Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Musings from Melchoir

And now, the last in our series of Christmas newsletters. Did you get yours out?

Dearest and Most Esteemed Friends:

It has indeed been an outstanding year. I hardly know where to begin.

As you know from your perusal of last year’s newsletter, my respected colleagues and I have studied the Hebrew Scriptures and found there a clear transcript of truth. In particular, the Messianic prophecies of Moses claimed our attention, and among these the words of Balaam: “A Star shall come out of Jacob; a Scepter shall rise out of Israel.” 

We also became well acquainted with the prophecy of Micah: “But you, Bethlehem, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel.” 

We also knew the prophecy of Daniel regarding the appearance of Messiah, and came to the conclusion that His coming was near.

Then things became urgent. A mysterious light appeared in the sky which became a luminous star persisting in the western heavens. Impressed with its import, my colleagues and I turned once more to the sacred scrolls. As we tried to understand the meaning of the revered writings, we determined to go in search of Messiah. I confess to you, I was not entirely convinced. Judea was a long and arduous journey, particularly if, in the end, it proved unfruitful. My friends, however, were determined. I knew that if I stayed behind and they were proven correct, I would regret it all my days.

Prior to our departure, we meticulously chose suitable gifts for Messiah. We settled on three: Gold, a gift for a king; Frankincense, the burning of which represents prayer. As it is used by priests, we decided it would indicate the priestly nature of Messiah. Myrrh, a fragrant perfume, used in embalming bodies. We discussed this particular gift at length. Would we offend the recipient? In the end, knowing its great value, we agreed anyone would feel honored to receive such a precious, costly gift. Everyone, after all, will die some time. Few will receive a royal burial.

The journey took months and I won’t burden you with the details of it except to say that the light continued to guide our path in the most remarkable manner. I knew then that I would not regret the sojourn.

As protocol dictated, we sought out King Herod upon our arrival in Jerusalem. We were gravely disappointed that he did not already know of Messiah’s coming. How could he not be aware of such a monumental occurrence? He did, however, appear most interested in what we had to say. His scholars confirmed their ancient prophecies pointed to Bethlehem as the place from which Messiah would come, so we continued on in that direction until the star reappeared.

This time, it led us directly to a house where it stopped and stayed. We did not know what to expect and I admit I felt more nervous than I had when approaching the king’s court. But to our delight, inside we discovered an ordinary Hebrew couple with a very young son. The man assured us that it was the boy, not he, whom we sought. We looked at one another in wonder. When we asked the time of the child’s birth, we knew the star had appeared to us the very night he was born.

My colleagues and I presented our gifts with deepest reverence, gratitude, and awe. This child would forever change our planet, our calendar, and our hearts. I feel so privileged to be alive at this time in human history and to see him with my own eyes. If I live to be a very old man, I will not encounter such an experience again and I am content. I can move into the future with renewed hope in my heart for all mankind, and I wish the same for you. I know that wise men and women will continue to seek him long after I am gone.

A wiser man than I was last year,

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Greetings from Gavish

And now, the third in our series of Christmas newsletters. How is your own coming along?
Howdy Ya’ll!

I s’pose by the time you get this here letter, it will be old news. But I don’t care. It’s still the biggest thing what ever happened to me and I’ll keep telling the story as long as folks keep listenin’. There ain’t no need to embellish it, neither, because the truth is hard enough to believe even if I stick to the basic facts.

Now that I am 13, this is the year Pa picked me to go with him and the other shepherds on flock duty. Until this year, no matter how hard I tried, the sheep wouldn’t come when I called. Pa taught me the right words and I tried to mimic his voice, but they would only come for him. Now that my voice is deeper, I am startin’ to sound like my father and the sheep will come runnin’ for me too. The first time that happened, Pa’s chest popped out and he had a big grin on his face. I want to be as good a shepherd as Pa someday. It’s the life for me!

We had been campin’ in that pasture west of Bethlehem for about a week and the men were talkin’ about movin’ on in another day or two. We had the sheep settled for the night and those of us who weren’t on guard duty was chillin’ around the fire. This is my favorite time, listenin’ to the men tellin’ stories, every once in a while the gentle sound of the sheep. I was wrapped in my blanket and just about to doze off.

All of sudden, I thought I musta fell fast asleep and the sun was up. Everything was lit up like daylight, but it weren’t the sun. I flipped over in my bedroll and saw where the light was comin’ from—heard it, too. I ain’t never seen nothin’ like it in all my life and I don’t mind tellin’ ya I was shakin’ like the tails on them little newborn lambs.

“What is that, Pa?” It looked like a giant, shiny person just kinda floatin’ in the sky.

But Pa just stood there with his mouth hangin’ open. My big, brave father was shakin’ too. Then the angel or whatever it was started talkin.’ 

“Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: a Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”

Before we even had a chance to soak this in, we saw thousands and thousands more angels, all singin’ the most beautiful music I ever heard. They was singin’ praise to God one minute and then, just like that, they was gone.

The men all started talkin’ at once. What just happened? I was proud of Pa when he got everyone to quiet down for an orderly discussion. It didn’t take long for them to decide we was runnin’ off to Bethlehem (David’s town, don’t ya know) as fast we could go. I had never in all my life seen my father leave sheep untended, but this night I did. But then, this was a night of lots of strange things.

I don’t know how the men figured out which stable to go to when we got to town. I was just followin’ along. But wouldn’t ya know it? We found a young couple named Joseph and Mary and a brand new little baby. He was lyin’ in a manger, just like the angel said.

Well, we stayed awhile and then we run off, tellin’ everybody we met about it and we’re tellin’ everybody still. I ‘spect I’ll still be tellin’ about it when I’m an old, old shepherd.

Anyway, that was the highlight of my year, and Pa’s too. Highlight of our lives, actually. We don’t understand it all, but we know that must be one special baby to have angels announcing him. Cute little guy. He will likely grow up to be a carpenter like his pa. But if I had a chance, I’d teach him about bein’ a shepherd. A really good shepherd. The kind whose sheep know his voice and follow him everywhere.

Kindest regards,

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Notes from Nessa

What’s better than the annual family newsletter, just in time for Christmas? For my December series this year, I bring you the newsletters of four characters from the Christmas story. May they inspire you to write your own!

Shalom, Family & Friends.

Oy vey! When I wrote last year’s letter I was all fermisht about the announcement of the Roman census and the crowds it would bring to Bethlehem. 

“It will be good for business,” Hirshel insisted.

“It will be bad for business,” I told him. “We’ll wear ourselves ragged and still we’ll be turning good people away.”

He has more in his head than in his pocket, my husband. He spent the summer adding two rooms above the inn and hired his brother Feivel’s girl to help me with the extra cooking and cleaning. Hirchel even had the chutzpah to suggest we expand our business by offering laundry services to the travelers. But I put down my foot. You can’t sit on two horses with one behind, I told him.

When the travelers started shlepping into Bethlehem, oy such a racket like you’ve never heard. Such a stink with the sweating and the dirt and the animals. The inn filled up in no time and I have been run off my feet ever since. 

“Sleep faster, we need the pillows,” I told our guests. “You think this is a resort we are running?”

You older ones may remember that my father, rest his soul, named me “Nessa” because he said I would experience a wondrous miracle in my lifetime. It is a blessing my poor father is not around to see my life is nothing but drudgery and hard work. No miracles here.

Hirshel even rented out our bed while he and I take turns sleeping next door at Feivel and Yentl’s house. That is, Hirshel takes his turn. I haven’t slept since all this started. 

I was mixing dough for the next day’s challah when yet more travelers came to our door. A man with a very young wife. I was about to turn them away when I noticed the girl was very pregnant. Oy gevalt. The poor little thing had been travelling for days. She looked at me with big brown eyes and I had to look the other way. I called Hirshel to deal with it. He could turn them away without remorse. 

Men. They have no compassion. 

But as I turned back to the kitchen, I could hear Hirshel offering them space in the stable. Anything for a shekel! I shlepped back to the door.

“Excuse me,” I said to the young couple. “My husband is not right in the head.”

I yanked Hirshel aside. “Hirshel, don’t be meshugenah,” I said. “There is no other place in all of Bethlehem? Can’t you see this girl is about to give birth? You can’t put them in the stable.”

 “I’m sorry, you will have to find somewhere else,” I told the couple as I closed the door in their faces. 

Men. They have no backbone.

I went back to my bread, but I could not put those big brown eyes and that big round boych from my head. I knew everybody in town was full.

“Hirshel,” I said. “Go track them down and bring them back. We will make a bed for them in the stable. One night only, tell them! We can only hope they are gone before the little one comes.”

But the Holy One works in strange ways, nu? When I went to check on them in the morning, the two had become three. I took them a bowl of hot kubbeh with fresh baked challah and wished them Mazel Tov. While they ate, I held the baby.

“This is something for the newsletter,” I told Hirshel. Imagine, a baby born in our stable! And such a baby he is. Smart. I could see it in his eyes. Maybe even a genius. But hardly a miracle. Certainly not enough to put Bethlehem on the map.

They will be moving elsewhere later today. Maybe tomorrow. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must cut this letter short. Hirshel is kvetching about a bunch of shepherds crowding into our stable. I must go see what all the ruckus is about.

From all of us here at Hirshel’s Hideaway,

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Jots from Joseph

What’s more fun than the annual family newsletter, just in time for Christmas? For my December series this year, I bring you the newsletters of four characters from the Christmas story. May they inspire you to write your own!

Dear Family & Friends,
I may have said this other years, but this time it’s really true: this has been the most amazing year of my life! Should you find the personal nature of this year’s letter too much information, I apologize in advance. It is too intriguing not to share. But if you conclude that I have lost all sense, for that I do not apologize. I know what is true.

If you received last year’s update, you know that I became engaged to be married. My fiancĂ©e, Mary, is a descendant of King David, like me. She’s a sweet girl and I hope you get to meet her one day. For a few months last summer, however, I felt certain it would all be called off and I would be looking for another bride. 

Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth and it felt like the longest three months of my life. You can imagine my joy when my future father-in-law arrived at my door early one morning to tell me Mary had returned the night before. But I doubt you can comprehend the devastation I felt when he told me the rest of the news. Mary was pregnant. Furthermore, she was already pregnant before she left Nazareth to visit Elizabeth. He looked sick with shame.

Naturally, he assumed I was the father and urged me to move up the wedding date. But how could I? The child was not mine! He did not believe me, and I am not certain he believes me yet, in spite of both Mary’s and my insistence that I have not touched her. I only know the days that followed were the most difficult of my life. Sleep deprivation and distraction rendered me useless in my carpentry shop, so I went for a long walk while I begged God for direction. Tortured, I waffled between breaking off the engagement (how could I marry a woman who had proven so untrustworthy?) and playing the hero by marrying as quickly as possible and raising Mary’s child as my own, no questions asked. 

But who was the real father, and would thoughts of him haunt me all my days? Whose face would I see reflected in my child? Would I be able to love and care for him or her? Would I grow to resent Mary more with every passing year? I was already vexed with her for bringing this upon me. Yet, my wish to protect her from disgrace tormented me. She may never find another husband, given these circumstances. Her child would be despised and rejected. I’ve seen it before.

During this tortuous time, I experienced the most incredible—yet also the most real—encounter of my life. An angel of God came to me in a vision! I know no words with which to accurately describe him, but magnificent comes to mind. I’m a big guy and have faced tough men, but this visit had me feeling as fragile as wood shavings on my shop floor. Until he gently spoke my name and delivered his message.

“Joseph, son of David,” he said. “Don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus—‘God saves’—because he will save his people from their sins.”

You might think it would be easy to shrug off such an encounter as a weird dream. A little too much kosher wine the night before, perhaps. But I knew it was so much more. The relief brought by the angel’s words was immediate and complete. I knew what I must do. Mary and I will go ahead with our plans and I will raise this miracle child.

Shortly afterwards, the Romans announced their upcoming census which, for us, will require a trip to Bethlehem. Mary assures me we have plenty of time to make the trip and return home before she delivers. I know many of you face similar trips for the same reason, so I won’t complain. I have not visited Bethlehem since childhood and who knows what we may discover there?

So, rejoice with me, friends. I will soon have a wife and a son! Next year’s letter will no doubt make you roll your eyes with my stories of little Jesus and how clever and handsome he is. Now I know it is my heavenly Father’s face I will see reflected in his.

Until then, God bless you.
Joseph of Nazareth