Monday, December 31, 2012

The Dream

"Joe?...Joe, wake up!" Mary nudged him gently. "You're dreaming. You were muttering. Did you have a nightmare?"

Joe sat up in bed, looking around puzzled. "Where is he? He was standing right here."

"Who was here? It's the middle of the night. You were dreaming. Go back to sleep," his wife soothed.

"No.... No.... A man was here, standing right here beside the bed. What was it he said?.... The child!" Joe's voice grew agitated. "Mary, go and check the child!"

"He's fine," she protested. "I tucked him in myself just before I came to bed. You've had a bad dream. Now go back to sleep. You need your rest."

"No, the child's in some kind of danger.... That's it! The man said it isn't safe for us to stay here. He said we should leave immediately." Joe threw back the covers. "Get up, Mary! We must hurry!"

"Joe, it was just a dream. Go back to sleep."

"No, Mary, I can't," he explained impatiently. "Maybe it wasn't a man I saw. Maybe,...yes, it must have angel. And the child's in danger. We must leave now!" He groped for his sandals.

"I'll tell you what. If you still feel this way in the morning, we'll go," Mary offered. "Besides, the night air is chilly. He could catch a cold."

Joe turned to her. "Mary, how can you question after all the things that have happened since the baby came? Why, even the night he was born was so very strange."

"I know," she said softly. "I can still see how the faces of those shepherds lit up with joy when they saw my baby."

"They said angels appeared to them in the sky," Joe said, as though to reassure himself. "Mary, I just know it was an angel I saw."

"Even the cattle and sheep were unusually quiet that night," she mused, ignoring him. "It was as though they knew he was special."

"But Mary...," Joe interrupted.

She didn't seem to hear him. "Just last week those three men from the East came, calling him a king, bringing those expensive gifts--gold, frankincense, and myrrh. What unusual gifts for a baby!"

Joe grabbed her shoulders and shook her. "Mary, I tell you, we must leave now!"

"Well,...I suppose...if you feel that strongly about it, maybe we should go."

Reluctantly, Mary threw back the warm covers. The fire had gone out, and it was quite chilly. Shivering, she dressed quickly. Joe lit the lamps, and the flames flickered eerily as she gathered up their meager belongings and packed the leftovers of last night's supper--the dried fish and small barley loaves. She would wait until they were all ready to leave before wrapping the baby in extra blankets for the trip. He didn't even awaken as Joe gently laid him in Mary's arms.

The clop, clop of the donkey's plodding steps on the cobblestones echoed in the stillness of the sleeping town as they made their way out the gate. Only the watchman noted the departure.

*          *          *
It's been six months today since we left Bethlehem to come to Egypt, Mary mused, as she made her way to the well to draw water. The child toddled beside her, clutching her robe. She often puzzled over their strange departure.

Spotting a stranger near the well, she thought excitedly, he looks Jewish. What's that he's saying?

"...yes, all the boy babies two years of age and under were the decree of Bethlehem of Judea...six months ago..."

Mary heard no more. Though the morning was already hot, a chill passed over her as she recalled her friends whose children must have been slaughtered--Lydia's little Jonas, Joanna's little Samuel, and.... Her thoughts trailed off as the horror swept over her.

She felt a tug at her hem. "Mama, what's wrong?" 

They were after my son, she suddenly realized as she looked into his sweet, upturned face. Oh, God, what if Joe hadn't insisted. She shuddered at the weight of the responsibility God had placed on her and Joseph--the awesome task of the care of God's Son, the Messiah. 

*          *          *

We love the story of the Baby born in Bethlehem. We get caught up in the joyfulness of His coming. Yet, we often overlook the death of the innocent babies in Bethlehem that is part of the Christmas story (Matthew 2: 13-18). This year, the senseless death of so many innocent children in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, has highlighted the heartaches of so many at this time of year. What do we say to those who are suffering such anguish?

Christmas is more than the birth of a special baby. It is more than a benevolent Santa delivering gifts to good little boys and girls. It is more than tinsel and the ringing of bells. At Christmas we celebrate the time when God sent His only uniquely begotten Son into this sinful world to be Emanuel, God with Us. Jesus experienced homelessness, hunger, ridicule, all the temptations, the hurts, the disappointments we do, yet without sin. He alone could take all the sins of the world on His sinless shoulders and bear them to the Cross to break the chains of darkness that bind us in sin and its curse.

That is the joyful message of Christmas that can heal the broken hearts. Jesus, Emanuel, walks with us through all our trials, storms, and heartaches. We are not alone. Jesus is God with us. And we look forward to the day when there will be no more Curse, no more suffering, no more sorrow, no more death, no more separation in God's eternal Kingdom. That is what gives us hope in the New Year.

How do you respond to Jesus, Emanuel, God with us?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Christmas I Learned About Prayer

It was December 1950 or 1951 in Juneau, Alaska, and I was 5 or 6 years old. We kids spent hours pouring over the Sears and Roebuck Christmas catalog, studying page after page of toys and dolls. As I turned a page, my eyes fell upon the most beautiful doll I'd ever seen--a bride doll dressed in lace and tulle, a veil over long, blond curls that could be combed and styled.

I ran to show my mother. "This is what I want for Christmas!"

With sadness tingeing her voice, she said, "Oh, honey, you'll have to pray and ask Jesus for that doll. We don't have enough money to buy presents this year."

My parents operated a children's home by faith. As many as thirteen children--nine of them under five and two babies in cribs--lived in a big house on the beach just outside of town--orphans, neglected or abandoned children, and others with only one parent and no one to care for them when the parent worked. Some parents were able to pay a little; those children placed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs or welfare were subsidized. My dad worked full time to support the home while my mother cared for all the children, did the cooking, the laundry, and the cleaning, usually without other adult help. Both of them provided us with a lot of love and Christian training.

Every night until December 24, whenever I knelt to say my bedtime prayers, I asked Jesus to give me that beautiful bride doll for Christmas. My request wasn't very significant to anyone but me. You might even say it was selfish. It certainly would not change the course of history if I didn't receive that doll. But that Christmas morning when, wide-eyed with expectation, we children tripped down the stairs and peeked into the large living room, we discovered gaily wrapped presents under the tree for each child. When I unwrapped my gift, the beautiful doll I'd prayed for lay inside.

Years later, my mother told me the rest of the story. That Christmas Eve, the only department store in Juneau called my parents to come down to the store and pick out gifts for all the children in their children's home. Among the remaining toys she found a bride doll for me.

That Christmas, this young girl learned that the God who created the Universe cares about every detail of her life, including what she wanted for Christmas. And to this day, that sense of His love has never left me.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Five More Truths I Learned from Fiction

Fiction mirrors life.
Good fiction must ring true.
Fiction explores great truths.
There's nothing new under the sun. All novels are variations on a certain number of themes. (And they are all found in the Bible.) Only the characters and details differ.
Through fiction, I've felt the pain of a broken marriage, the results of unforgiveness, the guilt of angry words that once spoken can never be recalled.
In a previous blog, I explored seven truths I have learned from reading fiction. Here are five more:

1. To achieve happiness, I must become vulnerable. In reading fiction, especially romance novels, I've observed the negative results of always trying to protect oneself from emotional hurts. In order to love and be loved, I must be willing to be rejected, which is painful. It's worth the risk.

2.  Never allow bitterness to take root in my heart. Miss Havisham, the wealthy but eccentric spinster in Dickens' Great Expectations, is a prime example of the destructiveness of bitterness to herself and everyone she came in contact with. Bitterness destroys.

3. Expect the unexpected. Life is like a novel, often even stranger. Anything can happen. It's not over until it's over.

4. Only God is completely good, and we often don't understand His ways. This is where faith comes in. This is something I have explored through the pages of  both fiction and biographies and come to accept.

5. Evil can only be overcome through forgiveness. In the pages of fiction I've seen how unforgiveness only hurts the one who refuses to forgive and blocks the heart from giving and receiving love.

What truths have you learned through fiction?