It is said that authors are considered good at their craft when they’ve managed to draw you in to their story, to connect you to the humanness of their characters; their inner struggles within their outward context, to their victory, and their victory in the overarching theme. They use many methods, many ‘literary devices’, all mixed together like a fine recipe concocted by these artisans to produce an aroma that patiently draws in the reader, teaching and activating their imagination and inquiring mind. And sometimes the reader becomes so caught up that they search out other sources for more context – cultural or environmental – to add textured background to the narrative.
Like I did.
Nazareth. The tiny little town of even tinier importance in Galilee in the northern region of Israel. An area of rocky terrain with clutches of flora and fauna. The might of Roman military everywhere. The violent Herod the Great as regional king. Taxes. Taxes. Taxes. Taxes on taxes. Peasants plugging away at a meagre living and food supply, often combining several channels of income through carpentry and other craft, as well as farming.
It is a time with many accepted norms of the day. Among them, that intimacy before marriage brought immense shame upon the family and was a punishable offence. By death. It was a time when the promise of marriage to another would mean you would spend your engagement period separated from your ‘betrothed’. Study of the practices at the time of Mary and Joseph reveal that young (probably late-teen-aged) Mary, soon to be wed to Joseph, would have been whisked away to have likely spent time the rest of her pre-wedding day-to-day in the sole company of women. It was very likely during this time she was visited by the angel Gabriel, and her scandalous puzzling pregnancy would begin to show and grow. Not only would she have had to have somehow manage to live through the raising of more than a few eyebrows, nosey questions, suspicions, rejection and alienation amongst the women with whom she lived (from the dead giveaway of first time she would not have participated in the ‘monthly purification rituals’), she would have had to consider honourable, devout and Law-abiding Joseph’s reaction as well. And quite possibly, Joseph might have been the last to know.
Will he believe me? The worry. Will he reject me? Will I be cast off and shamed for the rest of my life? The gulp. “He is an honourable man. I must tell him.” The rehearsing. “Joseph, I’m pregnant.” “Joseph! I have amazing news! I saw and spoke with an angel!” “Joseph, guess what? We’ve been chosen! An angel told me that we’re pregnant – with God’s Son!” The gulp. The screwing up of courage and setting out to see Joseph. The determination to keep focus and not run away.
Carpenter’s nails protruding from pursed lips. Clenched jaw in concentration. Hands and hair covered in sawdust. Feet buried in pillows of curls of wood. Marriage! Responsibility! Brow furrowed, thoughts focused, and beads of sweat trickling down the hairline. “Hmmm?” the preoccupied answer comes.
“Joseph,” comes the call with greater urgency. Brows knitted with worry and concern. Eyes searching his face. Hands tightly clasped. Oh thank the Father for the long robe! Knees shaking. Tummy showing? Heart beating out of chest. Shaking deep breath.
Deep mahogany eyes turn from the worktable. The smile. The hand caressing her velvet cheek. Heart captured by her beauty. Hmm? The smile fading. The glance down to what the slender hands are resting on. Mary? You’re … What? The hammer falling to the ground with a thud. The step back. How? Who? The mind racing. Surely now she belongs to another! Custom allows me to divorce her, for to take a child that is not mine is dishonourable. But it must be done quietly. Yes, I must quietly return her to her parents, spare her and her family the shame and exposure to the radical punishment of such a sin, of the prescribed stoning (Numbers 5).
But. The dream. The honour of God speaking directly to him! The affirmation of Mary’s wild, dizzying and astonishing story. The promise of a boy! The assigning his unborn child’s Name! The Name that means “God saves!” The joy! Fulfillment of ancient prophecy! The humble obedience. The conversation with the anxious Mary in quiet and reassuring tone. The decision to fulfill the marriage covenant. Census! The preparation for travel. The enduring of scorn and spitting and sneers and jeers in the village. The gentle care, the fierce protectiveness over Mary. The leaving in haste with his very pregnant betrothed.
The very long and arduous journey. The incessant bouncing up and down. Are we there yet? The twinges, the cramping, the increasing pain. The lights of the town ahead. The labour starting and progressing rapidly. The slow moaning.
The crowds. The yelps and increasing groanings from his wife. The hope of shelter. The frantic search. “Jo-SEPH!” Sir, do you have a room? Sorry. No room for you. Census don’t forget. Nope, not here. Nor here. Not anywhere. Wait. We have something. In the barn. With the animals. Interested?
The intense labour and the birth. The first cry. The wonder. What child is this, and what will his future be? Scorn. Shame. Revilement. Anger. Hatred. Rejection. Brutality. Evil spewing venom, pulling out all the stops to silence Him, as early as His first cry right up until his last breath.
Why for heaven’s sake? Why would He come? Why would He endure all this?
For our sake. For Love. For His immeasurable, unending and mind-blowing unconditional love for you, for me, for all of us. In Love’s Name, in its very nature, in its purity, in its hope, in its promise. For its very nature. To stand in our place so we can live in His.
All in that Babe, in that stable, in that feed box, on that cold damp night under that star so joyful and bright.
For all of us.
Will we make room from Him, for the wonder, for the mystery – in the inn of our hearts?
For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Soil and Seed
This is the time of year when all the plantings in the Spring have grown to their fullest beauty, and when what I see rolled out for me like a carpet of color and texture feeds every one of my senses. This is the time of year when I delight in drinking it all in, marveling at how the Gardener allowed me to partner with him to make it soo lovely! Honestly though. I may have cooperated with him, but I certainly didn’t do the Lion’s share of the work in spite of my sore muscles and dirty fingernails. What I see on display before me was originally nested deep within the mystery of the seed, burrowed deep within the cultivated ground, springing forward in sprout and plant at just the right moment, a gift for me to enjoy!
I may plant seeds, and fertilize and water them, but I’m not the One Who fashioned these little dynamos of creation, nor am I Maestro of the orchestra that brings about rich growth and glorious bloom. I may mix nutrients into the soil and hope to have the right combination, but I didn’t create the soil, nor do I really fully understand the chemistry of how all the molecules come together to produce fine fertile ground for abundant growth. I may water, but the composition of water is not of my design, nor is how this fascinating clear substance that somehow nurtures sprouting and multiplication, dropping from weightless clouds in heavy pearls into the welcoming terra firma. I’m not the one that decides a tomato seed must grow into a tomato plant rather than a sycamore tree, or an apple seed into an apple tree rather than a hibiscus.
For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.
(Colossian 1: 16, New International Version)
And for that matter, I didn’t create me. I didn’t fashion myself in my mummy’s womb, deciding on the color of my hair and eyes, and how many strands on my head and in my eyebrows there should be. I didn’t make sure that I should be daughter to this man and this woman, to be born on this date at this time, and grow up in this environment. I wasn’t consulted on how tall I should grow, how long I should live, what talents and gifts I should have to accomplish what purpose. Nope. That wasn’t me. That was and is all God. He synthesizes and symphonizes every single detail of me, of my life, and of my purpose. Some may call me a multi-tasker – God, though, takes it to a whole new level!
Oh friends! Just as he created each seed to produce sole and incomparable glory, and the proper conditions for them to grow in loveliness and nourish the world, so he created each of us entirely unique from one another, to each fully flourish as His child, and to flourish with one another, and most especially to flourish with Him! Just as each plant within its family, each family within the flower beds, each flower bed within the garden, and garden within the vast garden of the Gardener flourishes, so we within our space and time. Fully growing and blooming! And just Who, or who, do we decide to listen to in order to assist in that flourishing?
Fully flourish. Fully live. With Him. Can you imagine? As really you, as really me. That deep part of me that restlessly and excitedly bubbles up, that I interrupt and rush ahead of to fill by my own often misguided and driven desire. That me that I get distracted and side-tracked from, and I incorrectly assume and anticipate for. That me that is protected by warning signs that I often blissfully or defiantly ignore; that me that I head away from off on this detour, and from the very One who knows and calls me by name. What’s the bright and shiny thing over there? And there I go, attracted to glistening lights of promise, assuming that must be what I am cut out to be, wanting to be a daisy when I am really a rose bush, or a rose bush surmising I need this soil when it needs that. And what happens? Exhausted dissatisfaction. Missing something.
Listen, the whisper persists. You seek what is not meant for you, nor will you find what you seek apart from me. I have been deliberate in creating you, and have taken great care in fashioning every tiniest part of you. I have a perfect purpose and plan for you – that only you can fulfill, just as it is for each of my children. Yes! There is more! Much more within you, and to you, and for you that awaits than what you can possibly imagine. But only I know what you need. I know you. I know where you are. Be patient. Wait on Me. Yes – listen . Listen and risk, but also learn and return. Remember Whose you are and trust in the far superior ‘Best’ I have for you. I will bring you to the fulfillment of your deepest longing and being, fulfillment of spirit and soul and body and mind and purpose. Listen and learn from my Son while you venture out protected by my Love.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
(Matthew 11: 28-30, The Message)
Trust in the promises of our unseen God Who releases us from the ill-fitting, the grown-accustomed-to, the fallen-prey-and-bought-into! Trust in Him as we recover our unforced rhythms, as our yearnings are answered, as we walk and work with Jesus as He does the Lion’s share of re-centering our minds and reshaping our hearts! Lean heavily into Him as we step out of our lesser selves into our meant-to-be’s and come to grips with the reality that this world’s definition of “life” and “living” is not even the palest in comparison to His. Lift up our parched and exhausted hearts to Him, and rely on His strength to persist in undoing and untangling what I’ve sought out that has grown over, that has deformed and has suffocated the Tailor-made me. Recognize that what I need needs to come not from the created, but the Creator. Learn and know and there is real Life in His ways. Surrendering. Surrendering to the I AM my I am.
Oh Jesus, quickly come into the deep and private places of our souls and spirits, and reveal yourself, your most splendid Character and Love to us! Be our Maestro over our hearts and minds and souls and bodies! May your beauty sprout and grow to bless in unrestrained exuberance, and bless abundantly in this world! Help us to really, really trust You; to rise again and again to stay the course of transformation to the “me’s” You deliberately and excitedly created on purpose, and with a purpose. Reposition me in spirit and mind to be the most glorious rose, or daisy, or fern, or hosta, or whomever I am meant to be, growing where I’m meant to be!
Yes! I want Your beauty above to shine through me, through all of us, here below! I want that fullness and fulfillment you offer! And Father, that’s what I want for everyone!
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
(Isaiah 41:10, New International Version)
“Then Jesus told Simon, “Stop being afraid. From now on you will be catching people.” So when they brought the boats to shore, they left everything and followed Jesus.”
(Luke 5:11, International Standard Version)
“Immediately the man could see again and began to follow Jesus, glorifying God. All the people saw this and gave praise to God.”
(Luke 18: 43, International Standard Version)
Soil and Seed