The Greatest Story – Part 10: Pilgrimage

The years flew by, life In Galilee suited Joseph and Mary. Joseph set up a carpentry business and they welcomed more children into their family: James, Elizabeth, Joses, twin girls Joanna and Sapphira, Judas and Simon. Jesus proved to be a helpful big brother and Mary was grateful for His constant encouragement and help when He wasn’t studying or assisting Joseph. Elizabeth was just as sweet and kind as Mary’s cousin and become a second mother to the other children, even Jesus listened to her and James when given a stern look from his mother. Mary’s heart was full of love for her children and her life was busy but wonderful.

Each year Joseph and Mary had made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover festival (Luke 2:41). Mary always loved the journey because it meant quality time with her family and friends. She always found that the eight-day festival was a time of refreshing and rest because there were many hands to help out with the children. As she prepared for the upcoming pilgrimage she smiled and rejoiced, this one felt extra special. Jesus in particular seemed to be cherishing this trip more than the others. Mary smiled as He raced in to wash up for dinner, He had been out helping Joseph deliver items and was covered in sawdust. ‘slow down’ she called out as He raced past and nearly toppled Simon. ‘sorry’ Jesus yelled back with a grin. Mary tried to look stern but her heart swelled with pride, Jesus was just always so excited about everything and He brought so much joy to her life. Joseph came in and Mary smiled as he was swamped by the children ‘all set?’, Joseph smiled ‘yes I’ve finished what I can and there is no rush for the rest of the items.’.

After a noisy dinner Mary and the children settled down to listen to Joseph retell the story of the first Passover. When he had finished Mary put the youngest children to bed, she came back into the kitchen to find Joseph and Jesus busily packing the last items as Elizabeth prepared the final food stores they would need. Mary looked around at all the items they had gathered, ‘you’d think after all these years we would be able to pack a bit lighter?’. Joseph laughed ‘yeah right’. When the final preparations had been made Mary collapsed into bed utterly exhausted, she wasn’t sure how she would fare on the long trek and prayed for a refreshing sleep.

Over the next few days the kilometres quickly clocked up and Mary discovered that the fresh air actually invigorated her, it probably had a lot to do with the wonderful conversations she was able to have. Each night she laid down feeling content and happy. There was something truly special about this trip, the closer they got the more convinced she became. On the outskirts of Jerusalem, the crowds increased and Mary kept a close eye on her children. Mary and Joseph would be staying with Rufus and Merry again and she was so excited about being able to catch up with her dear friends. Each year it was one of the highlights at the end of the long journey. The upstairs room was crowded with all of them squeezed in so Jesus and James insisted on sleeping in the hay with the animals. Mary laughed at Jesus’ request and took great delight in showing Him exactly where He had spent His first few nights. Mary stood there squeezing Jesus and re telling the tale of His birth, tears flowed freely as she recalled the shepherds and the young boy. Jesus was fascinated and listened to Mary retell the story as He stroked the sheep that had gathered around them. Making sure that the boys were comfortable Mary went in to help with dinner preparations.

The next few days passed in a euphoric blur, they days were busy and full. Mary was able to take the younger children home most afternoons so that they could all have a sleep and stay up late for the evening events. Jesus and His cousin John spent a lot of time together and Elizabeth and Mary were harassed regularly by their constant requests to go into the hillside. Most days the boys would escape before dawn to explore the woods nearby and Mary constantly prayed for their safety.

The days passed quickly, Joseph and Mary soon found themselves packing up to leave. As usual Jesus was off with John so Mary gathered her other children and began the long trek home. At camp the first night Mary made her way over the Elizabeth to check on Jesus, her stomach dropped when she saw that Jesus was not with them. John explained they he hadn’t seen Jesus all day. Mary raced back to Joseph with her heart hammering and her mouth uttering a prayer: ‘Oh God, I’m so sorry’. She rushed into Joseph’s arms crying and blubbering that Jesus was lost, ‘I’m sure He’s here, why don’t you check with your relatives that way and I’ll check over this way.’. Mary nodded numbly and stumbled in the direction Joseph had pointed her. By the time darkness fell over the camp Joseph and Mary realised that Jesus was most definitely NOT with them. Mary cried herself to sleep that night and they made plans to return and look for Him.

Rufus and Merry were surprised but delighted to see them return so soon but their celebration soon turned into concern when they heard the news that Jesus was missing. For 3 days Joseph and Mary exhausted themselves looking everywhere they could for Jesus and each night Mary fell into a fitful sleep. She awoke early each morning with the feelings of guilt and condemnation falling heavy upon her heart. Her mind was assaulted with constant questions: how could she have been so careless? Losing the Son of God, how could she ever be forgiven? What if something truly terrible had happened to Him?  Mary fretted that her 12 year-old son was somewhere strange, alone and afraid.  As the sun rose Mary drew upon God’s grace and mercy afresh and asked for help to find Jesus.

Joseph and Mary had checked everywhere they could think of when a cousin came running up to them ‘I’ve found Him’ he puffed and tugged them along to the temple. Mary wept with relief when she saw Jesus but was surprised to find Him surrounded by the religious leaders and her ears could hardly believe that Jesus was actually asking extremely in-depth questions. As Joseph and Mary made their way closer she could hear Jesus asking all sorts of questions and was amazed that the Rabbis were patiently answering. Mary could hear the murmuring from those close by ‘for a young man He seems so full of wisdom’, she looked around and could see that people were amazed by His knowledge. But then the relief in Mary’s heart quickly turned to anger, didn’t He understand that they had been frantic with worry! Why did He stay behind? As Mary got closer she called out: ‘Son, why have you done this to us? We’ve been frantic with worry and searching for you everywhere!’ Jesus looked at her and smiled ‘there was no need to search, you should have known I would be in my Father’s house.’ Mary looked at Joseph puzzled and troubled, what did He mean? Joseph shrugged and gave Jesus a hug and they made their way home. (Luke 2:43-50).

“As Jesus grew, so did his wisdom and maturity. The favor of men increased upon his life, for he was loved greatly by God.” Luke 2:52 The Passion Translation (TPT)

Notes:

Jesus’ brothers are mentioned in the Gospels (Matthew 13:55-56 and Mark 6:3) but his sisters aren’t mentioned by name. The book: Jesus’ Family Tree: Seeing God’s Faithfulness in the Genealogy of Christ (Rose Publishing), suggests that there were at least seven children in the family. I researched for some girl’s names and found Yeshua in Context, I picked 2 from that list and decided that Mary’s close relationship with her cousin Elizabeth probably would have led her to choosing to name her first daughter Elizabeth.

More info can be found at Bible Info  or Chrsitianity.com.

Pilgrimage
A long journey
A quest
A devoted search

Following Jesus and learning about His wonderful ways is a lifelong journey.

Studying God’s Word and trying to live it out is a lifelong quest.

Getting to know the Holy Spirit is a devoted search that transforms us from glory to glory for all of our days.

The Greatest Story – Part 7: The Temple

Mary awoke before the sun with a great excitement in her chest. While Joseph and Jesus slept she sat looking out over the landscape and prayed. Would there be great rejoicing that the Saviour has come? Would people even recognize Jesus as such? Would there be great fanfare? As Mary sat and contemplated all that could unfold, she prayed for people’s hearts to be open to receive. As the sun rose Jesus stirred and Mary attended to His needs and prepared Him for the momentous day.

With all of their bellies full Joseph, Mary and Jesus made their way to the temple. As they made their way to the temple Joseph prayed, he knew the laws so well and wanted to show his deep gratitude to God for blessing him with such an incredible gift. God had commanded Abraham and his descendants to be circumcised (Genesis 17: 9-14) and that small ceremony had been carried out when Jesus was just 8 days old. However, today marked the 40th day since Jesus’ arrival and they were fulfilling another command, the purification offering. Joseph prayed that he could find a pair of turtledove or pigeons that would be fitting to offer.

As they approached the temple Joseph felt intimidated by the size and craftsmanship on display. His trained eye could detect how painstakingly intricate the features were and he could see how much love and care had been poured into the building before him. As they made their way through the hustle and bustle Joseph did his best to protect Mary and Jesus from the crowd.

Simeon’s eyes were immediately drawn to the trio, he gasped as the gentle whisper confirmed that this was the One he had been waiting for. Simeon tried to run but his weary legs caused him to stumble, he prayed for strength and pushed through the crowd towards Joseph, Mary and Jesus. As he got closer his spirit lifted within him and tears flowed freely down his face. Finally, he stumbled up to Joseph, bowed slightly and took a few deep breaths: “Oh what a glorious day! I was promised by Yahweh that I would witness the long-awaited arrival of the Messiah!” Joseph and Mary exchanged a smile and listened with tears now flowing down their cheeks. Simeon reached out for Jesus and Mary handed him over with a smile, Simeon’s cheeks shone with his tears but there was a spark in his eyes as he praised God: “Oh Sovereign Lord how good You’ve been to me, I can now leave this world in peace for I’ve seen the promise come to pass! I hold Your great salvation in my arms, I gaze into His beautiful face and my heart rejoices. He is the great Light that will reveal God to the nations, He will reveal that which was once hidden and unknown. Oh He is the One to bring praise, honour and glory to God’s people.” (Luke 2:29-32). A small crowd gathered around and listened as Joseph and Mary stood with amazement and awe filling their hearts. As Simeon handed Jesus back to Mary he blessed them all but then paused and looked deeply into Mary’s eyes “please listen carefully” and he lowered his voice so that only Mary and Joseph could hear “this child is destined and appointed to cause many in Israel to fall but also many to arise. He will reveal the deepest thoughts of many hearts, bringing light to the good and bad that dwells within.” Simeon’s eyes filled with grief as he continued “a sword of deep and great sorrow will pierce through your very soul” (Luke 2:34-35). Mary gasped and turned to Joseph with concern in her eyes, a deep fear gripped her heart. Joseph tried to smile and reassure Mary but a troubled spirit rose within him as well. Mary looked down at Jesus with tears in her eyes,  the words “a great sorrow” rung in her ears, what had he meant. Mary prayed for strength “Lord please prepare us for what will come.”.

Mary felt a hand upon her arm and looked into the eyes of Anna, Mary smiled and noticed that Ann’s gaze was firmly fixed upon Jesus as she began singing:

“Long awaited precious promise
Son of God and son of man
Heaven’s glory in a manger
Has come to us in Bethlehem

Messiah
Messiah
A baby born to save us all
Messiah
Messiah
On our knees we fall

All we longed for, all we needed
Shining in this child’s eyes
Hope forever, death defeated
Because of this one holy night

Messiah
Messiah
A baby born to save us all
Messiah
Messiah
On our knees we fall

O come let us adore him
O come let us adore him
O come let us adore him
Christ the Lord

Long awaited precious promise
Coming back again

Messiah
Messiah
A baby born to save us all
Messiah
Messiah
On our knees we fall
On our knees we fall”

(Lyrics of “Messiah” written by Francesca Battistelli / Jeff Pardo / Molly Reed)

When her song had finished Mary handed Jesus to Anna and watched as she showed him around the crowd with great pride, as if He was her own precious child. Mary sat and chatted with Anna while Joseph took Jesus and the birds further into the temple for the ceremony. Mary’s heart broke as Anna shared her story, Anna had been married for only 7 years before her husband suddenly passed away, since that day she had stayed in the Temple worshipping God night and day. Mary marvelled at this woman’s devotion to God, she could see by the lines on her beautiful face that it had been decades, Mary prayed that she would also become an example to other women. When Joseph and Jesus returned Mary thanked Anna for her beautiful song and they made their way back through the crowds.

Notes:

The painful process: The last 2 parts (6 & 7) have been excruciatingly difficult, but this week in particular. There has been ALOT going on physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. I’m needing divine assistance like never before!

I sense that there is so much I could research and write about but I have such limited time and ability. I also don’t want to get so bogged down in research that I have no energy to write.
Arghhh! As frustrations and tiredness mounted tonight (Thursday) I considered not publishing because it was simply too hard. But I really wanted to try so I put on my worship music and set time aside to write with the aim to proof read in the morning and publish 1 day late.

Praise God, here it is!

I love the way that the process is described here:

“Work on a good piece of writing proceeds on three levels: a musical one, where it is composed; an architectural one, where it is constructed; and finally, a textile one, where it is woven.”  Walter Benjamin, One Way Street And Other Writings

Quote discovered at goodreads

Messiah YouTube video

Pixabay image link

The Greatest Story. Part 1: Joy To The World

Mary had feared so many things about this pregnancy. She had feared when the angel had visited her…. Mary had awakened many months ago with her heart beat madly in her chest, a disturbing dream had gripped her entire body with fear and then someone had called her name in the dark of the night. Mary had been too scared to answer and then her room had been filled with a blinding light. Mary had held her arm up to her eyes in an attempt to block the light. As it had dimmed slightly Mary gasped and realised that someone had been standing in her room. Mary had called out: “Who are you?!”. The response had surprised her: “Mary, my name is Gabriel I have been sent from God with a message for you”. It was then that Mary’s entire body had trembled. Gabriel had continued his greeting to her: “greetings and grace to you, young favoured one. The Lord is with you!”. His words had meant to comfort her but Mary’s concern and confusion had grown as her mind raced to grasp the situation and the words. As if he completely understood her fear and confusion Gabriel had proclaimed: “Do not be afraid dear precious Mary, for you have found great favour with God.”

Mary had sat up straighter and focused her heart upon Gabriel’s words, she had fought hard against the fear gripping her heart. Then Gabriel’s words had granted her a great peace and the moment that Jesus was implanted in her womb she had felt as if peace had been implanted into her heart.

That peace was desperately needed as she had tried to find the words to explain to Joseph something that was unexplainable. Her heart had physically hurt as she watched disbelief and betrayal flash through his eyes. She hadn’t blamed him at all because her story was extremely hard to believe. She had tried to articulate the experience of seeing an angel and the message given. She had tried to explain that the Spirit of God had implanted the precious child within. She had wept for days wondering what his response was going to be. She had known that he could have accused her of adultery and that would mean being stoned, but her prayers had been answered and God had confirmed her story through an angelic visitor to Joseph. They had both wept tears as he had retold her about how close he had came to letting her go.

Mary reflected upon the fact that God had delivered her then and tried to ignite the peace in her heart. But as a strong contraction hit she felt a desperate need to find somewhere safe and fear began to creep into her heart. It was if this whole journey had been shadowed by fear and she had feared so many things.

Mary lifted her weary head, her dusty tear stained cheeks revealed just how painful and difficult the journey had been. She watched through her grit filled eyes as Joseph dragged her and their faithful donkey from place to place, she heard his desperate pleading for a room and wondered if they would ever find a place to rest. Mary cried out to God as another pain hit her abdomen, the birth pains had started as soon as the outskirts of Bethlehem had come into view and were much more frequent and strong now. Mary hadn’t needed to tell Joseph that the time of delivery was imminent because he had sensed it the first moment she had let out a soft moan. Joseph’s kindness, love and concern for her was evident in his pleas with each place they stopped. Joseph had almost exhausted all of his family contacts and there was only a handful of places to try. Mary’s pains continued regardless of the fact that she feared delivering her baby in the street with no shelter. Joseph looked at Mary with utter love and concern as he appologised:  “I’m so sorry we only have 1 more place to try”, Mary tried to smile but tears poured down her cheeks instead, she took a deep breath and mumbled “then let’s pray they can help us”. Mary tried to not get angry about the fact they had travelled for days and now there appeared to be no place for her to rest. She tried not to rage at the injustice of it all, how was she suppose to give birth? Was it to be on the back of the donkey? She feared that she really was going to deliver her child in the middle of the street! What if they could find some sort of shelter, but what? Under some tree if they could find one? Under a stall holder’s table? There simply seemed to be nowhere!

Mary had been afraid of many things but the conditions of her birth hadn’t entered her mind until now. The injustice of the Roman rule seemed personified in this moment just because they wanted to greedily grab every tax penny they could Caesar Augustus had issued a decree for a census to be taken of the entire Roman world. This ruling had forced her and Joseph to travel from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea, the town of Joseph’s ancestor King David. Mary had feared their journey through the frightening Jordan valley wondering if they would face a lion or a band of robbers, knowing that both would show no mercy or acknowledgement to the fact that Joseph had ties back to King David and that she was bearing the Messiah. Mary had felt such relief when they had made it through the dim forest without too many troubles. Joseph had done an amazing job of finding shelter at just the right moment, so Mary placed her trust in him once again and thanked God for getting them here safely. As they made their way to the last place on Joseph’s list Mary issued another desperate plea to God.

The man who answered the door tried to explain that he simply had no room but as Mary’s moans rung out in his ears a great compassion filled his heart. He quickly ushered them inside and raced to find his wife.

Mary tried to get comfortable in the hay but the smell of the animals around her made her stomach turn. She issued a prayer though because she was so grateful to have finally found somewhere to rest but if she was honest this hadn’t been what she had imagined. Her ears had registered that they were surrounded by animals but it had taken her eyes quite some time to adjust in the dim light to see them all around her. Mary now smiled at the three sheep who had quickly surrounded her, they had simply ignored Joseph’s prodding and she was grateful for their warmth and comfort. “Joseph” Mary cried out “I did not expect to give birth here!” Joseph apologised yet again to Mary and knelt down beside her “I know I’m so sorry”.

“It’s ok” Mary gasped and Joseph reached for her, “do you want me to try and move those sheep away?”. Mary shook her head “no it’s ok I appreciate the warmth and softness of their wool, it’s actually kinda comfy now”. Joseph smiled and stroked the head of the sheep closets to him  “This journey has made me think a lot about my ancestor King David, he probably slept in a place like where you’re sitting right now”. Mary smiled and nodded unable to speak as another pain gripped her stomach. When the pain finally eased Mary gasped out for help. Just then the homeowner’s wife came rushing to Mary’s side with comforting words. She was soon issuing orders to her husband and Joseph who acted quickly and obediently to the commands issued.

A little while later the sheer terror of the past few hours melted away as Mary gazed into her newborn son’s eyes. Her body felt heavy from the arduous journey, the hours of pain and her arms shook slightly as she reached out for her son. Mary smiled as she watched Joseph gently hold and coo at Jesus, she desperately wanted to enjoy some quiet and calm but surrounded by animals and strangers she felt on high alert.

Joseph had urged her to get some sleep but the adrenaline was still racing through her veins, her racing heart refused to slow down and her tired eyes simply wouldn’t close. Mary shifted in the blankets and lent back into the warmness of the sheep around her. Her trio of comforters hadn’t left her side despite many attempts by Joseph and the owners to shift them. Eventually Mary had managed to convince Joseph that they were a comfort to her and so their presence still remained. As she laid back the companion to her right lifted her head to gaze at her, Mary reached out and stroked the curious nose “I’m ok” she whispered quietly. The sheep looked around as if checking all was ok, looked back at Mary and sighed. Despite her exhaustion Mary laughed, it was as if these three mild creatures had taken on the role of being her personal body guards.

“For today in Bethlehem a rescuer was born for you. He is the Lord Yahweh, the Messiah. You will recognize him by this miracle sign: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a feeding trough!” Luke 2:11-12 The Passion Translation

sheep

Mother and Baby Picture – Pixabay

Sheep Picture – Pixabay

Joy To The World – Jeremy Riddle – YouTube video

Notes: This story is inspired by the Biblical account of the birth of Jesus. I hadn’t ever really considered what the journey would be like between Nazarene and Bethlehem and I was surprised when I read Los Angeles Times article explaining that the journey was fraught with danger. Joseph and Mary had to contend with a long (90 miles/144 kilometres) difficult journey and possibly content with things like lions, bears, wild boars and bandits.

When Joseph and Mary finally made it there would have been such a sense of relief but then to find no shelter would have been terrifying. Mary would have longed to be around people she was comfortable with and also to have some skilled people on hand such as midwives. Giving birth is a dangerous thing especially back in those days when mortality rates were much higher. For her to have been surrounded by animals is very likely and believable. As James Cooper explains homes in those times were built with at least 2 levels: the ground floor was used by the family during the day but was where the animals slept at night while the family slept on the first level. Sometimes there was even an upper room which was a guest room on the roof.