I’m not getting any closer to you. Just stand there by the wall. If I try to come any closer, you may scream all you want. Then all the people down on the street can come rescue you from me. Fair enough?”

Mary isn’t answering. But she’s not moving either.

“I just wanted to give you my congratulations.”

“How did you know I was getting married?”

“Oh, not about that,” the angel responds.

“Well, that’s the only important thing I’m doing these days.”

“Mary…” He grows more serious. “Mary, you are a very favored lady, for the Lord is with you.”

“I know God is with me at all times. He’ll protect me from you unless you really are an angel.” She tries to imitate the way her father sounded once when a thief disguised as a peddler tried to break into their house.

Gabriel resumes. “But God has decided to wonderfully bless you, Mary, in a special way.”

Silence. What is he talking about?

He continues.

“Very soon now, you will become pregnant and have a baby boy.”

“Well, very soon now I will be married. So, yes, you’re right. I’ll probably become pregnant right away. But a boy? How can you know that?” she responds, momentarily forgetting she could be in danger.

Gabriel reassures her. “Remember, Mary, I’m an angel. God has told me everything. Furthermore, you are to call your baby Jesus.”

“Jesus? But my husband will be Joseph. I plan to name my first son Joseph.”

Gabriel continues as though she has not responded. “He shall be very great and shall be called the Son of God.”

The words grab hold of her heart and will not let go. Son of God…of God…of God…

Mary’s mouth opens, but in speechlessness. She does not understand.

Oh, Mary. Listen to what he says. Really and truly listen.

The angel continues. “He shall govern this nation forever; his kingship shall never end!”

His words echo through her mind and are trapped there in a confused abyss. She sits on a bench by the wall, her trembling hands grasping its edges.

“The child will not belong to Joseph. You will become pregnant miraculously before you are married. Remember the prophet Isaiah saying a virgin will bear the Son of God?”

Indeed, Mary does remember. Her father had been talking about it just the day before.

Gabriel continues. “And when I said his nation would never end, I was quoting from the prophet Daniel. Daniel even predicted exactly when he would be born. His birth year, Mary, is next year. Do you have a scripture scroll? I will show you.”

Mary, he’s offering you proof now. He’s helping you believe.

Her confidence has grown enough that Mary replies there is a set of scrolls in the first room downstairs on a shelf where her father always keeps it. Then she remembers the knives for skinning meat which he also stores nearby, and interrupts herself. “Uh, there’s a closer set at the bottom of the stairs in those tall jars with lids.”

Gabriel smiles in understanding, goes to the bottom of the stairs and randomly—though not randomly—chooses one of the jars. He takes the tattered scroll out of it. He turns the scroll as he walks back up the stairs. He sits back down. She is surprised at how fast he has done all this.

“Here it is. ‘Pay attention! It will be 49 years—that’s seven weeks’ times seven days in a week—plus 434 years from the time the command is given to rebuild Jerusalem until the crowned One comes!’”

“That’s a total of 483 years,” he explains. “Mary, it has been 452 years since our capital city was rebuilt. The descendant of David is due to be born next year and become priest-king when all priests are eligible—at age 30. That will be the 483rd year.”

Grasp what he’s telling you, Mary. Can you do it?

Mary tries with all her heart to believe him.

He has proven himself with scripture, with the Word of God. The final proof is yet to be given.

“But I’m a virgin. How can I have the baby? How can I conceive?”

Okay, Mary. Can you handle it? Can you comprehend what he’s about to tell you? Try, Mary. Really try. Don’t let the moment slip by, Mary. It’s. dynamic. It’s spiritual.

Gabriel remains seated and smiling. He stands now, and walks slowly toward Mary, then kneels in front of her so he can look into her eyes. Full of excitement, he whispers as though telling a special secret.

“The Holy Spirit shall come upon you!”

“The Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit helped David write his psalms.” Then, thoughtfully, she adds, “He does other things too?”

Gabriel’s exhilaration swells. His words trip over each other in excitement.

“Mary, the power of God will overshadow you.”

Come on, Mary. You’re almost there. Don’t stop now.

“Therefore,” Gabriel continues, “the baby born to you will be thoroughly celestial.”

“Celestial?” she manages to say.

What is happening?

Hang on to your seat, now, Mary. Here comes the rest of it. You didn’t get it when he told you before. Grasp it now.

“Your baby will…your baby, Mary, will be the Son of God!”

That’s it. That’s the final thing you’ve got to believe. Do you believe it, Mary? Can you? Try hard, Mary.

Divine truth descends to her mind. Dazzles her soul. Ignites her spirit. “I want to believe you. Somehow I do believe.”

Day dawns in the mind, soul and spirit of Mary. And of Mankind.

Gabriel looks into her eyes a little longer then stands. Slowly now he backs away.

“By the way,” Gabriel adds, “six months ago, your elderly cousin Elizabeth—‘the infertile one,’ they called her—became pregnant! God’s promise to you will come true also.”

He continues to back away. Slowly… Slowly…

Mary wants to believe him. In her heart of hearts somehow she does believe. If she could just talk to Elizabeth herself.

“I am the Lord’s servant,” she states taking a deep breath, “and always have been.” Mary knows now that the angel is really an angel, and that she actually believes him.

Now for the final commitment. Mary, can you do it?

“I am willing to do whatever God wants.” Mary stands to walk toward the angel. “Somehow I believe. Everything you said. It will come true. Finally it will come true.”

His work done, Gabriel backs through the bench…through the rooftop wall…suspended now over the street below…fading…fading…gone.

Mary steps to the bench where the stranger had sat and feels it. It is solid as ever. He indeed was an angel. Then she turns and sits on the bench where he had sat only moments earlier.

She picks up the family’s old scripture scroll turned to the passage in Daniel. She reads it and re-reads it, then she prays silently. She reads through the passages in Isaiah.

She prays again. “Me, Lord? Me?”

“Mary, it’s nearly dark! You’re going to ruin your eyes reading like that. You’re too young to lose your eyesight. Light a candle.” Her mother is standing at the top of the stairs.

Quietly Mary follows her down and to the courtyard.

“Everyone, I love you all.”

“You’re a good girl, Mary, but you look a little worn out.”

“I’m going to bed early.”

“Be sure and say your prayers.”

“Oh yes, Father. I will.”

 _____

WELL, SON, I GUESS THIS IS IT.  YOU ARE ABOUT TO BE REDUCED TO A MINISCULE FERTILIZED EGG, HIDDEN DEEP IN MARY’S LITTLE WOMB.  BUT, SON, I WON’T FORGET YOU EVEN THERE. MARY IS ABOUT READY FOR YOU.

Heavenly Father and heavenly Son embrace. The angels stand around watching, some brushing away tears. But Gabriel smiles.

Good-bye, Father….

 *

 Yes. It is night. But Satan has been silenced. Now it is indeed silent night. Indeed, holy night. The dawn comes. And with it all that is calm and all that is bright.

Wednesday 12/11 ~ God be with our teenagers

(Oops.  We did today’s yesterday.  So, today we will do yesterday’s.)

00-Stephen-Cover-Kindle-ThumbnailThe scripture for today, December 10 (12/10), is Job 12:10 as found in the Old Testament of the Bible:

“Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?”

Let’s talk a moment about teenagers. Many adults joke that their teen is 16 going on 60. What know-it-alls they’ve become! Let’s look at the situation this way. They may have bodies that have grown to that of an adult. But minds grow much slower, and they must give their minds a chance to catch up.

As adults, it is our responsibility to help their minds catch up. Know enough about the Bible that you can apply scriptures to their activities and interests and friends. You may wish to make a list of your teenager’s activities, interests, and friends, and then list a scripture next to each. Proverbs is an excellent book to start with. Then when the occasion arises, be ready (even if you have to sneak into the other room a minute to consult your list) to instill some wisdom.

This way, it is not you speaking, but God speaking. God said, “My word will not return to me void” (Isaiah 55:11). And God is older and wiser than all of us.

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00-Stephen-Cover-Kindle-ThumbnailSTEPHEN: UNLIKELY MARTYR begins with Stephen as a wreckless 17-year-old coward. He is idealistic but always goes about proving his point in the wrong way ~ speaking when he should not, trying when he should give up, frustrated, brazen.  Go along with Stephen as he gradually matures until, at the age of 28 with a wife and two children, he walks into the death chamber (Sanhedrin council chambers) and keeps them busy with his accusations until his friend can escape.  To BUY NOW, click a book cover or PASTE THIS………https://amzn.to/2t3I53z

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#teenagers, #youngadults, #Stephen, #immaturity, #maturity, #wisdom, #martyr, #knowledge, #wisdom, #patience, #parents, #mothers, #moms, #fathers, #dads,  #blog, #katherynmaddoxhaddad, #inspiration, #devotional, #worship, #vespers, #meditation,. #godliness, #Christianity, #JesusChrist, #church, #Bible, #Scripture, #HolyBook, #religion, #love, #truth, #faith

They Rocked the Cradle that Rocked the World ~ forward

Front Cover-LgThumbnail
ONE LONE STAR
  • One lone star, enlarged with love,
  • Led the unknown way
  • To the Son who’d brought with Him
  • Hope’s redeeming ray.
  • Compel YOUR eyes to venture high
  • Above what seems so far.
  • Soar with Mercy’s omnipotence and
  • Dare to be that star.
  • Katheryn Maddox Haddad

 TABLE OF CONTENTS

INSERT YOURSELF INTO THE STORY

Although the events take place shortly before and during the first century AD, this story is written to help you in our modern world identify with the characters who lived then. While true to the life of Christ in every known aspect, conversations often take a modern flavor as though the characters were speaking today. After all, did they not speak what was “modern vocabulary” in their day, even in the Aramaic language?

You will see places in the story where you are invited to participate either as an encourager or discourager of a character, as though you were there with them. This is your chance to become their friend. You will easily spot those places in the story. Instead of wondering who is talking, remember, it is you.

A NAY-SAYER ATTACKS THIS BOOK

The plot is all wrong. Who’d ever believe it?

Mary and Joseph? Nobodies. They think they have their lives together all figured out. They don’t. An interfering force is about to disrupt everything.

A wedding that will be the talk of the town? Definitely. They will have that all right. But not in the way they intend. Their wedding will be the gossip of the town. Albeit, holy gossip. Whatever that is.   

Instead of guests coming in from everywhere for the happy occasion, hardly anyone will attend. Instead of delight, there will be embarrassment. Talk of the town? Yes. But Mary and Joseph will wish everyone would just leave them alone in peace.

A moderate home in a moderate part of town? Not any time soon. They will be forced to go to their ancestral home at the other end of the country for a pointless census.

Then the military will go after them. They’ll have to escape to another country. It will be a long time before they can have that moderate home in that moderate part of town. What bitterness lies ahead for them.

How could Joseph go through with it in the first place? He’s stupid. Just plain stupid. Who would marry a woman who is already pregnant by someone else? That story she concocted about being impregnated by God. Where did she hatch that up? She needs a good head shrink. So does Joseph. What a weird pair. Maybe they deserve each other.

And that son of theirs. This is where the plot really gets bizarre and makes no sense. Their son is actually supposed to be God.

Now, let’s suppose for argument’s sake he really is God. It’s all wrong. Does he make his entrance as a grown man? No. He’s actually born. He makes his grand entrance as a mere baby. He takes all that unnecessary time to grow up.

Once he’s grown, is he a giant? Nope. He’s the same size as any other man. Shorter than some.

What about a ring of stars around his head to signify his divine station? Well, if not that, at least a halo. Where’s his halo? He has none. He claims it would detract from his divine mission. So, how is anyone supposed to know he’s God if he looks like everyone else?

He could at least fling lightning bolts at his mortal enemies. No way. Not this peculiar specimen of God. He flings words instead. What good is that?

All right, then. How about riding on the wings of a giant eagle as he goes around spreading those words? No way. Not that man—er uh God. He gets around like the mortals do. He walks or uses the same kind of transportation everyone else does.

Well, food. Ah yes, food. He could eat stones and wash them down with water wrung out from a couple of clouds. But no. He eats the same kinds of food everyone else does.

So here he is. He dresses like everyone else. He faces his enemy like everyone else. He gets around like everyone else. He eats like everyone else. No way is anyone going to believe he’s God

 He’s going to do everything wrong. It’s hard enough to believe in a divine eternal being. How is one supposed to believe in someone who looks and acts the same as them?

Poor Mary and Joseph. Especially Mary. What’s about to enter her life is at once myth and mystical and a great big hoax. And even though some people will eventually call her a goddess of some sort, some will call her son a devil.

But others will believe. They will actually believe this whole thing. They will stake their very lives on it!