Easter Decorations

After 2020, I find myself digging deep into the well of faith. This year for Spring you won’t find my house dressed up in bunnies and eggs.

As 2021 begins, I am clinging to what I love most: Truth. Redemption. Love. Mercy. Christ.

I found these railroad spikes for $2 each and an antique hymnal that was falling apart for $4.

Say “Hello” to a fresh start. A new beginning. A new life.

To the One who poured out his life on a cross. The One who conquered sin and death. And the One who gave his life that I might live.

Not Today COVID.

Rockstar.

This rockstar drinking a chocolate milkshake is my Grandma. And I love her so much.

She came to MO in a covered wagon from Kansas as a five year old.

She lived through the depression and wore a dress made from bright-yellow flour sack material. (Yes, they bought the flour for food and then used the soft material of the bag for clothes.)

She witnessed our nation unify and men young and old sign up for World War II to fight against Communism and injustice.

She lived in a Colorado logging camp that had formerly been a German POW camp.

She supported Billy Graham from beginning to end.

She watched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon.

She has three children, 6 grandchildren and lots of great grandchildren (Sorry family. I lost count of us all. But she hasn’t.).

Before this Christmas she looked pale and weak. So we took her to the doctor and found out she had only 40% of her blood due to an ulcer. Then they diagnosed a UTI. Then they diagnosed COVID.

Yes, COVID. I thought – we all thought – we will never see her again. Barred from the hospital, we prayed we would see grandma again. Hug her one last time. That somehow, this combination of living on 40% of blood, an infection plus the coronavirus would not take her.

My heart cried out, God! She has given too much, loved too many to die alone!

She will be 91 years old this spring and I am happy to say she is still kicking! Which is what I told her. To which she quipped right back, “Ha! Well, I’m not kicken’ very high!”

Marveling at God’s grace upon her, His answer to our prayers, I asked her, “How did you get through it all? It was just so much.”

She answered, “You just do what you gotta do until you get through it. Anytime you face something new you do not have any experience with it, so you just do it. Then, when you make it through, okay now you have some experience. But until then, you just face it and do it until it’s done and behind you.”

Grit. Thats how I sum it up. Her generation has grit.

I asked her what was the hardest part about the last several weeks. She said, “Being alone. It’s hard to be alone. But I see myself back in my apartment and seeing you all again and that’s what I am working toward.”

Hope. Plain and simple. Hope gives us the strength to do what we need to, to grab hold and push foward until we make it through. It is for hope we persevere.

Hope doesn’t beg for relief or whine about discomfort. Hope doesn’t depend on ease. Hope is the joy set before us. An expectation that rallies the soul and urges us on.

What is the hope you are clinging to today? What propels you forward?

Jesus is the hope my Grandma clings to. He is the hope I cling to. Unmoveable. Unchangeable. Eternal. A rock in the storm. A beacon in the darkness.

Grandma, I am excited for more of your stories and to give you another hug soon. And yes, I’ll bring you another milkshake!

Old Christmas Cards

Don’t throw out your Christmas cards!

This year I decided to buy a chalkboard and make my own prayer board. You can too!

This is such a fun idea as we can pray as a family and lift our friends and family up all year long.

Happy New Year!

Leslie

Escape to Egypt: A Christmas Mini-Series

Escape to Egypt

by Leslie Crouse

The Shekinah led the Magi to a humble house in a town mentioned by Herod. When it rested over top they moved past. Surely this was not the house. But the Shekinah did not move with them. It stayed, rooted above the little home. Though small, it was clean and well cared for.

Their entourage had overwhelmed Bethlehem. All the people were terrified. Belteshazzar wondered, Of us? Or of Herod’s retribution? Either way, they settled the soldiers, servants and food suppliers outside the city limits, in the Judean foothills. There were shepherds there keeping watch over their flocks.

As he crossed toward Bethlehem, he saw a shepherd carefully watching him. A wooly man who looked very much like his sheep, but it was the man’s sword that caught his attention. What was it about that sword? Beyond being out of place on a shepherd, Belteshazzar sensed there was something powerful at work here. He must be close. His senses were never wrong.

His servant knocked on the door of the small house and a young, pregnant woman no older than sixteen opened the door. She bounced a baby that was around 6 months old on her hip. He explained himself and she calmly welcomed him in.

Had she expected them? Or, perhaps she simply knew who she held. Her husband also walked in, presumably from work as his hair was covered in wood shavings. But he had a kind, welcoming smile.

Since the home was small, only three of them came in carrying the gifts they had brought. Suddenly, the Shekinah Glory of the LORD filled the room and all the Magi fell down trembling and worshipping. Hours passed as they humbled themselves in pure worship. Then, it was gone.

They slowly arose and looked around. The man introduced himself as Joseph son of Jacob, his wife as Mary and the baby as Jesus saying, “His name means that he will save us from our sins.”

Belteshazzar presented their gifts. Gold. Frankincense. Myrrh. Kingly spices used for anointing and embalming. But surely, an Eternal King would have no need of embalming.

He explained, “Outside, there are also horses and wagons. Silver woven tapestries and our best food offerings from Parthia as well. We are here to recognize the true King of the Jews and offer our friendship. If you ever need to call for reinforcements or aid, please call upon the Parthian Empire as it would be our greatest honor to serve the Eternal King.”

Mary approached Belteshazzar and offered he hold the child. At first, he hesitated. It was not done! But this was no royal palace. He wrapped his arms awkwardly around the floppy baby. Then he thought lightening had hit him. So much power! He had never experienced such overwhelming glory! He was undone.

Of all the kings he had met, of all the throne rooms he had stood in, they had all been just men. Never had he lost control. Yet, tears ran down his face and he began to shake with the weight of glory. What would this king grow to become? Would people be healed by simply touching his clothes? Or hearing his voice?

When baby Jesus looked into Belteshazzar’s eyes and his tiny hand touched his beard he saw such intense glory. As if all of Shekinah dwelled in him. Yes! Yes! That is, it! The fire in his eyes is the same living fire that led us here! He would not mistake it for the world. And as he gazed into this baby’s deep brown eyes, he saw the unmistakable glitter of gold flakes as well. The glory they had followed now dwelled in this child!

Mary broke the silence. She waved her hand at what they had all seen and said, “In our language, Shekinah means to dwell. We use it to describe God’s glory coming down to dwell among us. Until now, God’s glory would only come for a time and then leave. But now, his glory is here to stay,” she stroked Jesus’ brown hair lovingly, “He is Immanuel, God with us.”

All his life, Belteshazzar had worshiped wealth. Strived for infamy and greatness. No longer. If God had abandoned his throne, humble himself and enter the brokenness of humanity, then so would he. He thought, From now on, I will serve not strive.

Later that night, an angel appeared to Belteshazzar in his sleep warning him not to return to Herod. Suspicions confirmed, he informed the entourage to prepare for the journey home without delay.

~~~~

Herod paced like a caged lion. “It has been a week! Where are they?!” He whirled toward his captain of the guard. “Your incompetence has cost us everything! What happened?” The Captain’s face was ashen with fear. “Sire, we trailed them as you directed. But the Shekinah Glory both went before them and behind them, as a rear guard. We could not see them through the cloud and if we got close our men died.”

Belial whispered in Herod’s ear, “Herod, you were always a worthless counterfeit.” He sneered. “The Glory of the LORD has chosen another king. A Jewish king. The LORD rejected your father Esau and he has rejected you too. You must kill them all. Teach them a lesson they will never forget.” His worst fears had come true.

Herod stroked his beard and thought to himself, I will eliminate this new king. But, the people must be taught a lesson. I am sick of their constant pandering for a new king. Streets will run with rivers of blood from my enemies. I will show them what I think of their LORD GOD and his glory.

Herod called for the captain of the guard. In the morning, he would begin the genocide. When the Captain arrived, Herod said, “I want it done in daylight so all will see the extent of my wrath.”

~~~~

Joseph stared at the gold, wagons, horses, food and other gifts they had left Jesus. It was unbelievable. Where could he hide it all? Herod would find out for sure and come for the boy. He prayed. He sensed danger in his spirit.

That night, Joseph was tossing in a fitful sleep when Gabriel appeared to him and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”

Joseph woke Mary. “Come Mary, we must flee to Egypt. Tonight.” He laid his hand on her pregnant belly and said, “I hate to ask a long journey of you when you are again with child, but we must go. There is no time to waste. The LORD has provided everything we need.”

Together, they packed the wagons, horses, food and gold the Magi had miraculously brought the day before. Joseph marveled at God’s provision. The Magi’s gifts would aid in their fight to Egypt and even help them create a home there. Joseph had yet to tell Mary they may be there for years.

As they fled in the night, Joseph paused only briefly to warn their dear friends Hananiah and Evie of the coming wrath. After Mary said her goodbyes, she climbed into the wagon and, over her shoulder, took a final look at the little stable hidden in the hillside.

~~~~

Thank you for reading the finale of my Christmas Mini-Series! I hope you enjoyed each story as much as I did. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Do not miss a single story of this series!

Herod: A Christmas Mini-Series

Herod

by Leslie Crouse

Herod had been born a servant and knew what it meant to be powerless. Yet, through political brilliance he was now Herod the Great. They called him a madman for murdering his favorite wife and her children. But she had been of the Hasmonean dynasty and he would not tolerate any claim to his throne.

He was a violent man but would leave a different legacy through his building projects. Recently, he had completed his masterpiece. Jerusalem’s new temple. Named Herod’s Temple in his honor. It was a veritable circus in the court of the Gentiles, but he had appointed Annas as High Priest of Jerusalem and the man made sure the temple was a lucrative business.

And just this morning, Annas had reported the Shekinah Glory of God was now dwelling over Jerusalem! It had not happened since Solomon’s day. Herod finished another large glass of wine and leaned back giving a satisfied sigh. I am Herod the Great King. Even the God of Abraham recognizes my rightful place on the throne with the presence of His Shekinah glory.

~~~~

The journey from the Parthian Empire had taken about 4 months. Belteshazzar led the entourage of Magi, soldiers, servants and beasts as they traveled. In total there were about 700 of them and the journey had gone slower than he liked.

But, the sword-shaped Shekinah had led them steadily. By day it looked much like a cloud sparkling with golden flakes. At night, it appeared as a pillar of living fire. It was a fearsome sight to behold and any who got too close died.

Belteshazzar was excited. He was here, witnessing history being made. There were bad relations between the Parthian Empire and Herod. Herod was an Edomite who hated the Jews and he had stolen the Hasmonean throne with Roman assistance. He was deceitful at best. A maniacal murderer at worst.

Belteshazzar knew Phraates IV was all too eager to recognize a new king and rebuild the bridge with Judea. They were there to be ambassadors as much as to celebrate the birth of the new “King of the Jews.” And Phraates IV was adamant they use that very title, “King of the Jews” when referring to the new king.

He could see the walls of Jerusalem. Soon, he would know if Herod would be friend or foe.

~~~~

“Your Majesty, I have an urgent message from your Captain at the wall.” Herod set his wine down and extended his scepter allowing the man to continue his report. “There is a great entourage approaching Jerusalem. Our scouts are reporting it is of Parthian origin.”  

Herod froze, wine halfway to his wet lips. The Parthians? They hate me. I murdered their precious Hasmonean heir and the princess and her children. “How many?”

The man bowed and continued, “Between 600-800, oh Great King. There are many soldiers and Magi.”

Herod thought for a moment. How can he maneuver this to his advantage? His armies were away, reinforcing a Roman battle. Now was not the time for teaching Parthians lessons in submission. Perhaps they have seen the Shekinah Glory of the LORD and come to recognize me as the rightful king.

Herod replied, “Prepare a feast for them. I want all the best entertainment present. We will welcome them as friends and find out what their purpose is.”

~~~~

That evening the Parthian entourage marched through Jerusalem with much fanfare. The people were terrified it meant another war. Given the number in this entourage, Herod too, was nervous. His armies were gone, and this was a large number of soldiers. What is their intent? He wondered.

The Chief Magus, Belteshazzar, approached his throne and bowed low. “Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw his star,” pointing toward the Shekinah Glory of the LORD, “when it rose and have come to worship him.” For a moment, Herod simply stared.

Belial slithered up the throne and whispered, “Who dares make a claim to the Jewish throne when you are the one who has conquered this country?” White hot fury filled Herod.

Always the master of political diplomacy, Herod smiled, “My friends, how my heart rejoices at your arrival! I welcome you at this time of celebration. Please, before we discuss this further, I insist you rest from your great journey. Come, my servants will show you to your rooms.”

Belteshazzar bowed and said, “You are gracious, Sire.” Herod, though extremely joyful at this news, had avoided revealing any information. Belteshazzar looked into Herod’s joyful eyes and reminded himself that this was a madman and not to be trusted. Used to being put off by kings, he bowed low again and allowed Herod’s servants to usher him and the other Magi to their prepared rooms.

Herod called for an immediate assembly of all the chief priests and scribes of the people. He inquired where exactly the Christ was to be born and all information about him. Annas reported “In Bethlehem of Judea,” and went into a long Jewish prophecy.

Herod paced in his chambers. He hated the Jews. This hope for a messiah they held on to was foolishness. It fuels rebellions and has been the cause of several false messiahs. He was ready to squash this Jewish hope once and for all. But the Parthians were a new dynamic and that sparked a fear he did not like to recognize. Why are they involved? The Shekinah led them here? The LORD’s manifest glory is not for me, but for another. Again, rage consumed him.

Several hours later, Herod summoned Belteshazzar and the other Magi to his private quarters where they discussed the Shekinah and the time it first appeared. Then he shared the information about the Messiah. Who he was and how they all had waited so long for the Eternal King.  Herod finished saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word that I too may come and worship him.”

Belteshazzar knew something did not add up here with Herod. If he had been waiting for this King, why did the Shekinah come to them and not Jerusalem? Why would Herod not search for the long-awaited king himself? Did the king expect the Parthian Empire to do the work for him? And what would they find? This journey was turning out to be very interesting indeed. Dangerous.

The Birth of Christ: A Christmas Mini-Series

The Birth of Christ

by Leslie Crouse

Mary could hardly breath with each pain, but when Joseph and the innkeeper, Hananiah, ushered her into the stable it was like walking into the arms of an old friend. Every smell warmed and comforted. The fresh hay. The soft sounds of the sheep.

Hananiah gave them some fresh blankets and brought water. Then he sent his servant to find the midwife. Mary eased herself down as Joseph prepared a place for her. They had both silently prayed the pains would stop, but they knew it was not to be. Joseph did not understand why God would allow His Son to be born in a stable. It did not seem right.

To Mary, it was perfect. The stable had always been her secret place she went to pray. It was where Joseph had given her a manger as a betrothal gift. Where the angel had delivered a life-changing message. Where she had taken refuge when the Nazareth gossips were particularly spiteful. For her, being here in a stable on the most important day of her life was like fingerprints of God’s love.  

~~~~

Joseph paced. Helpless! Mary was in the throws of childbirth and had asked him to turn his back. She was not ready for his help in that department yet. To occupy his mind through every groan, he did what he did best. He built.

He found some tools in the stable and began shaping a piece of scrap wood. At first, he did not know what he was building. But as it took shape he smiled. A manger. The token of their memories together and his love for her. Now, a souvenir for Jesus. One day Joseph would say, “Son, on the night you were born there was no room in the inn. So, I made a manger for you.”

Before he knew it, a baby cried. He whipped around, forgetting her privacy. He rushed over and picked up the baby boy. So tiny! He handed the baby to Mary for warmth. Looking around Joseph wondered, Do we have no cloths to wrap him in?

At that very moment, Hananiah’s wife, Evie, came in with an armload of pristine cloths. Joseph looked up at her and practically attacked her with his pleading for help. He did not know how to do this! Evie smiled at him and made quick work of a swaddle.

He noticed Mary was exhausted. She had fallen back into the hay and looked as if she could barely keep her eyes open. Hananiah came in too, carrying soup, hot water and more blankets. There were several looks flashing between him and Evie. Joseph had not been married long, but he could pick up on marital friction. He just hoped they were not the cause of it.

Joseph handed Jesus over to the woman who could conquer a swaddle. He was not sure what happened, but he could only describe it as a miracle. The change that came over her face. And Hananiah was laughing and crying! What was happening?

Joseph looked back at Mary. Seeking an answer as much as giving them privacy. Mary smiled and laid her head on his shoulder.

~~~~

Mary was so very tired. Birth was… carnal. And while this birth had been a miracle, she had been so caught up in the “doing” of it, that she had missed the wonder of it. She tried to remember all she had learned from the midwife. What position to be in. How to breathe. When to cut the cord. Tears of exhaustion filled her eyes. Where were the feelings everyone talked about? Right now, all she felt was residual pain and relief that Jesus was healthy and strong.

She watched the scene in front of her though. The look on Joseph’s face as he held Jesus for the first time. His hair wild from the stress.

Evie as she swaddled Jesus and held him. Then, Hananiah as he began weeping and laughing.

Too exhausted to fully process all she was experiencing, she watched detachedly, locking the memories in her heart to think upon later.

Yet, as she watched, it was as if a key snaped into place and she realized her son is what she had been waiting for. Jesus would heal this broken world. One heart at a time.

Joseph walked over to her with a question in his eyes. “His first healing.” Mary whispered. Joseph looked again at the couple and smiled his agreement. Yes, Jesus was her son and he would heal the brokenness of humanity.

Healing meant many things. Spiritual. Physical. Emotional. And at this moment, God was making this couple whole.

~~~~

Herod sat on his throne smiling like a cat. “More wine!” He yelled from his dais at the front of the room, full of feasting and debauched celebration. His people. He thought again on the chronicles that had been read to him late last night. All his achievements. He was the Great King Herod. He had put down rebellions. Earned the right to rule Judea. Octavian and Antony had given him this territory, but it was his own cunning that had conquered it.

He had crushed the Maccabean rebellion and publicly executed the last of the Maccabean priestly line. The last high priest had been but a child, but Herod would do it again in a heartbeat. Fear made people pliable. Herod’s lips curled in an arrogant smirk as he surveyed the puppets in front of him. Judea is mine.

Belial slithered from one side of Herod’s throne to the other stoking the flames of pride. Hissing a satisfied chuckle, he continued his work here. Then, when Jesus was declared Messiah he would unleash the Darkness that was growing in power here in Herod’s palace.

Road to Bethlehem: A Christmas Mini-Series

Bethlehem

by Leslie Crouse

Mary’s time in Ein Karem had come to a close. Father would be here soon to escort her back to Nazareth. This little Judean town had been a sanctuary for her. Elizabeth had been the only friend who rejoiced at the miracle she carried. And Elizabeth had given birth to a beautiful son! Zechariah and Elizabeth named him John, causing quite the scandal at the synagogue. But it had earned Zechariah his voice back.

Gabriel. Mary still had a hard time equating the kind, joyful angel she had met in the stable as being the same angel responsible for Zechariah’s missing voice. She did, however, know that years without children had made Zechariah cynical toward God. She wondered if there was more to the story than Zechariah was telling. Mary remembered her father’s voice saying, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”

As Mary washed John’s baby clothes her thoughts turned toward her father. He had visited her a month into her visit, delivering Joseph’s letter. Her father, Hezekiah, had asked forgiveness for his actions, anger and accusations. Yet, tears still filled her eyes at the memory of him slapping her. She had always been Hezekiah’s little girl. They’d had a special relationship and his rejection had hurt more than any physical pain in that moment. She had forgiven him, but trust came harder.    

Joseph had believed in her more than her father had. The incident had both given her an unshakable confidence in the LORD’s faithfulness while fracturing her childlike confidence in people. Humanity was broken. Even those who were godly made serious mistakes only the LORD could heal and make right. Would her son – God’s Son – heal this broken world? Would Jesus be the key to finding peace amidst the storm?

Best gird your loins, she thought to herself. You have yet to face those in Nazareth. Mary lifted her chin. God had made a way for her. It would not be easy, but it would be safe. Joseph had written they would marry upon her arrival. But, he would not consummate the marriage until after the birth. Her cheeks burned with the thought. He had gone on to explain that to the world, they would appear married. By law they would still only be betrothed. She knew his intent was to protect her and Jesus.

Suddenly, she was very grateful for her betrothal to Joseph.

~Sixth Months Later~

Joseph could not believe the injustice of Caesar. The man’s greed had no end. Apparently, Caesar needed money to pay for the expansion of his kingdom and maintain the Roman roads he was so proud of. So, in true form, Caesar cunningly mandated a census. All people were forced to travel and register in their hometown. Then, Caesar charged them a toll to travel the roads. It is extortion! He thought angrily to himself.

Joseph packed three day’s worth of supplies planning to leave in the morning. Mary could give birth any day now. It was a two day journey to Bethlehem from Nazareth, but he must be prepared for every possibility. He prayed the trip would not be too taxing for her.

His father, had encouraged him to take Balaam. He would have to fight that cursed creature the whole way. Balaam only responded to a whip and Mary would never allow it. Jospeh smiled. It seems I am to struggle with a stubborn beast and stubborn woman the whole way. It was worth it. He would not ask her to walk so far at this stage. They would take the cart he hauled his furniture in. Mary had a touch with animals. Perhaps she could tame Balaam’s cantankerous spirit.

At sunrise, Joseph held Mary’s hand and helped her up. They set out and turned onto the main road. Outside the city, Joseph paid their first toll. When would there be justice in the world? Joseph was a black and white kind of man. He did not live in grey. Romans lived in the grey area. It allowed them to justify every false action.

Joseph hungered for a new kingdom. A King that defended the weak and governed with righteousness and justice. Would his adopted son, Jesus, share his passion for injustice too? What would he do when he found the temple charging worshippers triple for sacrifices? Lost in his thoughts of the Messianic kingdom, he did not realize his worst nightmare had begun.

Over halfway to Bethlehem, Mary’s pains began. He had thought pains gradually increased, but Mary’s were hard and fast with longer breaks in between. But what do I know?! What can I do? Mary decided she wanted to walk for a bit. They rested when the intensity started building and walked once the pains relaxed. This was the progression of their trip. Joseph was desperate as he watched his wife and thought, There are lions in Judea. We cannot risk her giving birth out here in the open.

Joseph prayed.  LORD! My God! This is beyond me. I am useless to her. Be our strength, be our shield! Joseph looked over and saw Mary was ready to start walking again. “Mary, you are doing so well. We are almost there,” he encouraged. Mary seemed to be handling the affair with a cool head. Maybe that midwife she had assisted was more than a gossip after all, Joseph thought wryly.

Joseph looked up to see lights in the distance. “Mary! We have made it! We will find help soon.” Mary gave him a nod, and he caught the words of her favorite psalm.

During her time back in Nazareth, Mary had clung to the scriptures and found much comfort in the Psalms. As a married couple, they had read them together every morning. It had been awkward as they found their footing together being pseudo-married and pregnant, but their shared love for the Word of the Lord bound them together in spirit.

Once in the town of Bethlehem Joseph knocked on every door. Every. Single. Door. Did no one have compassion? Finally, when he knocked on the last door a huge man stepped out into the evening.

“Shalom! Sir, I beg of you, I must find a place to stay tonight. My wife’s pains have begun. I fear we do not have long. I have asked everywhere. Please say there is a place for us.” Joseph said.

“Shalom my friend. I see you are in need of… much.” The large man took in Mary’s dilemma. Joseph watched several emotions cross his face. But unlike the others, he did not turn them away. At least, not completely. He introduced himself as Hananiah and led them toward his stable.

Look for the next story in my Christmas Mini-Series, The Birth of Christ.

The Wise Men: A Christmas Mini-Series

The Wise Men

by Leslie Crouse

…continued from Joseph and an Angry Father.

Four magi came to his office and bowed low. “Lord Belteshazzar. As you have requested, we have searched for information among all Zoroaster’s scrolls. But Sir, this new sword-shaped star is not found in our records.” Belteshazzar stared out his window considering the magi’s report.

His window overlooked the Parthian Gardens, which were renowned for their beauty. But right now, it was the brilliant shining star that captivated his attention. The star that was so bright it could be seen in the day and looked like a cloud of living fire shimmering with gold flakes. Should he call it a star? It was far too close. This star was in complete defiance of the cosmos – which always moved East to West.

Belteshazzar ran his hand down his manicured beard and said, “What of the ancient Babylonian writings? There was once a Magian Chief who was very wise. He predicted many things that have come to pass. His name was also Belteshazzar, but you would likely find the scrolls under his native Hebrew name Daniel. Search in the time of Nebuchadnezzar or Darius the Mede. Go.”

Belteshazzar had a secret obsession with Daniel. The Magus had been legendary walking in both miracles and prophecies. He had been the best of all Babylonian Magi. Ever since Belteshazzar discovered the shared connection he had with Daniel, he gloried in it. He too, had worked his way up to become the Chief of the Magi and this star would send him into infamy as well. Whatever they discovered, Belteshazzar was certain Daniel was the key to this cloud of glittering fire that danced like a sword in the sky.

The next day, Belteshazzar choked on his wine when Arash’s voice suddenly broke into his peaceful morning thoughts. “Sir! We have found it among Daniel’s writings!” The man marched into his office and belatedly bowed low. Belteshazzar said, “Rise. Tell me what it is you have discovered.”

“Daniel refers to it as Shekinah. It is the glory of the LORD, Israel’s Most High God. A cloud of shimmering fire that physically dwells among men. But it rarely appears. Only for events of magnitude.” Belteshazzar waited as Arash searched for the exact words of Daniel. “It says we will see the Shekinah Glory of the Lord dwell among men as the Son of Man is,

‘given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.’

Arash pointed again to the star, “That is the Glory of the Most High, the Shekinah is the sign that marks the birth of this eternal king! A king has been born!”

“Arash,” Belteshazzar said, “send word to the Great King. We have his answer.”

Hours later, Belteshazzar was summoned into the throne room of Phraates IV, Great King of the Parthian Empire. “Belteshzzar, you have done well to solve the mystery of this star dwelling in our Empire. I have read through your report and made my decision.”  

Belteshazzar continued to bow low before the Great King. “If the birth of this new king is powerful enough to defy the cosmos,” Phraates IV continued, “and create this Shekinah, then we know his kingdom will be greater than any that has ever been. If we are to survive this rising kingdom, we must humble ourselves now. We must pay homage and acknowledge his superiority with many gifts. It will be a humbling act of obeisance, but perhaps, if we become his friends, we too, will share in the dominion and greatness of his kingdom. Rise.”

Belteshazzar rose before the Great King and waited for his orders. “You will prepare an entourage of Magi immediately. We will bring all the best gifts suitable to a king. Gold. Frankincense. Myrrh. We will welcome this new King of the Jews. Affirm his throne. Confirm our military support against any who dare to defy his claim. Take three hundred of our best soldiers with you to illustrate the strength of our kingdom and the friendship we offer. You have two weeks to prepare.”

Continue reading the Christmas Mini-Series with Bethlehem.

Joseph’s Decision: A Christmas Mini-Series

Joseph’s Decision

by Leslie Crouse

Joseph planted his feet and stared him down. “Balaam, I will not tolerate your stubborn antics.” He hated this donkey. The typical, rebellious gleam was in Balaam’s eyes. Every time Joseph needed him, the creature would dig his back hooves into the ground making a stubborn last stand. Or sit, if he were being realistic. And if Joseph did not keep one eye upon him, Balaam would take a bite out of his back side.

The sound of banging on the stable door interrupted the battle of wills. Hezekiah, Mary’s father, stormed in. The peaceful man was like a second father to him and had never worn such a thunderous look. Stepping out of the reach of Balaam’s teeth, Joseph turned his full attention to Hezekiah.

Face mottled with red, Hezekiah marched up to Joseph jabbing his finger into Joseph’s chest. Nose to nose Hezekiah screamed, “How DARE you! How dare you touch my daughter before the wedding! Do you know what you have done?! You worthless son of a carpenter! You have defiled her!”

Joseph stepped back, brow furrowing as he took in Hezekiah’s words. His first thought was that this had to be a joke, but his soon to be father-in-law was shaking with barely constrained rage. Facts. I need the facts.

“Mary is with child? How long?” Joseph asked. “HOW LONG?!” Hezekiah waved his arms. “YOU should know! Her belly will be showing soon!” Hezekiah’s finger jabbed again, “You will fix this Joseph son of Jacob! NOW. Before anyone knows. Because if you do not do your duty by her, the village will stone her.” Hezekiah’s voice lowered to barely a whisper, “And then I will kill you.”  

Joseph was stunned. Mary? His Mary? Who had done this to her? Joseph had loved Mary since they were children. Her fiery spirit and flawless integrity had always drawn him to her. He knew she would never betray the LORD. Someone has hurt her! Who dared touch my Mary?

White hot rage consumed him. He clenched his fists and looked Hezekiah in the eye, “I will not take responsibility for that which I did not do. Your daughter is a woman of integrity,” now pointing his finger at Hezekiah, “as you well know, and if she is with child it is because someone has done a grievous thing to her.” Joseph crossed his arms and turned his back. Through gritted teeth he said, “I must think on this. It changes everything.” Joseph turned back around as Hezekiah stared hard at him. Joseph did not know if Hezekiah believed him or not, but one thing was for certain. There was murder in his eyes.

Joseph put down his tools and climbed to the rooftop of his house to pray. He wept for what had been done to Mary. He wept for dreams lost. None of it was to be. If he married her to save her reputation, he would lose his.

All his life he had walked in integrity. Earned his place of respect among the men of Nazareth. If he married her, he would be taking her disgrace and making it his own. No. He would not do that to his family. His father, Jacob, would be turned out from the city gate. There were more people involved in this than just himself.

If he publicly broke the betrothal Mary would be disgraced in front of all. They might not stone her, since she had been violated, but they would use her as a public spectacle, teaching other young women the dangers awaiting them. He gritted his teeth. It was not just. To take a victim and use their pain as a teaching for others. He hated injustice. He would not publicly break the betrothal.

Could he raise another’s child? He loved her enough to. But the thought of another with her churned his stomach with acid.

For hours Joseph’s mind circled the options. For hours he prayed and wept and raged. For hours he heard nothing from the LORD but silence. Physically and emotionally spent, Joseph decided he would not expose her to the public. He would quietly break the betrothal and allow her to be free to make her own choices. She deserved to have some say in what would befall her future. Mulling over the decision, Joseph fell into a troubled sleep and dreamed.

In his dream, he saw Mary walking down a dusty, lonely road as silent tears rolled down her cheeks. He reached out to comfort her but then pulled his hand back, knowing his decision would separate them forever. She was no longer his to comfort or protect.

Suddenly, in his dream, Mary looked straight into his eyes. Though her cheeks were tear-stained, her eyes were full of fire and his heart skipped a beat. Then, he saw a massive heavenly host armed for war, escorting her down the road.

A huge angel appeared and began speaking to him, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Joseph’s eyes popped open and he bolted upright. Joy battled with astonishment. WHAT?

A plan formed as Joseph sat down and began writing. He would send the letter to Ein Karem with his next load of furniture bound for Jerusalem.

~~~~

To continue reading the Christmas Mini-Series, look for my next story The Wise Men.

Mary’s Visit: A Christmas Mini-Series

Mary’s Visit

by Leslie Crouse

…continued from Mary’s Hiding Place.

~ Six Months Later ~

For the last several months the only prayer in Mary’s heart had been for Elizabeth and the new thing the LORD was doing. That night while in the stable deep in her prayers, she heard a voice. Looking up to see a bright shining angel, she began to shake with fear.

“Greetings, O favored one, the LORD is with you!” Favored? God is not a respecter of men. Is this an angel of light? Mary attempted to discern the greeting. She knew Darkness often masqueraded as angels of light.

The angel spoke again more gently this time, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” Angel of Light. Darkness would use my fear against me. Giving her time to discern his greeting, the angel continued, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

Oh! A grin split her face in a marvelous smile. Would the LORD allow her a part in His plan!? Wait – what? Wide-eyed, Mary stammered, “H-how will this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel smiled, clearly enjoying this birth announcement. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” Mind whirling, Mary could not take it all in. But the angel did not pause this time.

“And behold,” Mary looked up from her thoughts and saw a scene playing out in front of her. Her barren cousin Elizabeth waddled around her house with –thanks to midwife training – what appeared to be six months of baby in her belly!

The angel continued, “…your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing is impossible with God.” The angel’s joy made him beam with light. What was his name? Gabriel. Mary looked him in the eye, bowed her head and said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” The angel nodded and disappeared.

Gabriel liked the common folk. They were not arrogant like those tedious priests. He thought again of Zechariah and grimaced. Truly, silence was the only solution for a priest who questioned Yahweh. Yet, Yahweh in His mercy had restrained Gabriel’s hand and limited Zechariah’s silence to nine months. Yahweh remembered Zechariah and Elizabeth’s pain and granted His mercy freely.

Mary bolted from the hay loft. Nearly tripping, she paused before the threshold and took a deep breath. First, she must brave her parents and tell them all the angel had said. She could not do any of this alone. Confident in the LORD, Mary squared her shoulders and waited for a quiet moment alone with her parents.

Their “discussions” had woken everyone in the house. Mother believed her. Father had struck her for the first time. When she denied any wrong doing, he had yelled, “I will not abide your falsehoods! I know men! How could you be so stupid daughter?! Unless Joseph marries you NOW, they will kill you! Before our very eyes!” Ready to call Joseph to account, her father stormed to the door intent upon the carpenter’s home. Mary stood in stunned silence, her cheek stinging from her father’s hand. Then, her mother intervened and suggested a new plan.

“Send Mary to Ein Karem to stay with Elizabeth until the woman gives birth. Perhaps Mary’s midwife training may be useful to her. Mary’s absence would buy us time to address this issue with Joseph and find a way forward. And, if Mary suffers from pregnancy in those first three months, no one will be wise to it.”

Father glared angrily at Mary. “Pack your bags young lady. You are no longer a daughter of mine. You will not return to my house. I wash my hands of you.” Heartbroken, a river of tears was her only companion as she prepared for Ein Karem. Surely God would mend this? She looked South toward Ein Karem and prayed she would find sanctuary among this little town in the Judean hills.

Mary left before dawn. Her father would not see her off. Her mother had asked a friend who had business in Jerusalem to escort Mary. “Tell no one,” mother had said. Mary walked in silence preparing her heart for the coming storm of more unbelief, accusations, anger and discipline.

Father was right. An unwed mother would not be tolerated in the village. Unless Joseph acknowledged an act that was not his, she would be stoned to death. Joseph. She knew him to be a righteous man who cherished the law. What would he do?

A spirit of Fear circled about her, telling her all the ways an unwed mother could die. It’s menacing laugh echoed in the her recesses of her mind as more tears formed in her eyes. No! I will hold unswervingly to the vow I have made to the LORD. She would be faithful. But she was terrified.

As Mary walked and prayed she sensed the evil straining to be unleashed. It was in these hours, on a lonely, dusty road that Gabriel’s words became entrenched in her heart; a lifelong mantra she would end up clinging to in all her darkest hours.

Nothing is impossible with God.

Look for Joseph’s story next in the Christmas Mini-Series, An Angry Father. If you love these stories, share them with your friends on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter!