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.

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 Hiding Place: A Christmas Mini-Series

Mary’s Hiding Place

by Leslie Crouse

…continued from The Shepherd’s Sword.

~ Fifteen Months Before The Birth Of Christ ~

Mary fell back into the fresh hay finding comfort in the clean, grassy scent of her father stable. Every morning before dawn she came to the stable to pray. Few understood it. But Sarah, her mother, allowed her this time of solitude. When the sun shone upon the roof Joseph would arrive to escort her to the midwife. Another day of tedious house calls.  

Her mother watched from the window. The moment Mary had begun signs of womanhood, Sarah had insisted she train with Nazareth’s midwife. “You are to assist and learn all you can about the female body and birthing process,” she had instructed Mary. “One never knows the turns life can take.” Mother believed in equipping her daughters.

Mary did not like it, but she had already learned much. Besides, her family lacked money for a midwife’s expertise, so her sisters took turns assisting the local midwife as an exchange for services when needed. But the pre-dawn hours were hers.

In the stable Mary could set it all aside and bask in the presence of the LORD. This was her heart. She came to the stable, her hiding place, every morning finding privacy and freedom to dig into prayer. Her father called it intercession. He had instructed her in the lives of Daniel, Moses, Elijah and others. Ancient, spiritual giants, all of them.

Mary was no spiritual giant. All she knew is that she burned with the need to cry out for others. So she prayed until the urgency was replaced with peace. She found joy and purpose in it. Today, her cousin Elizabeth was heavy upon her heart.

A knock sounded at the post below. Has an hour gone by already? She peeked down into the breezeway. She covered her burning face with her hands and cringed. Joseph. As children they had played in the neighbor’s pond, caught frogs from local streams and he had helped her with her lambs. Her best friend. But he had gone and changed everything when he had asked her father’s permission to marry her. Which means he knew. Mary stifled a groan.

How humiliating! Someone – probably her brother – had told him she had begun her monthlies and was of marriageable age now. Joseph was her friend, not her idea of a husband! Regardless, one discussion led to another and now they were legally betrothed.

In celebration of the betrothal, he had built her a manger handcrafted for the lambs she raised. Everyone thought it odd. Mary, however, was begrudgingly moved by it. Together they had saved that struggling lamb. When he gave her the manger he whispered, “May we never forget our unblemished lamb.” Joseph is a good man. And as my husband, he understands my need to pray. At that last thought, her eyes lit up.

Something was shifting in the spiritual realm. She could sense it. There was an eagerness inside of her. An excitement she could hardly contain. The LORD was doing a new thing. An urgency to pray harder than ever before gripped her heart. Whatever the LORD’s plans, she wanted to be a part of it. For her, the LORD was a pearl of great value, worth any price.

Mary prayed daily for Elizabeth. She loved Elizabeth like an aunt because she was so much older than Mary’s cousins. Mary had no idea what was going on, but she knew Herod to be Judea’s arrogant, unpredictable king and Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah, a priest in the temple. An explosive combination. What forces were at play?

…look for the continuation in Mary’s Visit.

If you like my Christmas Stories, please share them on your Facebook page!

The Shepherd’s Sword: A Christmas Mini-Series

The Shepherd’s Sword

by Leslie Crouse

…continued from The Shepherd.

Belial had not been informed of Heaven’s plan. But Darkness heard the angel’s announcement. All of creation did. He quickly rallied the powers of Darkness for a counter attack. If it was war Heaven wanted, war it would get. This invasion was not to be tolerated. Darkness would not release its hold on earth so easily and this shepherd with his spindly sword was standing in his way.

Shammah took his hand off the door handle. Glanced to the inn. Did no one else sense the Darkness pressing in? Were they all sleeping peacefully while Darkness invaded their city? Jehovah! I am no soldier! A lion or bear here and there, but never this! And why the sword? It’s useless against such… things! Another shepherd, in another time, with another inadequate weapon. The irony.

Or was it? What had David done? Then, like a song on the wind an idea formed. Shammah thrust the sword tip into the ground. Not wishing to attract the attention of the Roman soldiers around the corner, he began to speak in a barely audible voice:

I come in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel… the LORD saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the LORD’s.

Menacing snarls rose from all around him as they paused in their approach. But it did not last. Darkness wanted the baby inside. Shammah dragged his sword tip through the sandy dirt leaving a line behind him as he spoke aloud the only words his mind could form.

” ‘He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty...’ ”

Shammah rounded the first corner of the stable and proceeded toward the back as the guttural sounds grew in number. Muscles solid with tension, Shammah punctuated each step with the words scrolling through his mind:

“…you will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness…

He turned the third corner of the stable. Almost there. One shadow gnashed his fangs and Shammah’s heart crashed into his ribs. A rancid odor overpowered his thoughts for a moment as he locked eyes with those that glowed red.

“…For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways…”

Shammah was finishing the last words of the psalm just as he was completing the circle around the stable. Lifting the tip of his sword from the sand he noticed a stiff wind began to blow. Over the growls and snarls he heard the ringing of a multitude of swords being unsheathed. Deadly silence reigned for the span of a heartbeat.

Then, a bone-shattering thunder crashed and the earth shook with the force of it. Shammah collapsed with exhaustion.

Thwarted! Belial snarled at his defeat. He would come again. Later. But next time he would use men. Men were proud and pride was his greatest weapon. “Yes,” he hissed. Perhaps that buffoon sitting on the throne would be useful. He was already a promising vessel of Darkness. As his plan formed a low, guttural sound escaped into the night. But for now, he would remind that shepherd of his worth. Belial signaled to Rejection and nodded to the sleeping shepherd.

~~~~

Shammah fell into a deep sleep. He floated above as he watched his father approach an infant. Himself he perceived. Eli laid his hand on Shammah’s head and said, “Son, I love you, but from this day forward I cannot look at you for all of my sorrows are upon your head.” Shammah awakened to the familiar weight bearing down on his soul. He sat up rubbing his beard and focused on a huge man who whistled as he went about his morning chores.

“Shalom, my friend! What a glorious morning! Such a silent, holy night last night. Wouldn’t you say? Don’t believe I ever slept better. May write a song about it.” The man laughed with his entire body it seemed. “My name is Hananiah and I am the innkeeper here. Are you ready to meet the Savior of the world? Is that why you have come?”

Shammah sat staring at the jovial man when the other shepherds appeared. Shammah blinked. Did last night happen? Shammah looked around for confirmation and saw it. The line in the sand. He unsheathed his sword and looked at the newly engraved words, THE BATTLE IS THE LORDS. He turned it over. WORD OF GOD glinted in the morning light. Chills spread over his arms and legs making every hair stand on end.

“Best not let the Romans see that sword. May get the wrong idea. Come!” Hananiah led the way to the stable undaunted by Shammah’s mute astonishment.

A baby’s cry penetrated his heavy thoughts as he followed Hananiah in. Finally! The stable he had set out for hours ago. Shammah approached the couple and the woman held out the baby to him. “His name is Jesus.” she said with a smile.

Shammah looked into the eyes of baby Jesus and felt a deeper connection with this child than any other person before. A tear escaped. He could not explain it, but somehow he knew he was looking into the face of another scapegoat.

Baby Jesus’ tiny hand gripped his thumb and in that moment, Shammah wept. Peace flooded his soul. Where darkness had been, light now penetrated every corner and the burdens he had carried for a lifetime were gone.

Then he wept for the boy. He understood what this boy would face. This boy would grow to be a man of many of sorrows. Rejected by men. Acquainted with grief. This tiny boy would trade his peace for the weight of another’s sin and sorrow. Would there also come a day when his father cannot bear to look him and forsakes him as well? As Shammah wept, a tear slipped down the young woman’s face.

Who was this baby? Why had Darkness attacked so forcefully? Would he set the captives of Darkness free too? “Good news of great joy that will be for all people,” the angel had said. “…On earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.” Was God pleased with Shammah? Is faith all that was needed? It was all so much to take in.

Of this he was certain: never had he felt such light. Love, peace and joy flooded his heart. Overwhelmed, Shammah bowed his head and worshipped.

~~~~~

Thank you for reading my Christmas Mini-Series! If you like what you read please share the stories with your friends! To continue reading, look for Mary’s Hiding Place next!

-Leslie

The Shepherd: A Christmas Mini-Series

The Shepherd

by Leslie Crouse

…continued from The Innkeeper’s Wife.

Shammah slid loaves of bread, raisin cakes and dried figs into his pack. Strapping on his canteen and bed roll he was almost ready. He just needed his staff, his rod and his sword. He did not usually carry a sword, but he had a niggling feeling he would need it. Judea was treacherous.

This week they would move the flocks into the Judean mountains near Bethlehem. David’s home town. He had been a shepherd too. Shammah smiled to himself. Perhaps I could learn to master the sling like David. Then father may take notice.

Eli, his father, stared at the fire refusing to look up. Shammah informed him he was leaving and was granted no more than a grunt in response. Shammah was a blight on the family. Death and ruination had visited them the day he was born and Eli had never forgotten.

Father lost everything when the caravan had been raided. After limping home with only his life spared, Eli discovered Shammah’s mother had died in childbirth as well. Two blows in the span of one day. Grief was indelibly printed onto the fabric of their family.

Eli held Shammah personally responsible. Ruin he had named him. From the moment he entered the world Shammah had become the family scapegoat bearing the grief, sorrow and sin of others. Thus, father had rejected him and assigned him to shepherding duties. Out of sight. Out of mind. Out of trouble.

Shammah did not mind. He was no one’s prize. Shepherding was a dirty business, but he liked to use the oil found on the wool for his beard. He smelled like an animal, but the sheep liked him. Followed him. Knew his voice. Trusted him without question. And he liked the solitude. Better the Judean mountains with their wild animals than my cold father. Resolute in his decision, Shammah refused to look back at the campfire. It was time to move out.

Five days later, Shammah and the other shepherds found what they had been searching for. Green pastures. Quiet waters gliding through the ravines sourced from the higher mountain regions. It had been a grueling journey and everyone was ready to find rest in the meadows. It was no wonder David wrote psalms of worship here. Truly, these remote places restored the soul and brought one closer to Jehovah.

Eli had not been a man of faith. But Rachel, their aged servant who raised him, had taught him the words of Jehovah. As a boy, Shammah had hungered for the steadfast love of a father described in the sacred scriptures. As a man, he was not convinced of the reality. But, out here he felt closer to the Presence of Jehovah. Less distraction.

As evening drew near one of the shepherd boys began to play his flute. Music quieted the sheep and the soul while also keeping predators at bay. It was Shammah’s favorite time. In honor of the city of David, the boy was playing one of David’s psalms. Or, at least it sounded like one of David’s.

Shammah gazed at the unusually bright stars and began humming along trying to remember the words:

“Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his hosts! Praise him sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars!”

He shut his eyes and hummed the verses he did not remember and picked up again at the end:

“He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for…

The reedy notes abruptly ceased and Shammah opened his eyes. A giant stood before him! He was so big and shone so bright they all cowered in unmanly fear. And then he spoke,

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” As suddenly as he appeared with the message he was gone.

Then, a cacophony of singing erupted like he had never heard before. All the heavens. Praise from the highest heights. All his angels. All the hosts. All the shining stars. Jehovah’s word is true! Shammah marveled. The horn of salvation! He is here? Tonight?

Bursting with excitement, Shammah shouted, “We must go see!” But no one answered him. The others lay on the ground, passed out with fear. He did not blame them, but would not wait. He started running down the path to Bethlehem when he forgot his sword. Why did he care?! He wouldn’t need it! Ah! It is like my feet are frozen to the ground! I must get it first.

Forty minutes later they began their descent into the far side of the city. That was when he heard it. A feral, blood-chilling snarl. Judean lions? So close to the city? Hand on his sword he peered into the darkness and once his eyes focused, he froze. Not. Lions. Shammah looked to the hills again. What once had been covered in angels’ songs of praise now had writhing, dark figures coming from all directions slinking toward the stable in the hillside.

Nearby two pairs of red, glowing eyes intent upon the stable door. In the light of the moon Shammah saw the glint of unnaturally long fangs. A musky, unclean smell permeated the suddenly very cold air. At the soft cry of a baby from inside, righteous anger welled up within Shammah. He planted his feet and drew his sword.

…to be continued as The Shepherd’s Sword on December 14, 2020.

All quotes taken from The ESV Bible by Crossway Publishers.

The Innkeeper’s Wife: A Christmas Mini-Series

The Innkeeper’s Wife

by Leslie Crouse

…continued from The Innkeeper.

“That MAN! What was he thinking?!” Outside Evie took a deep breath and then another. She knew what Hananiah had been thinking. That infuriating, practical, wonderful man of hers was thinking of her. She saw that look in his eye at dinner. For twenty, long years they had weathered barrenness together but the pain never really lost its edge. When had her pain become so crippling that her husband felt he needed to protect her even at the cost of compassion?

Eve. What had her parents been thinking? Eve meant life. Mother of the living. Thirty-seven years with nothing to show but two heartbreaking miscarriages. Her name added irony to her pain. Expectations never met. A daily reminder of shriveled dreams. But not tonight. She refused to be swallowed up by self-pity. El Roi saw her. Heard her. She and Hananiah had the LORD and each other. Besides, tonight was not about her. And what better way to step out from one’s own pain than by serving another?

Evie looked up at the stars. She always felt closer to the God of Israel when she saw them. Strange. Tonight the stars looked extraordinarily bright. Glorious even. Like they were singing. Though the ever present pain remained a powerful peace entered her soul.

Quietly she slipped toward the barn door and listened. The tell-tale sound of a tiny mewling cry escalated into gusty wails that only a newborn could make. Time to move. She was none too early with these cloths. At least they were clean! She held back a smile at the look on Hananiah’s face when she ripped them up. Serves him right for putting business before compassion.

The young man looked up at her, wild eyed with hair sticking up in every direction. Relief flooding his face, he ran to her and said “I have no idea how to do this! I have wrapped him up four times but his arms keep escaping! Every time he just screams louder and louder.”

Evie smiled. This she could do. Gently she approached the young girl, who was trembling from exhaustion. Compassion overwhelmed her. Vaguely she heard the barn door open and close as Hananiah sheepishly came in with more hot water, blankets and a earthen bowl of warm broth for the young woman. He flicked a glance at Evie as he approached. His face guarded, unsure of where they stood at the moment. Evie knew he would nurse his pride for a bit, but he was a good sort and she loved him.

Finishing a perfect swaddle she glanced up at Hananiah and smiled as a peace offering. Surveying her handy work and the now content baby, she picked up the sweet boy and with Joseph’s permission and cooed to him. She walked over to Hananiah and together they looked into the most amazing dark, grey eyes they had ever seen.  

As she locked eyes with the infant, something broke inside of her. A flood of tears. Sobbing she could feel the healing take place. Deep within her heart all the names she had been called, the accusations that had been launched, the scars she had lived with for so long melted powerless. A warmth began to grow inside her. Beginning in her belly, the heat spread like a fire throughout her entire body. Shaking with the power she felt surging through her, she handed the little boy to Hananiah who was also weeping – with joy it seemed.

Eagerly he took the baby. Holding him high, laughing and weeping at the same time. A glow she had never seen in him shone from his eyes. In this singular moment, she saw Hananiah changed. The anger and bitterness he tried so hard to hide was gone. Replaced with unspeakable joy. Peace. In awe, Hananiah again looked into the face of this little child and Evie knew that he knew. They glanced at each other and again at the baby. It made no sense, but with absolute certainty Evie knew this tiny, red face was the face of God.

Sensitive to the sacred moment taking place between man and wife, Joseph gently reached for the child and said, “His name is Joshua. Or – Jesus, as Caesar’s register will say. For he will save us from our sin.”

Evie watched Joseph as he laid the boy in a feeding trough beside Mary so that he could spoon feed the broth to her. Jesus. What miracles had just taken place! Marveling at the baby in the trough, and the heat that still vibrated through her body, Evie turned to Hananiah as he put his arm around her and led her back to the house.

When they entered all was still. The guests had retired and the lamps burned low. Had hours passed? As they prepared for bed on this silent, holy night they discussed in excited whispers all they had witnessed. Each had experienced the overwhelming power of God’s love when they held little Jesus.

“How can the full strength of God’s love dwell in a tiny baby?” Hananiah asked.

“And how God’s love burns like fire! I am hot all over.” Evie said excitedly while rubbing her tingling fingertips. Hananiah laughed with her.

“It is a miracle! I could not decide if I wanted to shout for joy or fall to my knees in worship! Evie, there is immeasurable treasure in our stable right now. Why us? Why our stable? I was prepared to move them inside, but somehow, I sensed that is where El Shaddai wanted them.” Hananiah said.

That night, Hananiah and Evie fell asleep as he held her close. A once brokenhearted couple basking in God’s overwhelming love.

Almost one year later…

Evie smiled at the sound of her baby’s cries. Hananiah’s eyes were so full of pride and joy as he looked at his first born and then Evie. In a look they shared their remembrance of Jesus, the child who changed their world with one powerful encounter of love. Then Hananiah addressed their family and friends saying, “His name is Samuel because the LORD God has heard.”

…continue reading my Christmas Mini-Series with The Shepherd on December 14, 2020.

The Innkeeper: A Christmas Mini-Series

The Innkeeper

by Leslie Crouse

Hananiah sat amidst the noisy dinner guests watching them fight over the last of Evie’s famous challah bread. His wife was the best cook in Bethlehem and he was big enough to prove it. Evie’s heart was even bigger. He watched her serve their guests with that soft smile and sparkling eyes. After twenty years together, he loved her deeper than he could have imagined.

Over the din he heard, “Where are your children? I do not believe I have seen them running around here with my own.” He cringed and glanced at his wife Evie. Silence fell in the room as Hananiah watched a flood of sorrow overtake Evie’s eyes before she nodded at him and ducked into the kitchen.

He cleared the lump forming in his throat at the sight of his wife’s pain and answered, “The LORD will bless us in His time.” This was no new question. Small talk always led this direction and over the years Evie had learned to let him answer while she avoided the knowing looks.

That quick flash of pain in her eyes was the only indication of their deep sorrow. Does not God hear their cry? Does he not see what a wonderful mother she would make? Anger fought to fill his heart but he pushed it back down. God knew best. Over the years Evie had not hardened her heart and he would honor her by doing the same.

God had blessed them in so many ways and he was not ungrateful. Having been born here, they did not need to travel during this ridiculous census. Hananiah and Evie had been able to stay put and collect the income brought on by Caesar’s decree. Pompous man. If he were God fearing he would know strength is not found in numbers but in the name of El Shaddai. Ah! He must shake this dismal mood or his guests would suffer for it.

At the sound of a knock or, rather a bang on the door, Hananiah began the task of standing up. Difficult after another of Evie’s fine meals. He kissed her cheek as he walked by and whispered something in her ear that made her smile and swat his arm.

Outside stood a young man wringing his hands. “Shalom! Sir, I beg of you, I must find a place to stay tonight. My wife’s pains have begun and I fear we do not have long. I have asked everywhere. Please say there is a place for us.” Hananiah looked at the woman and took a double take. Wife? This was a mere girl! Something did not seem right here. Why can Evie and he not find joy in children while this undeserving couple did? LORD! It is not right! Well, whatever she was, clearly she was in labor.

Hananiah gritted his teeth. He wanted help, but the inn had been full for days and there was no way he would ask a family to leave. Refunds were impossible. They had already spent the rental income on linens, supplies and fresh grain for the animals. With town as busy as it was, food and supplies were scarce and greedy men had raised prices. Again.

The city square was no place for a woman to give birth. Where could they go? He must think.

“Shalom my friend. I see you are in need of… much.” He began leading them to the stable but the young woman paused to brace herself – one hand against the wall and another wrapped around her large belly – suppressing a low groan. She was embarrassed and obviously this was her first or she would have been better prepared.

Where was her mother? Maid? He set them up in the stable with fresh water for them as well as their animals and told them he would return shortly with blankets and food. It was the least he could do. Wasn’t it?

As he walked back toward the inn he heard another of her cries and the sound launched him back in time to when his baby sister was born. He was the second son of nine and had listened to births before.

He supposed he could let them have Evie and his room. It was in the back, separate from the others. But what a noisy business! Messy too. No. I will not do that to Evie. I will not make Evie watch a girl give birth in her own bed and then clean up after her too. Besides, if the other guests are disturbed our inn will always be remembered as such and destroy any future business. It is decided then. The barn it is. Evie would not approve but he would do what he must. His wife and his business needed to be priority.

Another cry pierced the night pulling him from his searing conscience and justifications.  The more he thought about it the more urgent the girl’s need became. This girl needs a midwife now! Where is that servant boy?

“Jacob, go get the midwife and bring her to the stable as fast as you can!” Hananiah yelled.

“But Sir! Grandmother Anna left for her hometown day before last. She isn’t – ” Jacob said.

“Then knock on every door and find one! We have no time!” Hananiah interrupted. At the rate she was going that baby may be here before the boy made it back. He watched Jacob, race down the dusty street. Truly, at this point any midwife would do. Any experienced mother.

Bitterness welled up again. Evie would not hesitate to help but she did not have the knowledge needed. He must tell her about the situation though. Maybe he could put it off until after the baby was born. She had her hands full with their guests. And if the guests caught wind that couple would never get any privacy.

“HANANIAH BEN JOHN! What do you think you are DOING? You told that poor girl to give birth in a barn? A BARN!” Fists planted on her hips, Eve skewered him with that fiery look of hers that withers every argument. She was on a war path now and was coming straight for him.

He had known she would not approve, but he had done the only thing he could. Right? That Jacob and his big mouth! What was done was done and right now they did not have time to argue.

“Eve, you must know given everything going on this was the best option. I will not argue with you about it. There is too much to do.” Eve whirled away in a fury. She began slamming open cupboards and ripping out all the brand new linens he had just purchased for their guests. He turned to get fresh water when he heard a ripping sound and his eyes grew round.

“Evie!” Hananiah’s face blanched as Eve ruthlessly tore their new linens to shreds. Never had he seen her so angry. It gave him pause. He turned his back and took a deep breath searching his heart one more time. Why had the barn seemed like such a good idea again? It is much too dirty for a woman giving birth. He knew that!

Before he could remember his arguments, His shame was punctuated by a loud smack as Eve stormed out the kitchen door arms full of the most expensive rags he had ever seen.

…Continue reading my new Christmas Mini-series with The Innkeeper’s Wife on December 11, 2020.