“Mary. Mary, wake up honey.”
Mary could hear her Mother’s voice but it sounded far off. She unconsciously pulled the cloak over her shoulder.
“Mary, hurry now and get up.”
This time the voice was clear and sounded right next to her. Mary opened her eyes and saw her Mother standing over her, lamp in hand. Mary sat up, and her Mother turned and walked out of the small room.
Mary looked toward the courtyard of their home. The sun had yet to awaken. Rising early was not foreign to her. But normally she was up shortly before or the same time as her Mother. Rarely did her Mother wake her. “Was something wrong?” she wondered. She pulled back her cloak, sat up, and pulled on her outer tunic, then stood and belted it and walked into the courtyard of their home.
“Is something the matter, Mother? Is Father okay?”
“Your father left extra early this morning. I’m afraid there may have been a wolf attack last night while Samuel was on watch.”
“Now don’t look at me like that. I’m sure Samuel will be fine. He’s an experienced shepherd,” consoled Mary’s mother. Then she continued, “your Father noticed our ewe and her lamb was not in its pen next to the house. I am needed at Roda’s, her babe is not nursing as she should. She sent word by her servant saying Roda had been up all night unable to get the baby to suckle. I’ll wake your grandfather and your brother and sisters before I go, but you’ll need to go find the ewe and her lamb.”
So many thoughts ran through Mary’s mind as she put on her apron and head scarf. She decided her first prayers of the morning would be for her brother Samuel. Then Mary recollected the moment two days ago of their closest neighbor Roda, with the birth of her baby. The crying baby girl in all her innocent newness was the most magnificent sight she had ever seen. Mary’s heart marveled at the miracle of birth and filled with admiration to see the newborn take her very first breath. It felt Holy somehow. As if, at that very moment, the breath of God filled the baby’s lungs.
Roda was a young first-time mother and the only female in her household since her mother-in-law had passed away just six months earlier. Even though her sister had come to attend to her, both women were young and inexperienced.
“My Mother to the rescue once again,” Mary noted aloud.
“I’m just glad I can help and that we live close to them. I have a few tricks I’ve learned over the years. I’ll have that little one nursing before the day is out.” Mary’s mother paused, “Her mother-in-law was my sweet friend.”
Mary’s mother pushed back tears thinking of how her friend had longed to survive a few more months to hold her grandchild. It was not to be. God is Sovereign. She had waited upon her friend in sickness and she would do all she could to look after the grandchild and the child’s mother.
Mary noticed the pain in her mother’s voice when she mentioned Roda’s mother-in-law, but she didn’t address it. She knew the loss her mother felt had returned with the birth of the baby. Yet, at the same time, healing also began in her mother’s heart with birth, and newness and love. Instead, she turned her attention back to the task that her mother woke her early for. “I will find Jochebed and her lamb and be back with water from the spring also,” said Mary.
“Mary! What did I tell you about naming the sheep. A name makes them personal. It will only break your heart when it comes to an end. And it must you know,” stated Mary’s Mother.
“I know. But we have separated this one from the flock, and her lamb is the most perfect one I’ve ever seen,” Mary responded.
“What will your betrothed think of you naming the sheep? So, let me guess, since you named the ewe Jochebed, you’ve named the lamb after Jochebed’s son?”
Mary looked at her mother with raised eyebrows, smiled, and merely nodded a yes.
Mary began to put on her sandals by the door and replied, “besides, Joseph is a carpenter, not a shepherd, he won’t care if I name the few farm animals we may acquire.”
“It’s your heart my dear, but I hope you find Jochebed and little Moses,” responded Mary’s mother shaking her head but smiling now.
Mary smiled too. She always enjoyed the relationship she shared with her mother. “I hope I can maintain a household and be there for others as well as my mother does,” she thought.
The air was cool and a comforting gentle breeze fanned the scarf on her head. Dawn was waking. Mary picked up the cistern and began her search for the ewe and its lamb. It was that time in the morning that wasn’t really dark, but wasn’t daylight either. She was glad she had brought the lamp. After searching the immediate area, Mary decided to take the path to the spring. Perhaps the ewe was thirsty and went in search of water. She walked a little way and found a piece of wool caught in a thorny bush. It was shearing season and sometimes the wool was easily pulled free as the sheep began shedding. Mary was certain she would find their ewe and its lamb this way. But, the thought of wolves lurked in the back of her mind.
Stars were few now, and Mary’s lamp was hardly needed. It was in the distance she could hear the soft coo of the morning dove. She always loved a mornings as pleasant as this one. There would not be wolves she told herself. She walked on.
There was something about being out as dawn would brake over the horizon. She walked past the familiar grove of trees where often she would stop and spend time in prayer. Here she was often alone and out of earshot of anyone awake. She could pray out loud without the worry of an eavesdropper. Then…
There’s the sound she needed to hear. “Now where did you run off to little one?” Mary thought aloud as she turned her head toward the sound.
“Baaa,” came the familiar sound just a bit further down and off the winding path.
As Mary rounded the large stone where she used to play “Ancients of Old” with her brothers and sisters, she heard the lamb cry out again. They would climb the stone and guard the threshold underneath where there was a secret cave. She and her siblings would hide out here and play until their stomachs ached with hunger and forced them to go home. Although, it really wasn’t a secret cave, they had always pretended so as children. Mary was surprised the ewe and its lamb would stray this far.
“Baaa, Baaa, Baaa.” The lamb was picking up its cries now and Mary realized it was frightened and hungry. Mary put down the cistern and picked up a few stones and put them in her belt.
As Mary entered the familiar cave, she heard again the baa of the lamb, but she could not see it. In one hand she held up the lamp raising it high. In the other hand she reached in her belt for a stone. She would be the lamb’s defender and the Yahweh Tsuri, God is my Rock, would be hers.
“Come near and rescue me; deliver me because of my foes.“Psalm 69:18
Then she spotted it. In the corner all by itself. The lamb. No wolves. Mary breathed a sigh of relief. She decided she would pray right then for her brother. “Lord, you are our defender, keep my brother from harm. Please guard over him and give him strength and wisdom to the job you have appointed him to.” Mary thought how frightening her brother’s job must be. It had become all to real in this moment.
The little lamb, second born of its mother raised its ears and looked at Mary as she walked closer. “Baaa!” the lamb stuck out its tongue as it cried again.
“Where is your mother?” Mary questioned as she approached the lamb in the back of the cave. “Its hard to believe you came this far without your mama.”
Mary reached out as she approached the little white bundle and stroked its soft wool. She bent down, her right knee felt the dry cave floor through her long tunic. As she started to pick up the lamb, she realized a brilliant light suddenly pierced through every shadow and dark space and filled the entire cave. It was as if the sun had decided to rise within that very place. Only, somehow, the light seemed sharper and clearer than the sun. Mary’s heart raced. She sat down now and pulled the lamb onto her lap. She needed something to hold on to. She closed her eyes shut as tight as they would go, and buried her face into the lamb’s woolen back, yet the light seemed to penetrate even her closed eyes.
“Greetings! You who are highly favored! The Lord is with you,” said a voice from the light.Luke 1:28
The shock of hearing a voice caused Mary to look up. The light was piercing and pleasing to her eyes at the same time. Even though the light was so bright, she could look straight into it, unlike the brightness of sunlight she didn’t need to shade her eyes or squint when she looked at it. It seemed a man, a very tall and large man stood illuminated in the midst of the light. His whole being glowed. She lifted her trembling hand to pull back the scarf that had fallen across her face. She was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this could be.
“Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”Luke 1:30-33
The angel’s words were spoken with deep soft comfort and with authority. Mary sat still and thought for a moment and then cast her gaze back to the angel.
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin? “The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”Luke 1:34-37
“Oh Elizabeth!” Mary thought. “My beloved Elizabeth who has prayed for so long to have a baby is already in her sixth month! God is gracious.
Mary felt the presence of El Shaddai (God Almighty). Peace. Comfort. Love. It was the peace and love that filled the very core of her being and it was like nothing she’d ever known. The pure, sweet feeling of His love was overwhelming and she began to sob into the wool of the little lamb that stood silently beside her. Even the lamb stopped his bleating in the glory of God. She had been taught the Holy Scriptures all of her life. She heard and practiced them. Now, the same Holy Scriptures of the looked for, and hoped for, coming Messiah flooded her memory. She knew them and they spoke peace to her.
Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign. The virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.Isaiah 7:14
In the humility of wondering how or why the Lord God would choose her, Mary responded to the angel.
“I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”Luke 1:38
Just like that, the light and the angel Gabriel was gone. But the Lord’s presence remained with Mary. She closed her eyes once again and bowed her head, whispering words of praise and love for God. It was familiar words. Words she had said in prayer many times to God over the years of her young life.
Mary lingered in prayer just a bit longer. Though she could not see Him with physical eyes, she knew the Lord was anointing her. A soothing, slow, flow of unseen oil was being poured upon her head. She felt it upon the crown of her scarf-covered hair and it flowed over her to the tip of her toes. And it was a comfort.
Baaaaa! The lamb bleated loudly interrupting Mary’s tarrying moments. Mary looked at the lamb and said, “yes, we must go.” She stood and took a few steps heading out of the cave. Looking back at the lamb, she ordered, “come along.” The lamb found its bounce and jumped and ran past Mary. “Aha! I see what’s got the gusto back in those legs.”
Jochebed stood at the entrance of the cave. “Now you show up! Your timing seems quite determined. The question is, by Whom,” Mary said as she looked to the sky. The lamb ran to its mother and Mary led the two of them to the spring. She gathered water while the ewe drank from the spring and ewe’s lamb suckled. Mary was so engrossed in deep thought of the morning’s events, she hardly heard her named called.
“Shalom Mary!”came the greeting. “Shalom deep thinker.” It was Roda’s servant Abi who’d come to draw from the spring.
Mary looked up and waved at Abi. The two gathered their water and stopped to chat. Abi told Mary that Roda was doing better already feeding the baby. “Your mother is a guardian angel,” Abi praised. Mary was still preoccupied in the morning’s events and had only been partially listening to Abi.
“What did you say?” Mary responded, startled when she heard Abi mention an angel.
“Your Mother, Mary. She’s an absolute angel. I don’t know what we would have done this morning without her,” Abi replied.
“Oh, of course. Yes, she is a very giving person,” Mary replied.
The two walked on, cisterns in hand and sheep in tow. Mary’s mind was consumed with the words of the Angel Gabriel. She had to go see Elizabeth.
“Help me walk this road, my God, that you have paved before me,” Mary thought. As the girls separated to go each to their homes, Mary wondered what she would say to Joseph and to her Mother and Father.
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.Deuteronomy 31:6
Mary would cling to this scripture many times in the days to come.
Dear reader, thank you for reading chapter one of A Christmas Story. My prayer is that you know the true meaning of Christmas. Every 3-4 days another chapter will be published. Leave me a comment and be sure to share! Be sure to add your e-mail to “follow my blog” so you don’t miss any chapters.
The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.Mathew 4:16
Note: All scripture is quoted from the New International Version of the Holy Bible.