Adah and Jason
For months, Adah had waited for her little brother to be born. When the child finally came, however, he was tiny and frail. Fearing he would not live, her mother and the midwife tended to the infant while Adah was sent to stay with Jason, her cousin, and his parents.
Days passed. Though she and Jason were like brother and sister, playing together and helping with farm chores, Adah was heartbroken. She had been so anxious to play with the new baby in the hammock while her mother tended the house. She began to cry.
"Come on," Jason urged. Reluctantly, she followed him to the courtyard where the animals were kept. Outside, Jason produced a ball of white fur: it was a baby bunny. Adah's eyes widened. She reached out to stroke his pink ears as the bunny's quivering nose sniffed her hand.
"He's yours," Jason offered, handing her the furry bundle. The rabbit squirmed at first, then nestled in the crook of Adah's neck, his heart beating wildly.
"I will call you Star," Adah said, as she rubbed his silky coat against her cheek and dried her tears.
"Star!" Jason exclaimed, instantly remembering last night's sky. "Have you seen the new star in the heavens? My father says the Messiah has come!"
That very night, at Jason's pleading, his father led the two children with Adah holding Star through Bethlehem's narrow, dusty streets toward a stable behind the Inn.
Adah was astounded at what they discovered: a Baby cooing in an animal's feeding trough! Adah crept closer to the Manger, longing to see the Child's face. His mother held out her hand, inviting her into the intimate glow of the manger. Shivering with excitement, Adah knelt at the edge of the roughly-hewn, makeshift crib and peered inside. The infant, cradled on a mound of straw, was a newborn like her brother, achingly beautiful. She longed to touch Him! Looking up at His mother, her eyes sought permission. When the woman nodded, Adah reached for His tiny, perfect hand, waving vigorously in the night air. Instinctively, the tiny Baby latched onto her finger, surprising her with a fierce grip that went stragiht to her heart. Inside, she relaxed in the amazing warmth of His hand as she leaned against His wooden bed, drinking in the heaven of this moment.
Suddenly Adah felt someone kneel beside her. It was her father. He, too, marveled at the Child.
After several minutes, he rose and motioned for her follow him. "Adah, good news! Ever since that star appeared," her father began, pointing to the glittering orb directly above them in the night sky, "your brother is full of life! When I came to bring you home, they said I'd find you here."
Adah leapt into her father's arms. With the rabbit tucked between them, they made their way home, chattering joyously about her baby brother, the rabbit and the Babe lying in the Manger.
The sleek chariot came to a halt outside the census tent. The helmeted driver, Alexander, alighted and went inside.
"Good evening, sir," saluted a soldier.
"Good evening, Hadrian. Any problems to report this first day?"
"No sir, everything went smoothly. The tax money is all ready for you to take back to headquarters. It's here on this chest. The smaller chest contains the overage for you to distribute, after you take your share, of course."
A look of anger flashed across the centurion's face. "Overage? Why is there an overage?"
"But why wouldn't there be an overage, sir?" replied Hadrian, confused. "Standard practice is to use tax collectors, is it not? And they make their profits by collecting more than is required. If we are administering this head tax ourselves, why shouldn't we take the money that normally goes to the collectors?"
"Because our orders are only to collect a certain amount, Hadrian. I am sick of this mindset that we are here to enrich ourselves!" Alexander glared at the group of soldiers. "We are here to do our duty as legionaries in preserving the peace. How many people came through today?"
"Here are the scrolls, sir."
Alexander glanced through the records. "Find each person and return the excess you collected. Inquire at the inn and all places of lodging. The monies for those you cannot find we shall donate to the local synagogue."
"Sir!" interjected another soldier. "We haven't had an increase in pay since Caesar Augustus came to the throne. We've done everything for these Judeans, and still they resent us. Why give them money?"
"It has to do with honor, Gaius. I hope you understand the concept. You would do well to study the people of this province. I've found much to admire in my years here. They take care of their own. THey hold strong beliefs and they practice them. They don't abandon their religion in the face of adversity. They are a refreshing change from the populace of Rome. In fact, when I retire, I'm going to take my pension and my plot of land and settle in this area."
Alexander looked intently at each man as he distributed the scrolls. "I will know my pension was honestly obtained. When it is time for you to retire, I want you to have that same satisfaction. Come, we have much work to do. Let us hold our heads up as Roman soldiers."
Azzan, the Bethlehem baker, was a study in contradictions. His willingness to give bread to the poor made him appear the most generous man in the village. But Azzan was as obsessed with hoarding as he was with giving. Nearly half the grain that came into his bakery was stored for safekeeping because his mind would not let go of a painful childhood image: a famine his family survived when he was just a boy. Azzan remembered fields growing dry when spring rains disappeared. Though the famine ended eventually, he could not forget the memory.
As a result, Azzan ate with gusto, fearful the food might disappear with no warning. He urged his wife, Naomi, and son, Isaak, to eat their fill. Over time, Azzan grew portly as his penchant for storing grain grew worse. By the time a golden star burst into the sky announcing the birth of Jesus, Azzan owned three granaries!
Shoppers standing before Azzan's Bakery the following day shared amazing tales about the star. The baker listened to every detail as he filled orders. Naomi, his wife, could not wait to take bread to Jesus, but Azzan...though he hoped the story was true...needed to serve his customers. He waited until evening, hurrying to the stable as quickly as his impressively round stomach would allow.
When he beheld the scene, Azzan was awestruck. He said nothing...just observed. Was this truly the Messiah the prophets foretold, he wondered? Was the star God's only sign? As if to answer his questions, Azzan overheard a group of shepherds discussing the fear they felt when an angel appeared before them. Then he witnessed neighbors and strangers carrying food and gifts...even the poorest carried something.
Azzan's heart was overcome with emotion as he reflected upon the fears that had driven him to hoard. "Why has my faith been so weak?" he whispered. "God does provide!" Then he said it aloud... so loud, everyone smiled... "God does provide!"
Joyously, Azzan turned toward home...stunned and thrilled at the same time. Fear had vanished from his soul. Rushing back to the bakery, he sang a beloved psalm. From that day forward, villagers coming to Azzan's Bakery were asked to bring a basket, then directed to one of the granaries the baker had built. Everyone was invited to take as much grain as he or she needed. Azzan had found his faith again.
The winter sun shone down on the crowded aisles of the Bethlehem marketplace. Travelers in town for the census put fresh-baked bread and dried fruit into their baskets and weighed the colorful offerings of the rug merchants.
Sounds of music and singing attracted a throng to a clearing amid the stalls. "Good morning, ladies and gentlemen," greeted the young man at the center of attention. "My name is Benjamin, and I have one of the best jobs I know. I travel the world, bringing a smile to wonderful people such as you. And my traveling companion is my very talented partner, Iddo."
The bright bird perched on Benjamin's shoulder fluttered one wing, as if waving hello. "Iddo is a wise student of human nature. She has observed, for example, the proud manner of certain officials. Iddo, show the people what the governor is like." He struck up a pompous marching tune and Iddo strutted about like a rooster, chest thrown out and head held high, flapping her wings. The crowd laughed knowingly and applauded.
"Now, Iddo, what happens when the governor goes to a party?" The tune became a dance number, and the bird staggered about crazily to the roars of the crowd, finally falling on her back with feet straight in the air. Benjamin whistled and Iddo zipped back to her perch on his shoulder. They took their bows together as coins filled Benjamin's outstretched cap.
The next day cold rain poured from the sky. Only those shoppers who needed to be out patronized the marketplace; their mood was as gloomy as the weather.
Yet under an awning stood Benjamin and Iddo, entertaining the passersby as enthusiastically as the previous day. Passing through so many countries, Benjamin could identify people's homelands from their clothing. "Hello sir! I'll wager you're from Cappadocia. Surely you know this." Benjamin played a native folk song, bringing a smile and small coin toss at his feet. "Thank you, sir, God be with you."
Late in the day two weary travelers paused to hear the music. The man led a donkey on whick the woman rode. "Welcome, good sir and kind laby!" said Benjamin, doffing his hat and bowing. "I see you have come a long way. Could it be Galilee that you come from?" He launched into a popular lyric of that region. The couple nodded in recognition and exchanged smiles.
"Kind lady, it's good to see you smile. Isn't it, Iddo?" The bird rapidly nodded her head. "Give the lady a token of your affection." Iddo alighted on the woman's should and laid her head against her cheek. A look of surprise and delight lit up the woman's eyes.
Benjamin whistled and the bird flew back to him. "Your smile is our reward," he said, bowing again. "God be with you on your journey."
"And also with you, friend."
The harvest season was Bethany's favorite time of year. It was a time of abundance and witnessing first hand God's blessings upon His people. Apples, figs, dates, and grapes were all harvested and this time. This year it had seemed all the fields were especially fruitful. For generations, Bethany's family had worked the land and no one could remember a more bountiful year. Prophets were saying that the time of the Messiah was at hand and it was almost as if even the earth was preparing for the arrival a great king by giving forth the best it had to offer.
Bethany was charged with working in her family's vineyard. In the spring, she walked row-by-row stopping at each vine to cut away the small unproductive branches with the small sharp knife. She would use forked sticks to prop up the fruit bearing branches that remained. Finally, she would gently hoe around the vines to loosen the soil and clear away any weeds. Then it was time to watch and wait while the tiny clusters grew and ripened under the hot summer sun.
As the harvest neared Bethany and her family would move into their shelter at the edge of the vineyard. When it was time to pick the grapes from the vines, the whole family got involved. Making wine was a joyful time that paired hard work with singing and dancing. Although most grapes were pressed into juice from which wine was made, some were eaten fresh from the vine and others were dried into raisins. Bethany loved raisins and always made sure that some of the sweetest grapes were left to dry in the sun.
To produce wine, Bethany's family put the ripe grapes into a large stone vat and stomped on the grapes with their feet. Women, children, and young men walked on the grapes, crushing them with their feet, singing and shouting while they worked. The juice would flow downward through a trough into a smaller vat, where it began to ferment, gradually changing from grape juice into wine. Next, the partially fermented juice was put into earthen vessels and placed in cool storage rooms. There, the fermentation continued at a constant temperature. Fermentation took about six weeks. Once the grapes turned into wine, it could be stored for about three years.
The wine made by Bethany's family was some of the finest in all of Bethlehem. During the summer, Bethany had the village potter craft a special urn that she planned to use for some of the season's wine. She had a feeling it was going to make a wonderful gift for someone special. She did not know to whom it would be given, but she wondered in her heart if it perhaps would be a gift for the king the prophets foretold.
Ephraim stretched out on the grass, contemplating the sky. Though only 17, he was a self-proclaimed star expert, and spent much of his young life watching the heavens. Even as a tiny boy, he made up names and delightful stories about the clusters of stars he saw each night. Each was fanciful, evoking a beautiful picture in his mind of dancing images in a black night filled with a brilliant array of multi-colored lights and shapes.
Ephraim loved to share his silly tales with everyone. He told stories to the neighbors, but they were not interested. He tried his parents, but even they thought it very eccentric to name stars and compose stories about them. They regarded Ephraim as a sweet, unreliable dreamer and rarely asked him to do more than tend the flock closest to the family home.
On one cold winter evening, the boy slipped out of the house to enjoy "his" stars befor going to sleep. Staring up at the lights scattered across the blue-black heaven, the glorious landscape captured his imagination. Soon, he fell asleep on the hard ground without even a cloak to cover his body.
Ephraim didn't know whether he'd been asleep hours or moments when he was awakened by comforting warmth. Assuming it to be the morning sun, he stretched and opened his eyes only to be confronted by a magnificent star hanging right over his head! Beams of light lit up the land for miles around, he jumped up in a state of fright.
His fear did not last long, for the star's golden glow soothed Ephraim's spirit. He quickly gave thanks for the phenomenon, just as he had given thanks for every other magical gift his eyes had witnessed. He lay down again to watch the star, lulled back to sleep by its pulsing light.
As dawn approached, Ephraim awoke to the real morning. Hearing sounds of activity in his house, he suddenly remembered the glory of the star and was eager to tell his family.
"I awoke last night to the most wondrous spectacle!" he shouted, startling his parents with his tone and manner. "A star bag as the sky, appeared before me...a true miracle."
"Ah, yes. A most wonderful star," his father nodded solemnly, shaking his head as he did each time the boy told a tale. "Let me guess. This one fell to earth and was made of solid gold. Ephraim, you must stope telling these stories or the neighbors will think all of us are crazy."
Having heard this reply to his discoveries so many times in the past, the boy didn't argue. Instead, he smiled.
Then, he tucked his latest treasure into the deepest reaches of his heart and marveled, one more time, at having been chosen from among so many to witness a miracle.
Flavius scanned the day’s scrolls intently. Name, lineage, place of residence were all recorded in clear Latin. Turning to the summary scroll, Flavius’s eyes narrowed. A mistake in addition stared him right in the face. Unrolling farther, he saw the names of towns misspelled and omissions in the list of tribes. “Marcus!” he exclaimed under his breath.
Striding through the camp, Flavius found his youngest soldier playing dice with two friends. One look at Flavius’s grim expression and the game was over.
“Tell me, Marcus, why are we conducting this census?”
“Because Caesar has commanded it?” A fine sweat glistened on the eighteen year old’s face.
"Very good. Caesar had commanded it and therefore it must be done correctly. The summaries must be complete and they must match the amount of tax collected.” Rolling out the document, Flavius pointed out the errors. “You will redo this summary and have it for me at first light tomorrow. Do not report for meals—you will not be served.”
“Sir!” Marcus protested. “I joined the army to fight, not tally columns of figures.”
“Whatever a Roman soldier does, he does well,” Flavius said sternly. “I have built bridges, guarded prisoners and patrolled roads from here to Gaul. Every thing that I have done helped promote the proper functioning of the Empire. The clerical work that you disdain provides the accounting for the taxes that finance fortresses, amphitheaters and the like. Don’t worry about getting a chance to fight. Judea is one of the troublesome provinces: that’s why we have legions permanently posted here.” Flavius shook his head. “Say the wrong thing or offer the wrong kind of food and a riot will start.”
“I agree with you, sir. They’re so sensitive about their god—why they only have one I don’t understand.”
“Nor I, and I’ve been stationed here four years. But enough about the Jews. I will receive the summary tomorrow, Marcus, and it will be correct. You have the makings of a good soldier, Marcus. That is why I am keeping your errors quiet and not reporting them to the centurion.”
Flavius smiled wryly. “I remember I was impatient too, at your age. I wanted deeds, not words. I wanted to win laurel wreaths and march in triumphal processions. You will have your chance for glory, Marcus. But you must be prepared when it presents itself. Discipline is the key. Develop discipline, and you will go far. You will thank me in times to come. I will leave you to your task.”
Gabriel, like many young boys, hadn't a great deal of patience for sheep tending. He loved more than anything else to daydream about traveling to distant shores, meeting all sorts of different people and eating foods he had never tasted.
Sometimes, when his mother had packed up his leather bag with raisins, bread, cheese, olives and a water pouch, Gabriel would take his lunch out and pretend the food was an exotic array of meats, After all, meat was very precious and usually only served at very special events such as celebrations and feast days.
And once Gabriel started to daydream, he was transported to a place faraway...and not even the sheep he was supposed to be watching were in his thoughts. He dreamed about all of the wonderful lands his uncles had described late at night when the candle light made shadows dance against the walls of Gabriel's parents' home. The boy was truly a dreamer.
On a particularly sunny day, out of the house he went and down to the nearby meadow. It was time to walk the flock to a different grassland to feed. Gabriel skipped over the rocks as the land sloped gently toward a familiar valley. He pretended to be a bird, leaping from rock to rock and lifting his arms to the sky.
Suddenly he heard a thud from behind and turned to find a small lamb wedged in between two of the rocks. Apparently the little creature had decided to follow Gabriel's footsteps over the rocks, rather than walking with the other sheep as they took the grassy route.
Gabriel shouldered the little animal. He grabbed his front and back hoovers to make sure he couldn't jump down from his shoulders and injure himself further. Then he joined the flock for the rest of the journey into the valley.
Once a cmap site was selected, Gabriel set about preparing the area for the night. Not once did he complain about the lamb's weight as he chose a spot at the top of a small slope to rest for the evening. He could watch over the small herd from this grassy incline. He set his charge down on the ground and checked his legs. The lamb seemed dazed but he didn't cry out in pain. He stood tentatively and then surely. And suddenly as he had fallen, off he went to join the flock with a turn of the head that taught Gabriel, even at so young an age, that we never know who might be following in our footsteps.
From the sun's position straight overhead, it was time for the midday meal. Throughout the fields, back straightened and sickles ceased cutting. Hannah tossed a last sheaf into the wagon as she trudged to a shady stand of trees near some storage buildings.
Some harvesters already sat there, savoring the coolness and the contents of their lunch sacks. Hannah was untying her provisions when a young man wearing a long head covering came up.
"Mind if I sit here?"
"Not at all, John--make yourself comfortable. Would you like some bread?"
"Why, thank you." Hannah smiled as she broke off a large piece and handed it to John. A few crumbs dropped to the ground. One of the geese wandering about came quickly and gobbled them up. The bird looked at the harvesters intently to see if there would more. "Shoo! Shoo!" admonished John. He and Hannah laughed as the goose waddled away.
"I can see why he's disappointed," mused John chewing. "This bread is delicious. Did you make it?"
"No, my sister did. She does most of the baking. I help more with the cooking."
"Then how is your family managing while you're gone for the harvest?"
"They can get along without me for a few days. The money I'm making here is more important." Hannah held out another piece of bread. John shook his head. "How is your family, by the way?" she asked.
The young man frowned. "My sister Deborah had a sickness this winter that left her weak. She sleeps many hours, but she is still tired and can't do much without needing rest. She was always so lively before. I don't know what can be done for her."
The movement of a figure in the distance caught their attention. It was in the overseer, coming to tell the group it was time to return to work.
"I will pray for your sister," Hannah said as she gathered her things together. "I will ask God to strengthen and heal her."
John helped her to her feet. "I'm grateful to you, Hannah. I will pray for Deborah, and at the harvest festival I will pray at the temple."
Hannah nodded. "It's good to take our troubles to the Lord. Which field are you working in? I'm headed in this direction."
"I'm going the other way, near the road," John replied. "Thanks again for the bread. I'll see you at the end of the day."
"See you then, John." Hannah smiled, turning back to a pile of waiting sheaves. As she worked, the words of a psalm came to mind: "The Lord upholds all who fall, and raises up all who are bowed down. The Lord is near to those who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth."(A) In another field, a young man prayed, "He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; he will hear their cry, and save them. The Lord preserves all who love Him."(B) And the words of the prayers rose up under the brilliant sun.
A Psalm 145:14,18
B Psalm 145:19-20
Little Isaak had a big job. The only child of Azzan, Bethlehem’s baker, he helped at the bakery from the time he could reach the hearth. When customers could not come to Azzan’s shop, Isaak took his little basket and made his father’s delivery.
In the winter of Isaak’s ninth year, an abrupt change took place in his home. His mother, Naomi, began talking of God’s promise to send a Messiah. She was convinced that day had arrived, as was his father, Azzan. Both dedicated themselves to doing all they could to help the Holy Child and His family.
It seemed everyone in Bethlehem had a special gift for Baby Jesus. Isaak felt left out. And he had no money. Thinking hard, he came up with a plan. Each day, Isaak took an extra loaf of bread from the hearth and put it in his basket. Stopping at the inn, he went from guest to guest, trying to sell it. Time passed and the boy wasn’t having much luck… he became more desperate… and more creative. “I have no family,” he said pitifully to carefully picked strangers. The sad story worked well! Isaak quickly learned the more dramatic his story, the more money he made.
Isaak’s enterprise might have flourished indefinitely had Thaddeus, the innkeeper, not overheard his friend Azzan’s only son claiming to be fatherless. He led Isaak out of the inn by his apron strings. The boy’s eyes grew wide as he caught sight of the bakery’s striped awning. There, Thaddeus had Isaak make a full confession.
Isaak was thankful for his father’s kind heart! He explained about wanting to earn money to buy a gift for Jesus. “Isaak, you motive was good, but your methods are less than honest. You took bread that was not yours… and told sad stories to sell it. How can God’s Son take a gift from a boy who is untruthful? You must make amends for your dishonesty.” Isaak nodded. On the very next day, he went to the inn and tried to find everyone to whom he had sold bread. He confessed and returned coins. Those he could not return went into the charity box at the temple.
When Azzan learned of his son’s actions, he felt blessed. He would be a fine, honest man some day. Proudly, he put his arm around Isaak and led him into the bakery. “Let us sit down and talk about a gift for Baby Jesus. We will pick it out together, using the money you have rightfully earned delivering bread for me.”
Jada was from a family of fishermen. It seemed as though he had always known how to catch fish, and many of the villagers considered him the luckiest little fisherman in all of Bethlehem. Oftentimes on the days when far more experienced fishermen couldn't get a bite, little Jada could catch fish after fish. His brothers Peter and Andrew were also fishermean, but they did not have their brother's luck. Jada would typically lead his older brothers to fishing spots, and it was almost as if the fish were following him too. The youngsters all hoped to follow in their father's footsteps, eventually joining him on the family's boats with large nets, but for now they were content to enjoy what was always the perfect fishing spot.
As the census drew near and demands for food increased, Jada's father was busier than ever. Jada enjoyed the excitement that came with so many people coming to Bethlehem. He was on his way home with his latest catch when Jada ran into shepherds coming in from fields. These shepherds told an extraordinary story of angels appearing to them and news of a Newborn Savior. Jada raced home to share the news only to discover that his family had heard and were already preparing to visit the stable. They had decided that their gift would be a basket filled with the best of the day's catch and bread that had been freshly made by Jada's mother.
With their gifts prepared, the family made their way to the stable at Bethlehem's inn. When they arrived, they found a stable that had never been so crowded. Animals, villagers, shepherds and countless others all filled the space that was somehow at the same time filled with a heavenly peace. There Jada and his family patiently waited for their turn. When they stood before the Holy Family and presented their gift. Mary accepted it on behalf of her son. She then asked the family if they would permit her to share the food with the people who had also come to the stable. Many had come from great distances led by the spirit and had not brought with them any food. Jada's family agreed to the request, but Jada could see worry on his parents' faces. They had brought the best of what they had but not an abundance of it. At the same time, Jada was sure he saw a smile on the face of Baby Jesus as the baskets of fish and bread were passed around the stable. Jada watched as the baskets went from person to person and each person took a little to eat. When everyone had taken a portion, the baskets were returned to their place at the foot of the manger. Jada expected the baskets to be returned near empty with only small pieces of fish and a few scraps of bread; but nothing could have been further from the truth. Although everyone in the room seemed to be eating, the baskets from Jada's family seemed just as full as they had been when Mary had first accepted them. Jada couldn't understand what had happened, but somehow he knew that the Newborn King's smile had somehow made all the difference.
Jareth loved playing his toy drum. He often imitated his father Abraham, the village's best drummer. Jareth pretended to play the family treasure: an ancient drum that had passed from generation to generation.
"Playing the drum is you gift," Jareth often heard his father say. "God gave you that talent, as he gave it to me," he added. Jareth nodded, but never truly understood what that meant.
Each evening, the drums came out after dinner. Then the boy was tucked into his bedroll beside the fire as his parents talked into the night. There was a comforting regularity to each night, until one particularly unforgettable event awoke all of the families in the town: A golden star appeared in the heavens accompanied by the soothing voices of angels across the sky.
Jareth was the first to awaken and he quickly roused his parents. All three wrapped themselves in cloaks and ran out into the winter night. Even Abraham, who knew much, could not tell his family where the star came form. Neither could he disguise the touch of fear that crept into his voice. The little family returned to bed, and despite the unusual occurrence, the boy's parents fell asleep.
But Jareth could not sleep. He wanted to know about the star. He wondered where it pointed and what he would find there. Assured of his parents' slumber, the child crept out of the house and made his way toward the very place the star touched the earth. To his surprise, Jareth found himself at an inn's stable. Standing on tiptoe, he looked into the window and was surprised to find a man, woman, and child inside, as well as richly dressed men with gifts of gold. They placed them before the child and bowed before his little bed.
Jareth saw animals sitting quietly beside the baby and he marveled at the golden glow...just like that of the star...the radiated from the mother. Despite his young age, Jareth knew this was no ordinary child. He, too, must bring a gift.
Walking quietly toward his little house, Jareth's mind kept repeating over and over: "A gift, I must bring a gift." Suddenly he thought, "You gift comes from your father."
In an instant, Jareth knew what he could give to the little child. His walk became a run, and his cold breath blew in billows as he approached his house. Working quietly so as not to wake his parents, Jareth changed into his very best clothing and quietly removed his little drum from the corner of the room
Then guided once more by the star and the voices, Jareth rushed back toward the stable bearing the most precious gift he had to give: the song of his fathers...a true gift from God.
Jethro, Tamar and Saul
Bethlehem was chilly at Winter Solstice. Streets and alleyways were hard and rugged, but the children of the village welcomed opportunities to frolic without the swirling dust common to Holy Land summers.
A particularly adventurous trio was the children of Shedeur the tanner--Jethro, Tamar, and Saul. Close in age, they were also close in spirit, playing together from morning to night. On this particular winter morning, the three lively siblings wiggled into scarves and head coverings as quickly as breakfast could be eaten.
Off they went to play Saul and Jethro's favorite game: caravan. Little Saul was always the camel driver, guiding his animals with a treasure stick he had found long ago. Jethro pretended to be a famous king. He filled a bag with rocks so the travelers would have gold and gems for trading along their exotic route, and Tamar was queen.
Sprinting through the alleys with rosy cheeks and giggles, the three raced around on their adventures. Coming to a low village wall, the children stopped short before an old woman they had never seen before.
She sat quite still and did not seem to see the children as they approached. Saul was so frightened, he hid behind Tamar's skirt. But the little girl was not afraid. She spoke sweetly to the woman, "Grandmother, do you need help?"
The little girl's words of concern reached the woman, and she appeared to awaken. "No. I do not need help, but thank you, little one. I am simply overwhelmed by what I have just seen. He's here. The One the prophets have spoken of is here in Bethlehem. He is in the barn, at the inn." The woman's face grew soft as she told the children of her visit. "A gold star appeared in the sky, and too many angels to count. Go see Him," she urged. "Bring gifts if you can."
The children backed away slowly, turning in the direction of the inn. Once out of sight, Jethro turned to his sister with a sigh, "We have no gifts."
"I have song I can sing," Tamar answered. "It is a song about our people." The thought inspired her big brother. "And I have a poem I can recite about my friends, the animals," Jethro added, excitement in his voice. The two looked at little Saul. What did he have to give, they wondered?
Both started to advise him, but before either said a word, Saul spoke up with great enthusiasm, "I will give my camel stick." He proudly held out his precious staff. It was his greatest treasure, yet one he would gladly give away. Tamar squeezed her brothers' shoulders tenderly and kissed each of them on the head. "Let us go before it becomes too late. Our gifts will not wait."
It was four hours after sunrise and the day was starting to heat up. John was glad his headcoverings protected his neck and eyes from the rays of the sun. Its length had the added benefit of preventing bits of stalks and grain from sticking to his sweaty skin. He hoisted another sheaf on his shoulders and headed for the wagon.
All around him John could see other workers rolling the cut wheat into manageable piles and tying them together with strips of stalks. Women worked alongside men and a dark-haired girl on the western edge of the field caught John's eye. Reaching the laden wagon, John's was the last sheaf tossed onto the mound. The driver cracked his whip over the oxen's backs and set off for the threshing floor, where the kernels would be separated from the stalks.
John walked back to the west end of the field. From here one had a good view of Bethlehem, with the white-washed buildings shining brightly in the sun. "Hannah, let me give you a hand with that." He joined a slight girl struggling to tie a sheaf together. "See, you've got too much in here-take some out. Now you can do it!"
"Thank you, John-I'll have to remember that. I always want to make the sheaves as large as possible to save you fellows some trips."
"That's kind of you." John paused to mop his face with a corner of his headcovering. "With all there's left to do, any time saved is much appreciated."
"How many more days work do you think we'll have?"
"At least three or four. We lost a lot of time to the rain. And speaking of water-Boy! Over here!"
John motioned for Hannah to drink first from the water boy's ladle. The cool liquid was a refreshing contrast to the warm air.
"Pentecost will soon be here," Hannah commented, picking some straw out of her hair. "It's one of my favorite festivals-the music, the dancing-"
"Mine, too," nodded John. "It's good to thank God for the harvest and all He has provided for us." He cleared his throat. "I wondered, Hannah, if you family would like to travel with my family to Jerusalem for the festival? We have a donkey for you mother to ride; it would be more comfortable for her."
"Why, John, how nice of you to offer-"
A tall man strode up. "There's no time for chit-chat in my fields," Obediah informed them. "Let's get these sheaves together and off the wet ground-we need every bit of grain for census time. Back to work!"
"Yes, sir," said John, and he bent to lift another sheaf.
"I will talk to my father," called Hannah over her shoulder as Obediah moved on. "I will let you know tomorrow."
"Good! I will look for you then." John's load felt light as he walked to the waiting wagon.
The shadows lengthened as the end of the day arrived. Kenan worked all day in the fields to provide food for his family. In a good year like this one, he would have extra grain to sell in the market and barter with tradesmen in town. "And now I have a son to carry my name and inherit this land," he thought. His many blessings humbled the young man. "My wife works industriously to provide for all our needs, and our daughter will be just as beautiful and talented. And our strong, healthy son will grow up and become the head of our family." These thoughts brought a smile to Kenan's face and renewed his energy.
"Done!" he thought as he tied the last bundle of wheat. Securing his tools, Kenan swiftly walked to the road and headed home. A few chores still awaited him there, and they had to be finished before the Sabbath began at sundown. In minutes his house appeared on the horizon. Rebekah and Adel waved at him from the balcony.
"Hello, dear husband," Rebekah called down. "Our Sabbath meal is nearly ready. Adel and Aram missed you today." Kenan climbed the steps to the second floor to greet his family. he paused just long enough to embrace each one. "I will be back soon, after I feed the animals," Kenan told Rebekah. He hurried down the steps and opened the grain jar, scooping a handful of wheat into a basket. The chickens ran to him and pecked at the grain he scattered on the ground. The goat nuzzled Kenan's hand and he fed a few grains to her as well. Her milk tasted sweeter when she ate some wheat with her normal diet of grasses and wild plants.
His basket emptied of grain, Kenan plucked a handful of olives from the tree by the door, then hurried out to the garden. "Adel will love the sweet melon, and cucumbers are Rebekah's favorite," he thought, smiling. Climbing up to the rooftop with the basket of produce, Kenan joined his family for the beginning of the Sabbath meal.
"Blessed art thou, O Lord, King of the universe, creator of the fruit of the vine," Kenan began. "Blessed art thou, O Lord, our God, Ruler of the universe, who has brought forth bread from the earth." When the prayer was finished, Rebekah filled their bowls and they ate with great zest. The scene filled Kenan with a sense of peace and contentment he had never known before. "My beautiful wife, my little Adel, my baby Aram," he marveled. "Food to eat, a home to shelter us, the Lord to love us. We have everything we could ask for."
Born in 73 B.C., Herod was a friend of the Roman Emperor Augustus and known to both Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony. With these powerful allies, Herod was appointed by the Romans as King of Judea in 37 B.C. Expanding the territory he rules to include parts of modern Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, he was also known as Herod the Great. As his kingdom grew, Herod constructed fortresses, aqueducts and amphitheaters. He also built Caesarea Maritima, the largest and most technologically advanced artificial harbor in the Ancient Roman World. Despite these achievements, Herod was obsessed with thoughts of those who might seek to end his reign. He was ruthless in his efforts to ensure he remained in power. Even those closest to him were mistrusted. Blinded by his fear and anxieties, Herod executed one of his ten wives and three of his 14 children because he suspected they were plotting against him.
It was during Herod's reign that the Baby Jesus was born. Following the Star of Bethlehem, the Three Wise Men, Balthazar, Gaspar and Melchior, entered Herod's kingdom. Looking for the Newborn King, the Wise Men cam to Herod's palace. Herod was surprised to hear of the Christ Child and in his heart he had already decided to eliminate this threat to his power. Pretending to help Balthazar, Gaspar, and Melchior, Herod gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. So they said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for this it is written by the prophet: (A) 'But you , Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.'"(B)
Herod shared what his scribes had told him and directed the Wise Men to Bethlehem. Herod said "Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also."(C)
The Three Kings went to Bethlehem and found the Christ Child. Filled with joy, they bowed down before Jesus and presented their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Before they were to return home, each of the Three Kings had the same dream in which they were divinely warned not to return to Herod. They heeded the dream's warning and departed for their home country by another route.
When Herod realized the Three Kings would not be returning to him, he was furious. Certain that the Christ Child could bring about his downfall, Herod did all in his power to find Jesus and eliminate the threat he presented. Knowing what was in Herod's heart, God appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, "Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him."(D) Joseph when with Mary and Jesus to Egypt and remained there until Herod's death.
A Matthew 2:4-5
B Micah 5:2
C Matthew 2:9
D Matthew 2:13-15
Levi's life-long desire to have a son was destined to be an unfulfilled dream. He and his wife Hannah had five children: all girls. When Hannah died, Levi had no wish to seek a new wife and raised the five alone.
The job would have been impossible, he often confided, were it not for his sister Dorcus. She loved the girls as she did her own, through the five were not always easy to love! Abra, Leah, Shoshana, Ariel and Johanna each had their own, difficult personalities, and as the girl's approached womanhood, Levi's problems grew. Their home seemed in a continual state of turmoil as the five bickered about everything. Levi took to staying in his fields late, gathering produce until he could no longer see the plants in the dark. He became so unhappy about the situation, he finally went to his sister for help after one particularly sleepless night.
"I cannot live with them any more! You must help me. I have even prayed to my wife Hannah for solution, but she rests peacefully while I am left with this dilemma. Help me!"
Dorcus looked at her pitiful brother and assured him that she would find a solution. She told him to have the girls dress nicely on the following night and though he did not know why, Levi was comforted by his sister's soothing assurances.
When the next evening came, the young women had taken great pains with their clothing and hair and seemed to have stopped fighting for the occasion.
Soon, Dorcus appeared, but she was not alone. A tiny, old woman, wrapped in a voluminous outer cloak followed her into Levi's little house. The women were shown to mats as Abra prepared tea and the others sat quietly and respectfully.
"Very nice, very lovely," the old woman nodded, showing a toothless smile as she moved her gaze from left to right. Pleasantries were exchanged, but no one dared ask who the old woman was, or why she was there. Then, almost as soon as the visit began, it ended. Ariel whispered to Shoshana that she thought this the strangest visit she'd ever witnessed.
About a week later, Levi looked up from his work in the fields to see Dorcus walking purposefully toward him. He lifted a nearly-filled basket of vegetables in one hand and his cane in the other, then hurried to meet her. Dorcus whispered a message into Levi's ear and in a rare gesture of affection, he dropped his cane and hugged his sister. Then he thrust the huge basket of produce into Dorcus' arms and yelled a prayer of thanksgiving.
As Dorcus had promised, peace came to pass. Over the course of the year, Levi went to the temple five times. Each time, he gave one daughter in marriage, until the last was gone. The matchmaker had accomplished her miraculous work. And the house of Levi was declared by the neighborhood to the the quietest in the village.
When Malachi was first taken as a slave in Northern Africa and sent to the Holy Land, he had another name...one given him by his homeland. But that was many years ago, and as the Nubian adjusted to living in Bethlehem, he became comfortable with "Malachi," the name chosen by his master. He knew his birth name began with an M, because his master selected the name Malachi when he noticed a simple, cloth bracelet around the boy's wrist with the letter etched and colored with wild berry dye. When his arms grew too big to fit the bracelet, he removed the band and placed it with his most treasured possessions.
Malachi was treated well, as were many of the slaves of his time. He worked in the mines and eventually, he became a talented and respected camel driver. Like many of the slaves brought to help build the Holy Land, Malachi found a certain dignity and glory at having earned his placed in society. He proudly wore the earrings of a slave, a symbol of his station.
Malachi was fortunate to belong to a caring master. The man often asked if the Nubian missed his brother, since the two were brought to the Holy Land as young boys and were sold off to different families.
"I wish I knew my brother's whereabouts," Malachi would reply sadly when asked. "Family is very important and he was all I had."
One feast day, as families rested and visited among themselves, Malachi went to an inn that permitted slaves to congregate under a shady overhand of reeds. Several Nubians dressed in sailor's clothing were sitting on the porch talking of the sea. Malachi sat down and listened with half an ear until he overheard a seaman talking about how lonely it was to be in a strange land during a feast day.
"I often wonder what happened to my brother when I have time to sit and think," he was saying, gazing off into the sky. "He and I were brought here when we were just boys. I don't even remember what his name was in our homeland," he was saying. "But one day, I will find him."
"How do you expect to do that?" another replied, shaking his head in disbelief at the man's futile quest.
"My mother assured that when we left her as boys," the first sailor replied. "She made my little brother an arm band so I would never lose him," he concluded. "The band had a marking like no other: An M dyed of berries from my mother's garden."
The residents of the Holy Land were innovative and resourceful…necessary qualities for people inhabiting a harsh and unyielding land. Crops required patience, and water was one of the most precious resources of all. Mara kept this fact in mind each time she visited the Jericho well with her two earthenware pitchers. Dipping the well’s bucket carefully, she leaned far beyond the walls to be sure precious drops of water returned to their source for others.
One misty morning just past the Winter Solstice, she concentrated on the upward movement of the heavy bucket. “Shalom, child!” boomed a voice behind her. Startled, Mara let go, splashing water everywhere.
The speaker was a white-haired shepherd. Long years had not diminished his nimbleness, for he sprang to the windlass and stopped the rope from playing out entirely.
“Forgive me—I did not mean to frighten you,” he assured her. “I wish peace and joy to all I meet. Wondrous things have happened! Praise be to God. Two nights ago, child, did you mark the great glow in the sky?”
Mara noticed an equal shine in the old gentlemen’s eyes. “Why yes, grandfather. It woke our family in the middle of the night. We all wondered about it.”
“It was the glow of angels—more than could be counted! They had a message for all of us shepherds: Today a Messiah is born in the city of David. You shall find Him wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” The shepherd leaned forward for emphasis. “And I have seen Him—just as the angels said. That I should live so long to see such a miracle!”
“The Messiah?” Mara caught her breath. “You have seen Him? Where?”
“In Bethlehem, in the stable of the inn. There were many of us who hurried there. And now I am on my way to tell my distant relatives. Everyone must know of this event!”
Mara’s mind reeled. It sound unbelievable, but she could not doubt that man’s sincerity. “Here, let me give you some water for your journey.” He helped her pull the bucket up. “Bless you, child,” he said after his flask was full. “Tell everyone to see the Messiah in Bethlehem!”
Mara’s filled pitchers were light as feathers in her arms as she walked toward her house with a brimming heart. Her family must be the first to hear this wondrous news.
Marcus puffed his chest out proudly as he patrolled the lines of people snaking out from the census tent. "This is what a legionary ought to be doing," he thought. "No more sitting behind a desk tallying figures. I'm glad Flavius thinks I'm ready. Keep order and watch for thieves. That's right. Any light-fingered fellows with ideas about Caesar's tax money will find themselves at the end of this javelin-"
Bam! Something collided with his brightly painted shield as he turned a corner. A loud wail came from a child lying at his feet.
A bearded man rushed up, "Watch where you're going, you stupid Roman! It's not enough to bleed adults for taxes, you have to shove children around as well?"
Marcus' hand closed around the javelin and hefted it. "I'll show him what it means to insult a representative of the Roman Empire!" he was thinking.
"Marcus!" came a voice behind him. It was Flavius, the centurion's aide, stepping quickly through the crowd. "Remember we are here to keep order and preserve the peace." His eyes locked onto Marcus'.
"Yes, sir," said the young soldier. He leaned his javelin against a wall and offered a hand to the boy, now being helped to his feet by the bearded man. "I'm sorry I knocked you down," Marcus apologized. "Your father's right-I should have watched where I was going."
The boy, still a little dazed, nodded by way of acceptance. "By Moses' beard!" exclaimed his father. "I never thought to hear a soldier apologize to a Judean. You've changed my opinion of Romans." The anger died out in his eyes. Holding his son's hand, they went off in the direction of the poultry shop.
Flavius clapped a hand on his subordinate's shoulder. "Good job, Marcus. It takes courage to admit when you are wrong. I will be sure to tell Centurion Alexander of your part in keeping the peace of the Empire. Carry on."
Marcus saluted. "Thank you, sir." He mopped his brow and resumed patrolling, his thoughts far different than moments ago.
Mordecai had never been a happy child, and as he grew to adulthood, his personality grew more and more cantankerous. People suspected that his mother's early death upset him so severely that he decided never, ever to smile.
To avoid people, Mordecai found work at a Bethlehem village gate as night watchman. A lantern and a supply of oil were all the company he needed. He spent his night yelling: "Who's there?" from sundown to sunup.
All kinds of people came out of the night and Mordecai saw them all., The empty faces. The silent wanders. Leaning on his crooked walking stick, he did his lonely job.
On a particularly chilly night just past the Winter Solstice, Mordecai's supper was interrupted by the sound of approaching travelers, He looked up to see a little donkey laboring up to the gate bearing a tired but beautiful young woman. Leading the beast was a decidedly older, bearded man, obviously weary from miles of walking.
Challenging their entry with his threatening stance, Mordecai leaned heavily on his rugged stick and lifted the lantern. Light spilled over the strangers.
"Shalom. We seek an inn, my friend," the traveler asked, letting go of the rope bridle. "We have traveled far and my wife needs rest...and soon!" he added urgently.
Mordecai moved closer to the young woman. Despite her loose garments, he could see that she was expecting a child very shortly.
The old man began to bark out his standard directions, but for some reasons even he did not fathom, he stopped. Instead, his gaze remained fixed upon the woman. She seemed to glow with a shimmering aura of light, all her own.
"We are so grateful for you assistance," she said to Mordecai, smiling a smile that touched his heart. Her hand reached out from beneath the blue wrap she wore and rested lightly on his shoulder.
The gatekeeper was transfixed. He could not lower his lamp...nor could he speak for what seemed an eternity. Her smile continued to radiate until the little man felt his heart swell with warmth...as warm as the glowing lantern held aloft in his hand.
"Please, my lady, let me help you," Mordecai said, picking up the dropped tether from the ground. "I cannot stay away from here too long, but will walk with you as far as the temple and point the way to inn."
With that, Mordecai smiled as smile of the angels. He led the couple silently towards the inn. And when he returned to his gate, he was no longer the same man.
When Naomi, wife of Bethlehem's baker Azzan, witnessed her husband's transformation, she was ecstatic! At long last, he was free of the lingering fear of famine that had dogged him since childhood. He stopped hoarding grain. He stopped eating everything in sight, and gave up urging Naomi, and their son, Isaak, to do the same.
This happy change of circumstance was the result of Jesus' miraculous birth. Following Azzan's return from seeing the Holy Family, he opened his granaries to anyone who needed food. Such goodness made Naomi proud of her husband...but it also made her feel unworthy. Despite bringing bread to the stable, she felt her contribution wasn't enough. "I will honor the Blessed Babe in my own way," she vowed.
Day after day, Naomi kept her promise. She arose early to do her chores. Then, she gathered bits of leftover dough and shaped one loaf of bread. Before placing it in the hearth, she decorated each with flowers...leaves...a butterfly. No two works of art were alike. As for Azzan, he was too busy to notice Naomi's special creations. For weeks, Naomi's mysterious mission went forward...had an old woman not appeared at the door of the bakery one morning. "Is Naomi here?" the woman asked Azzan.
He smiled, shaking his head. "No, grandmother. I think she went to market. May I get bread for you?" The woman shook her head 'no' as she reached into the depths of her robes for a small bunch of winter flowers.
"These are from the children," she said. Was Azzan expected to know what the old woman in black was talking about? His puzzled look prompted her to explain. "At my home. I take care of many of the orphans in Bethlehem. Your wife brings beautiful bread to us each day...the children's eyes light up with joy. Flowers. And butterflies! Everyone waits for Naomi's bread." She extended the flowers. "They wanted to say thank you in the only they knew."
Azzan was too touched to speak. He knew his wife was a virtuous woman, but this unselfish act...one she was too modest to reveal, even to her husband...lifted her to the heights of Sarah, Abraham's wife. He nodded his gratitude to the woman as he took the fragile winter flowers from her hands.
Peter was a young shepherd with the smallest of flocks. He tended to only three sheep, but he was devoted to them. Although it was a lonely job, Peter often felt there was somehow another presence with him helping with his charges. One of heaven's littlest angels, Adina, was the gaurdian of Peter's sheep. Although she was unseen, she was never far.
Peter's flock included two ewes and a ram. The youngest ewe was called Taleh, and she was Peter's favorite. She had always been the one that was lost or tangled in brambles, but as she grew Taleh found trouble less often and became a wonderful companion to Peter. Through the fall and winter, Peter would watch his ewes for signs that lambs would be born in the spring, but year after year Peter's hopes for a larger herd would be dashed. He was troubled by this and worried about the future. One night when his concerns filled even his dreams, Peter was startled by a light more brilliant than any he had ever seen. An angel appeared and awoke not only Peter and his flock, but all of the Holy Land's shepherds and sheep.
Then the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign to you. You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!"(A)
When the angels had left, Peter knew he must see this newborn Savior. He led his sheep toward Bethlehem with Adina watching over them. When they arrived, the stable was crowded with those who also had heard the news. Each was presenting the Baby Jesus with a gift. As Peter approached the manger, he suddenly realized he had nothing to give and was filled with sadness. He was about to walk quietly away, when Adina whispered an idea to him. With that, Peter smiled. He approached the manger and placed his beloved Taleh at the foot of the manger. The Baby looked at Adina and Peter and smiled with gratitude. Peter was wrapped in a feeling of calm and for a time his worries about the future of his flock now numbering only two were gone.
Before the concerns could return and again cloud Peter's mind, spring arrived and with it the birth of two little lambs. As time went on, Peter's worries never returned because each year his flock increased in number until the sheep in his care stretched out almost as far as the eye could see.
A Luke 2:9-14
96183, no box
The earliest morning hours were Jeremiah’s favorite time of the day. He loved to lay in the middle third of a huge bedroll made of sheepskins, rolling over to his mother’s side where it was still warm and smelled of her sweet rubbing oils. As an intense sun swept into the single-roomed dwelling each day, Jeremiah listened for his mother’s soft humming as she tiptoed back from the well with the day’s water and began kneading bread at the family hearth.
On one particular morning at the end of the year, Jeremiah awoke and listened for his mother’s humming. But all his ears detected were the whispers of his mother and father. He could tell that they were worried by the sound of their quiet voices.
“What shall we do?” he heard his young mother say to his father.
“We must do the best we can,” his father replied, gathering up his basket and leaving the hut to collect eggs from the chickens.
All day long his mother was not herself. An air of unrest filled the house and made Jeremiah speak quietly.
Late that night…when not a sound could be heard in the village…little Jeremiah awoke to find that the room was bathed in shining, golden light that came from outside. Very carefully, Jeremiah climbed over his father and stood at the room’s entrance. In the sky, he beheld a star that reached all the way to earth and fanned out to the left and the right as far as the eye could see.
“Mommy…daddy…come see!” Jeremiah shouted. “Come and see the star.”
The adults bolted up from the floor and rushed to the opening. Sure enough, the little boy wasn’t dreaming.
“He’s come,” Jeremiah’s father whispered, in awe. “God’s promise has been fulfilled. We must go to honor Him. We must bring gifts and follow the star in the night sky to where He is.”
“But, my husband! We have no gifts to give. We have only the food left on the hearth…not enough for the three of us for more than a day or two. I am afraid, my husband. All day today I worried about our child. What will we do without food?
“Don’t be afraid, my wife,” Jeremiah’s father said in a strong, comforting voice. “All of the gifts we need are here in this room tonight. God will provide what we need. Of this, I am sure. And tonight, we must honor His fulfilled promise: the Messiah for whom we have waited so long. He has come.”
And so the young couple took up all of the food in their home. They worked quickly, and before leaving the house, the young wife covered her head. And with one arm cradling the last of their eggs and bread, the couple reached for the hands of their most precious gift, Jeremiah. And they led him toward the east.
Rebekah, Aram & Adel
Rebekah hurried down the dusty road toward her home. This trip to the market took longer than she planned, and preparations for the Sabbath must be finished before sundown. "Come now, Adel!" she laughed as her daughter paused to look at a wildflower. "Your father will soon be home from the fields. We must be sure that everything is ready so he can relax and enjoy the Sabbath meal." The baby began to squirm in Rebekah's arms and she reached around to stoke his hair. "We'll be home soon, Aram," the young mother whispered. "I'll lay you in your swing so you can enjoy the breeze."
Just three years before, Rebekah and her husband Kenan celebrated when their daughter Adel was born. Then the birth of Aram brought another special joy to the the village. "A son!" Kenan exclaimed proudly to the village. "And he arrived just after the baby boy who was born in the stable behind the Inn, the one they are calling the Messiah. Our house is truly blessed with two such healthy and beautiful children." Neighbors helped the young couple with cooking and washing after Aram's birth, though Rebekah resumed her household duties as soon as she could. Today she felt strong enough to make the short journey into the village with Aram and Adel. The women in the marketplace exclaimed over Aram's bright smile and sunny disposition, and cooed over little Adel's devotion to the new baby.
Rebekah made the most of her trip to the marketplace, purchasing a freshly caught fish to grace their table. The Sabbath meal marked the one time each week when Rebekah served meat along with the other foods they enjoyed daily: bread baked on their own hearth, olives from a tree outside their door, fruits and vegetables from their own garden, and wine.
Rebekah placed Aram gently in his swing, then spied a neighbor's son sauntering down the street. "Daniel!" she called. "Would you have a moment to play your beautiful pipes for Aram? He is fussing again, and your music helped him sleep last week." The boy grinned and ran up the narrow steps that hugged the outside of the two-story home.
"I'll watch him, Rebekah," promised Daniel. Relieved, the young mother hurried into her home and began to pat the dough into small, flat loaves. "Adel, please set out the bowls and cups," Rebekah instructed. "Your father will be home soon.."
The meal was nearly ready as the sunset's glow filled the little home. Rebekah and Adel walked out on the balcony to find a contented baby, half-asleep to the sweet notes of Daniel's pipe. The setting sun was so brilliant that Rebekah could barely see the outline of her husband's form, walking swiftly toward them. Her heart lifted. Kenan was home.
Like the majority of people residing in the Holy Land, Seth had a garden outside the city walls. He loved digging in the soil and planting his crops...and he particularly enjoyed harvesting fruit from the trees that had been in Seth's family for so many generations.
It seemed to him that the fruit represented the tradition of his family and that as long as the trees continued to bear fruits of the region, so would his family continue to live in health and prosperity in Jerusalem.
A special olive tree was planted for Seth on the day of his birth. It was a tradition among his clan that only an olive tree could be planted on the day of a son's birth. Olive trees had symbolic natures. It took fifteen years for an olive tree to bear fruit, just as it took male children thirteen years to reach manhood. By fifteen, many were married.
When Seth went to gather fruit from the trees, vines and shrubbery of the family plot, he had developed a little ritual over the years. The last thing he did before shouldering his fruit-filled basket was to visit a moment with his olive tree. He gave it a small bit of water each time from his jug (olive trees require very little) and watched as the plant grew taller and taller.
One day, Seth didn't come to the garden by himself. He brought his friend Martha. This was the first time Seth had come with anyone other than one of his family, so the occasion must have been a special one.
Martha listen as Seth explained about how his father had planted his tree on the day of his birth...and now, both of them were tall and nearly grown.
Martha understood, for she was to become Seth's wife in the following spring. She loved the little tree and thought about what it would be like, as a member of Seth's clan, to plant a tree for her own son some day.
Seth picked up his basket, heavy with pears and pomegranates and figs, and started to walk toward the city gates.
"I will be coming with you in just a moment," said Martha, heading back toward the garden and the olive tree. She removed one of her headscarves and tied the cloth gently around the tree.
Then she ran after Seth.
Silas came from a family of shepherds. His father Timothy and his brother Micah tended the flock while his mother Nahome worked with the wool, spinning it into thread, and then weaving it into cloth. Timothy and Micah spent the greater part of the year both day and night outside in all kinds of weather. In the spring, they lead the flock to graze on neighboring hills. In the summer, they brought their charges to cooler mountain pastures. When fall and winter approached, they would migrate to lower, warmer coastal plains and valleys. Timothy and Micah were good shepherds and knew each of their sheep by name. They lead them to food and water and protected them from the constant dangers of theives and wild beasts- lions, leopards, and wolves.
Micah wanted with all his heart to be with his father and brother and flock. Whenever his could, he would spend the day with Timothy and Micah learning all the names of each of the sheep and how to call them so that they would respond. He learned about shearing and how to find lost lambs. He learned where to find water and where lush pastures could be found. He also learned how to use a slingshot. The leather sling with a web pocket was used to hurl stones at the animals that threatened the flock. Silas knew form the story of David and Goliath that this was a powerful tool. He practiced placing a stone on the pad, holding the two ends of the string, and swinging it around in a circle. He learned when to let go of one of the strings so that the stone would fly toward the target. He practiced so often that his slingshot was never far from his hand. Silas got his wish to be full-time shepherd when his father, Timothy, had journeyed to Bethlehem for the census. While Timothy was gone, Silas joined Micah in the fields both day and night. More than once Silas' slingshot practice proved to be worthwhile as he used carefully aimed stones to drive off predators. Late one night while tending the flock, Silas and Micah saw the Star of Bethlehem appear in the sky. Both wondered what this wondrous light might mena, and soon found out when their father returned home with stories of the Savior's birth.