A roar of men’s laughter echoed across the night sky. Joseph’s younger brother, Nathan, shuffled his feet the last few steps to the warm fire. He let go of the load he carried, and the crash of fresh cut firewood collided on the ground.
“You didn’t start without me, did you?”Nathan questioned.
“Of course we did little brother. We were starving!” Joseph exclaimed.
Nathan looked around at the men’s faces glowing in the light of the fire. Each was holding a plate with large freshly grilled fish. His stomach growled. The aroma was heavenly. It had been a long hard day of helping his older brother build his homesite, and he too, was hungry. He frowned and sat down hard. No plate for him.
“I have a fishing hook you can use Nathan. I’m sure there’s plenty of fish left in the stream,” Joseph said.
Nathan stared at the ground and just shook his head. He wanted to pulverize his older brother. He looked over at Joseph with eyes blazing.
“It’ll be a cold day in Hell if I ever come to help you again,” he fumed.
All the men laughed which only made Nathan angrier. Joseph could go on no longer with the ruse.
“Okay, okay, calm down. I was just joking. I saved you the largest and meatiest fish. I’m not about to send you into the house hungry and ill-tempered. I’ll need your help next week. Here you go.”
Joseph pulled out the hidden plate and handed it to his little brother. The grilled, seasoned to perfection fish was so large the ends hung over the sides of the plate, even with no head and no tail. It was just the way Nathan liked it.
Nathan took a few ravenous mouthfuls of fish. “Tastes like crap,” he lied.
“Why next week?” one of the men asked. “You don’t need help tomorrow?”
“No, I’m traveling tomorrow,” replied Joseph. “I’ll be back in a few days, then after the Sabbath we can resume building.”
“Where are you going?” Nathan questioned.
“You are a nosy little brother, aren’t you.”
“Yes,” Nathan replied matter-of-factly. “Where are you going?”
Joseph looked around at the men, all of them staring at him, waiting for his reply.
“I’m going to see Mary. Any other information is none of your business.” Joseph looked around at the group. “Nor any of yours.”
The raised brows and looks between the men didn’t go unnoticed by Joseph. He sighed and became absorbed in uneasy deep thought as he gazed at the fire. The Ketubah, or marriage contract, had been finalized a few months ago. The brideprice had also been accepted. He kept rolling over and over the words of the short missive he received earlier that day from Mary’s father. “Come quickly, we have much to discuss,” was all it said. He loved her and missed her and thought about her every day as he prepared the home addition where they would live.
He wondered if she looked for him to come each day to take her home with him. Did she wake with longing thoughts of his arrival each day? It had been seven months since he saw her. He shook his head as if to shake off the thoughts and noticed the men were beginning to gather their belongings. He was tired and needed a good nights sleep before heading out early in the morning.
Joseph awoke at daybreak. He had decided to travel alone. He would arrive before sundown and wanted solitude to think and pray. By midday, the beating hot sun compelled him to find a suitable shade tree to rest under.
Joseph finished his afternoon meal of bread dipped in oil, figs and grapes. He took the leather reigns of his trusted four-legged pack animal that carried a few special greeting gifts, and together they traveled through the hills. After walking for about an hour, Joseph heard the bray of a donkey in distress. Then he heard a whip snap, and again the panicked bray. The sound was coming from just ahead of him at the bend in the road. Joseph tugged on his load-bearer and both trotted to find a repulsive sight.
The colt of a donkey was laying on the ground letting out pitiful brays. It’s owner held a large club with several long whips attached to it. The end of each whip had shards of pottery tied to it. Before Joseph could intervene, the colt was beat twice more. Repeated suffering brays were uttered.
“Stop!” Joseph shouted.
The club wielding man was about to bring the weapon down on the defenseless creature once again. He looked up and saw Joseph charging toward him. He tightened his grip on the club and squared up to Joseph’s intimidating approach.
Joseph was a foot taller than the man and equally muscled. Without weapon, he stopped just two feet in front of his adversary. He felt it was the work of any righteous man to intervene for the helpless.
The righteous care the needs of their animals, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.Proverbs 20:10
The cruel man spoke first. “Who are you to tell me what to do?”
Joseph ignored the question, then asked, “why do you beat the animal?”
“If I take my anger out on the stupid beast, what’s that to you? I may beat him to death. That’s none of your concern. Move along before I decide to measure out a beating to you as well,” he threatened.
Joseph did not feel unprotected. He knew God was with him. The words of the prophet Isaiah came to mind.
The work of righteousness will be peace; the service of righteousness will be quiet confidence forever.Isaiah 32:17
The man was sweating profusely and Joseph could hardly bear the smell of him. Suddenly, Joseph wanted to cover his nose and take a step back. He could only think about telling the stranger that he stinks to high heavens and that a bath might be his next course of action. He almost laughed at the thought. But, then, Joseph’s attention was turned back to the woeful neigh of the young donkey. He was really a small thing covered in whelps and blood
“Trade the foal to me,” Joseph declared.
“You are willing to trade for this half dead beast? Ha! I will take the fool for his goods. What do you have?”
The gifts Joseph had packed for the family of his betrothed would be three times the worth of this animal. Yet, Joseph could not stand to let the poor thing suffer brutality any longer. He handed over the gifts and loaded the helpless animal on the back of his own donkey. In doing so, his clothes became bloodstained. He wondered how Mary’s father would greet him in such a condition. And he wondered what the family would think of his actions on behalf of a colt that probably would not survive. He wondered why he was even on this road, but he would find out soon enough. And he traveled on.
Dear reader, thank you for reading chapter three 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.