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?

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