Wineskins Archive

November 21, 2013

Treasures Of The Heart (Jan 2012)

Filed under: — @ 11:32 am and

By Gary Holloway

But there was no room at the inn. So the child was born in a stable, probably one hewn from the rocks. Born in a cave. Laid in a manger. Ox and donkey were his midwives. Calves and colts his nursery mates. This was the Son of God? The King of the Jews? Indeed. God had surprised mankind as a child. Born to a common couple. Born in a stable. Born to rule the world. Born to surprise.

Every family has its stories of the funny things children say and do. They make for great entertainment and are also good for embarrassing the child once he becomes a teenager. Our nephew, Adam, is now in college, but when he was three, he was just at the age where he did at least one cute thing a day. He enjoyed making up his own words. "Pinkawink," he'd say, or "tant-tant." Then he'd cut his eyes toward whoever was listening and grin. He knew these were not real words, but they were especially his.

Like most children (and adults), he was most funny when he wasn’t trying to be. When he really wanted you to do something, and you didn’t want to do it, he’d say, “No, honey, do this.” Somewhere he’d learned that “honey” takes the sting out of “no”. He was even funny when he’d been bad. Once he couldn’t find the toy he was looking for in his bedroom, so he said, “Darn, darn.” My wife overheard him and asked, “Adam, did you say a bad word?” A shocked look came over his face and he answered sheepishly and with tears, “Aunt Deb, I think I did say a bad word.”

All families have such stories. All children say and do the most surprising things. What sometimes surprises parents the most is what others say about their little darlings. “I just couldn’t keep Sandy from talking today in Sunday School,” the teacher says. That’s quite a shock since she won’t speak five words at home. “Mark was a perfect gentleman when he stayed with us overnight.” So says the neighbor; but you wonder, “Our Mark?”

We laugh at our children. We wonder at what others say about them. Most of all, we try to imagine what life has in store for them. Will they find their place in the world? Will they be happy? Can we spare them from much the sorrow that life throws at us all? Along with our treasured memories of their childhood, these are the questions that haunt us most.

Mary had strange stories to tell about her son, Jesus. Stories of what he did. Stories of what others said about him. In faith, she had faced the great surprise from Gabriel, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and you will bear a son.” Yet that was just the first of many surprises. There was more to come. More than she could imagine. More than she could understand. Below are four stories Mary could have told. Stories of this strange son who surprised and baffled her. Treasured memories.

The Unexpected Baby.

How can this be …? No one expected this baby.

Certainly not Mary. She was an ordinary young woman expecting an ordinary life. She would marry Joseph the carpenter, have his children, and live quietly in her hometown of Nazareth.

Or so she thought. Until the day an angel appeared to her, and no ordinary angel but Gabriel himself. "Greetings, The Lord is very pleased with you," he said.

Mary was floored, startled by the angel and his strange greeting. But she hadn't heard nothing yet.

“You’re going to have a baby and you’ll name him Jesus.”

Although a young, uneducated girl, she knew where babies came from. She knew she could not be pregnant, since she was a virgin. Yet somehow a child was growing inside her

In shock, she still replied in faith, “So be it.”

Who expected this baby? Certainly not Joseph. What a shock to learn that his young fiancée was pregnant! They had not slept together. He trusted her completely. He knew her heart, her purity, her honesty. So when she told him she was carrying a child, he didn't know what to think. “Who is the father?” he asked. She answered, “No one, at least no man.”

And somehow he believed her.

And yet he didn’t. Surely no one else would. He could not stand to see her punished for what she obviously had done, yet he could not marry her. A quiet divorce was the only way out.

Joseph certainly did not expect the explanation he ultimately received. An angel appeared to Joseph, frightening him with his presence and bewildering him with his words. “This child is of the Holy Spirit.” “Do not be afraid.”

No one expected the baby to be born here.

Not in Bethlehem. The child was supposed to be born in Nazareth, where Mary could be at home with her mother. But the Romans had ordered a census, so off to Bethlehem they must go. Bethlehem, the town of their ancestors, though they had never been there and did not know a soul.

“Where will we stay?” Mary asked. “We have no family there.”

“Surely you’ve heard of inns, woman.” Joseph testily replied, tired from the long journey and the constant worry over Mary and the coming child.

But there was no room at the inn. So the child was born in a stable, probably one hewn from the rocks. Born in a cave. Laid in a manger. Ox and donkey were his midwives. Calves and colts his nursery mates.

This was the Son of God? The King of the Jews? Indeed. God had surprised mankind as a child. Born to a common couple. Born in a stable. Born to rule the world.

Born to surprise.

Just Another Night

“and they were terrified.”

Avram was a shepherd. His father was a shepherd as was his father before him.

Avram was bored, and if there’s one thing shepherds know, its boredom. This night promised to be like so many nights before it. Nothing ever happened and there was nothing to do. Even his fellow shepherds could not relieve Avram's boredom, for he knew them too well. Night after night they had the same conversations about politics and women and the same arguments over who was the strongest and who was the brightest.

Bored. Utterly bored.

Suddenly, he was bored no longer. For a bright light, brighter than mid-day shone around them, and a glorious being descended, a messenger from God. Avram's boredom turned to terror.

But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid; I bring good news. The Messiah is born in Bethlehem. Here’s how you’ll recognize him: he’s a baby, lying in loose cloths in a manger.”

Then with a tremendous roar it seemed the stars themselves began to sing. An army of angels descended, singing praises to God.

It was over as suddenly as it had begun. “Did you see that?” the shepherds asked each other, for none was sure if it was real, or a vision, or if he had simply lost his wits. But all had seen it. Angels had appeared not to rabbis or kings or men of wealth, but to common working men.

“We’ve got to go see this baby,” said Avram, and all agreed. So they left their flocks (“After all”, one said, “if God can send an army of angels, he can surely watch our sheep”) and came to Bethlehem and found the child, lying in the manger and praised God for him.

Why did God send angels to shepherds? Informing wise men, yes, that we can understand, but common shepherds? Among the Jews shepherds were generally regarded as ignorant and dishonest outlaws. Why them?

Because they were precisely the people this child came to save. Not the rich and powerful. Not kings and princes. Not the well, but the sick. Common people. Plain folks. And when these plain shepherds heard the news, they knew how to respond. They hurry, they see, they praise.

Isaiah begins his prophet book with a lament over Israel’s unbelief: The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people don’t understand.~Isaiah 1:3

Israel did not recognize her Lord. Much of the world does not recognize him today. But one dark night shepherds heard the voices of angels, and came and saw their Owner, their Lord, lying in his manger. And there they worshiped.

Mary was surprised by these shepherds. She didn't quite understand, but “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). We may not fully understand them either. We live far away from these shepherds, far away in time, in space, and in culture. But though we live in a different world, one they could hardly imagine, we still seek the same child they seek. And in some ways, we meet Him in the same way. For the good news comes to us in the midst of our boring tasks, when we least expect it. Sometimes it hits us with such force that, like them, we quake in terror: the Savior of the world is born.

The question is: do we have the same simple trusting faith they had? The faith to leave behind our jobs, our hopes, our dreams, all the “flocks” that bind us and to go to kneel before that Child? For the angel call is to us, as well as to them, good news of great joy to all people.

Great Expectations.

“And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.” ~ Luke 2:33

The old guy looked pretty scary. Mary and Joseph weren’t sure they wanted him to hold their new baby. Even if this was the temple, this old man Simeon looked pretty strange. They were cautious about entrusting their child to him.

After all, they had big plans for this new son of theirs named Jesus. For months, Joseph had anticipated fatherhood. No doubt the boy would be a big help to him in his business. Joseph and Son, Carpenters. It had a nice ring to it. After the strangeness of the child’s conception and the wild trip to Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph were looking forward to returning home to Nazareth. All they needed to do was make this quick trip to Jerusalem for the purification sacrifice. Then back to home and a normal life.

But now in the temple, this old guy Simeon wanted to hold the child. “Go ahead,” Joseph told Mary, “let him hold the baby so we can get out of here and head for home.”

So Simeon took the child in his arms and broke out in song:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people; a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”~ Luke 2:29-32

“What did you say?” cried Joseph.

:I said you are blessed because this child will save Israel, yes and even the world.” replied Simeon.

They were shocked by these words. But that wasn’t the end of their strange day in the temple. As they turned to leave an old woman accosted them. “This is the child,” she said in a loud voice, “This is the child I have waited on all my life, the one who will redeem Israel.” Her loud cries drew a crowd around Mary and Joseph. They were embarrassed and confused by all this attention. Anyone who passed by would be grabbed by the old woman Anna, “Look, look,” she said, pointing to the baby, “he is the one!”

Finally they made their escape from the temple. They left convinced the old guy and the aged woman were indeed strange, and they returned to Nazareth and their old, normal life. But twelve years later, there was another surprise.

In My Father’s Things.

“They did not understand the meaning of what he said.”~ Luke 2:50

Mary just didn’t understand the boy.

You would think he’d show more responsibility. Sure, he was only twelve, but there was no excuse for him getting lost like this. Joseph blamed her and himself. “Why didn’t you watch him?” he asked her (and himself). “Where did you last see him?”

“In the city,” she replied.

“Perhaps he’s with our relatives,” they thought. So they went up and down the caravan, calling “Jesus,” “Jesus.” But there was no answer.

“Lost your boy, hey Joseph? Mighty irresponsible of you,” they teased.

Mary didn’t laugh.

“We have to go back for him.”

And so they did. Re-crossing the miles on foot, each step bringing imagined terrors. “Did the robbers get him?” “Was he kidnapped?” “Is he starving?” “Will some kind soul take him in?”

Finally they were back to the city gates. Jerusalem was such a big place. Where to look?

“Have you seen a little boy? Dark hair, about this tall, with a blue ribbon around the hem of his robe? No? Well, thanks anyway.”

Desperate. Frantic. Sick with fear, hunger, and fatigue, they finally try the Temple.

And there he was, pretty as you please. Bothering the rabbis. But they really don’t look bothered.

“Son, where have you been? Don’;t you know your dad and I were worried sick?”

“But mom, you knew I’d be in my Father’s workshop.”

That made no sense to them. But the boy was found. He came home and was as helpful and respectful as he had always been. He played and learned and grew like other boys.

But he was not like other boys. He was the Savior, the Son of God. Mary’ was shocked at his actions and words in the temple. Why? How could she be surprised? She knew he was born of a virgin. She could remember angels and shepherds and Simeon and Anna. Why didn’t she know he would be in the temple with his Father?

The answer must be that he had been such a normal boy for twelve years. A boy like all boys. Just as we sometimes experience with our own children, Mary needed some outsiders (the teachers in the temple) to show her what her boy was really like.

We may marvel at Mary’s lack of understanding. Do we really understand Jesus? Do we think we know where to find him? He stays in church, doesn’t he? That’s where we think we’ve captured him. But no. He won’t be limited to a building or a people. He still must be (as the Greek literally says) “in the things of my Father.” Like all boys, he was into his Father’s stuff. That stuff, then as now, was the salvation of every soul. This will not be the last trip of Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem. His Father's work would take Jesus everywhere. To the temple. To the people. To the cross.

Mary must have thought often of that day and what the boy possibly could have meant about “his Father’s workshop.” But she soon forgot. After all, the boy never did anything strange like that again.

At least not until he was about thirty.

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