Ordinary Glory – A Christmas short story

I wrote this short story around Christmas 2014. I thought it’d be fun to share! Partially inspired by the song Joseph’s Lullaby.

Also, today marks one year since I began this blog. Thanks for reading and for sticking around!

The night was ordinary, in nearly every sense of the word except the most important.

Irritation and exhaustion abounded in the town. Its boundaries overflowed with grumpy, weary strangers, none of whom wanted to be there. Perhaps most ordinary and universal of all was displeasure toward the ruler of the day, who was the reason they were all there to begin with.

All so busy, so caught up in their own worries, their own woes, and all they wanted was to sleep that night, if they couldn’t be at home.

Away, away from the crush of people that night, in the quiet of a hillside, a poor ordinary girl struggled through the ordinary pain of birthing a child. Her young husband knelt beside her, speaking in low, reassuring tones, stroking her hair that was smooth as the flowing waters of the River Jordan. A closer look would reveal the paleness of his face, the regret he felt at this being the place of childbirth. The helplessness he felt as he watched her in so much pain.

“Mary, my girl. You can do it. One more. Just one more.” He stroked her hair again, his hand tracing across her forehead, picking up glistening drops of sweat. He wished for cool cloths to alleviate some of her discomfort. But there was nothing he could do. Nothing he could offer. Nothing but himself.

Ah, most gracious God, he pleaded silently. May I be of use. Pull us through this.

Her sharp squeal reached his ears, and he winced. She gripped his hand. “Jo—Joseph—”

“I’m right here, Mary.” Her deep brown eyes met his for just a moment, and a tender feeling washed over him. “I’m always here,” he added, and silently thanked the Lord for not letting him disbelieve her and put her away. But guilt lingered within him as her trusting eyes shone, staring into his. Did he truly deserve her trust?

The contractions throbbed faster, stronger, and Mary’s cries pierced Joseph’s heart. She clung to him, sobbing, and it was all he could do to keep his voice calm.

But as the night slipped by, and dawn drew near, the long-awaited moment arrived at last. The child was born. His squalls filled the air, that cry of presence. “I am here,” it proclaimed, though no one but the angels listened.

Joseph took the child and removed his own outer cloak to wrap him with. Then he turned, and handed the baby to Mary. He settled back on his knees and watched his young wife and the child she’d borne.

An awe filled her face, and she stroked the tiny red cheek with a finger. Joseph had expected to feel odd, like a stranger intruding on this moment, since the child wasn’t his, but all of that seemed far away now. The child—nothing seemed out of the ordinary, just by looking at him. But the radiance he exuded was clearly evident in the air about the couple. Glory permeated the air, even with every cry of the baby’s newborn lungs.

Mary fed the baby, and a quiet once again descended upon the hillside. Joseph praised God in heaven, then dared a glance again at the tiny boy before him.

Is he the one who would save the world?

The nursing finished for now, Mary handed the baby to Joseph so she could rest for a bit. He walked to the mouth of the abandoned shepherds’ cave and rocked the boy in his arms, trying to soothe his cries.

“Look, little Jesus,” he whispered, lifting the child high. “Look, it’s the sunrise. The light has come again.”

A few tears pooled in the corner of his vision, and he blinked them away. He returned his gaze to the boy’s face, and smiled a bit. “The light has come,” he repeated, the realization of his words settling upon his spirit.

“The light is…right here. Right now.”

The baby looked back in Joseph’s eyes as he wriggled in the arms holding him. He gurgled softly, as if answering Joseph’s declaration.

Suddenly, a frantic noise of pounding footsoles interrupted Joseph’s thoughts. Several bedraggled shepherds skidded into view. When they caught notice of him, they stared at him. But no, Joseph realized. They weren’t staring at him. They stared at the child he cradled.

“It is the child,” one said in a hoarse, hushed voice. “The one the angels spoke of.” The shepherd looked up at Joseph. “This is he, isn’t it? It is the Savior. The Messiah.”

Joseph swallowed his questions, his shock, and hugged the boy closer. “It is the child,” he agreed, and hesitated. “Would…would you like to come inside?”

The shepherds followed Joseph into the cave. Mary startled, then Joseph knelt and placed her son in her arms. Her eyes softened.

The shepherds hung back, and Mary looked from them to the baby she held, then finally to Joseph. The expression in her eyes showed understanding, and she nodded to Joseph. So the shepherds stepped forward, and knelt before the child. And they worshipped.

Standing at the edge of the group, Joseph’s insecurities and uncertainties melted away. It was a strange feeling, and a shiver ran through him.

Mary laid the boy in an old cattle’s manager, atop the few remnant straws of hay. And Joseph humbly knelt with the poor shepherds, marvelling at the miracle that lay before him. He didn’t know what it all meant yet. But he could not deny the impossible power pulsing in this tiny bundle of human weakness before him.

The light had indeed come. In the most ordinary and extraordinary of ways.

Joy of every longing heart

Joy of every longing heart.png

Have you noticed how our hearts long for things?

We long for–or crave–certain kinds of food, certain possessions, and so on…but above all, we long for things intangible.

We long for peace. Hope. Satisfaction. Joy. Love.

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

From the dawn of humanity, we have longed. Our story is one of yearning for something beyond ourselves.

cs-lewis-quote-desire
(via)

But our sin kept us from being able to experience this hope and peace and fulfillment. We were destined to spend our lives hurting and groaning with unrest. The story of the world would’ve been an unimaginable tragedy.

But God.

God heard our groanings. He felt the relentless pull of our yearning. His love was so great for us that He orchestrated a grand plan of redemption.

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

He sent His Son to be our deliverer. Our perfect substitute.

He sent Jesus to die. A baby born to die, He has been called, and rightly so. Sometimes I wonder if and how He knew about that while growing up. How did He, fully human, bear the weight of knowing what His future held? 

The night He prayed in the garden of Gethsemane–He trembled at it all. Yet He proceeded onward to the cross of Calvary, bearing in heart and mind you and me.

I started a tradition last year of writing every single one of my coworkers a Christmas card, designed to share the message of hope and also a personal word of encouragement. The beautiful cards I picked this year contain this message:

His destiny was the cross…

His purpose was love…

His reason was you.

This, my friends, is the message of Christmas. It is not a cute manger scene. It’s not a sugar-sweet fairytale. It’s the sobering beginning of the end. But it’s not dark. Its seriousness does not at all take away from the joy and hope of that night in Bethlehem when the Savior of mankind entered the world as a tiny baby, wrapped in human flesh.

He came to set us free–free from our fears and sins. Free from our shame and guilt. Free from the darkness that surrounds us and would devour us whole.

He came to give us rest. To be our strength, our comfort in troubling times.

He came to be the hope of a world gone without hope for far too long.

He came to deliver us, and to reign in us forever. To be the life-changing leader of our existence.

And in His coming, he became the joy of every longing heart. This, this is the peace He brings to earth. Not the peace of a world at rest, devoid of harm. No, that peace is still to come. But He brought rest to our ever-yearning hearts. He brought us satisfaction and hope in Him. This is the beauty of Christmas. And it’s something I find myself awed over anew each year.

Merry Christmas! May your Christmas this year be a celebration of the Savior who brought us peace.

Lovesong to a dying world

Lovesong to a dying world full

Shalom: A Hebrew word translated as peace, but with a broader meaning that carries the idea of wholeness, of perfect completeness, “as things were meant to be.”

God, be our rest. In this world of broken shalom, You are the one who is constant. Whole. As things are meant to be.

You placed the longing in our hearts for that completeness that can only be filled by You. It broke Your heart when Adam and Eve chose to doubt and go their own path, and You had to cast them out of the garden, the first blood sacrifices for human sin cloaking their backs.

But even then, You gave the promise of a Redeemer to come. To enter this world of broken shalom and provide the way back to You.

Through the ages, the promise rang. Through death and disobedience. Through grumbling and groaning. Even as Israel fell and the people were carried away into captivity, the prophets proclaimed the message: One was coming who would be the Messiah.

Then the silence. Four hundred years, as the people waited. Some doubted, some disbelieved, but others clung to the stories and the prophecies–threads of hope.

And then, finally, the Messiah was born. His name? Jesus–Savior. Emmanuel…God with us. At last, the miracle. The bridge to restore shalom.

 

Christmas is more than a day to recognize the birth of Jesus. It’s a gateway of hope. Of opportunity contained in the angels’ proclamation of God’s lovesong to a dying world: “Peace–shalom–on earth. For today, in the city of David, a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord.”

Sarah Spradlin wrote a poem once about writers. One line that particularly resonated with me reads, “Writers are a people who will watch quietly as the world, in all its glory and depravity, spins out of control and still believe it’s worth saving.” It reminds me of God looking upon the mess His creations made and still deciding that we were worth saving. That we were worth the price of a Savior.

“Emmanuel…now all is well. God dwells with us.” (See “When She Looks at Jesus” here)

God dwells with us.

 

There’s such a beauty in Christmas when you celebrate more than just a baby in a manger. When you recognize the shattering of the darkness–literal, spiritual, and metaphorical–the host of angels accomplished that night. When you understand the hope, the answer to everything gone before and to come, that was born that night. When you understand the glory and the sacrifice packed into that tiny bundle of humanity, lying in the straw–then, then it becomes beautiful. A story of beauty entering into our brokenness in the form of a baby, that cry of beginning ringing out into the land.

The promise, the hope of Christmas: The cross has created a way.

And that is where the peace comes from–knowing that though this world has troubles, though questions may still echo in our hearts, the greatest ones were answered in the Messiah as He accomplished His redemption. “It is finished!” He cried, and in the light of eternal glory, these troubles are indeed light and momentary (2 Cor. 4:16-18).

Meanwhile, the Redeemer left us with a very special job to do. The Creator entrusted us with bearing His message–His lovesong to a dying world. As 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 says, God “gave us the ministry of reconciliation” and has “committed to us the message of reconciliation.” In fact, we are Christ’s ambassadors, “as though God were making his appeal through us.”

There’s such a beauty in Christmas when you celebrate more than just a baby in a manger. When you recognize the shattering of the darkness–literal, spiritual, and metaphorical–the King of kings has chosen to accomplish through us. When you understand the hope, the answer to everything gone before and to come, that was born in us that night through His presence, which was itself the fulfillment of countless promises and prophecies. When you understand the glory and the sacrifice packed into that tiny bundle of humanity, lying in the straw–then, then, it becomes beautiful, and you begin to realize your purpose in this big old thing we call life. It is a story of beauty entering our brokenness–our messy lives and hearts–in the form of a baby, and providing a new beginning (2 Cor. 5:17). Providing a chance to be used as a vessel for His glory (2 Cor. 4:7).

The promise, the hope of Christmas: Broken shalom doesn’t have to stay broken. In Him, we are complete (Col. 2:10), and have the opportunity to let our completeness and fullness of joy spill over into other lives, touching pockets of brokenness and filling them with the light.

Oh Father, use us as restorers of the broken shalom in this world. Fill us with the peace that surpasses understanding (Phil. 4:7), that we may shine like stars in the darkness of this world (Phil. 2:15), overflowing with the radiance of Your love.


 

Here With Us, by Joy Williams