Christmas–5. The Journey

Posted: 2013 年 12 月 12 日 in Christmas
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The Journey

  1. The Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, ruled the known world at the time of marriage of Joseph and Mary. He was concerned that the amount of taxes collected was not commensurate with the number of his subjects. He held a council in Rome, and his advisors told Caesar that he could not levy an equitable tax until he had an accurate idea of the populations of the Roman provinces. Caesar issued an imperial rescript ordering all subjects, in the winter solstice, to return to the cities of their fathers and there be counted. Many of the subject peoples chafed when the law was proclaimed. They said that Caesar was not a just king to do this to them. Joseph sought the local tax merchant and asked if women in advanced pregnancy could be excused and he was told that no one could be excused.

  1. They started on the trip south, two young and solemn people with a short and slender jackass who bore the most exalted burden ever to honor the animal. Joseph lifted Mary’s spirits by reminding her that, if he paced the trip correctly, she would see Jerusalem at sundown of the fifth day. Jerusalem. Little parties came up all year long from Jericho and the Salt Sea and the Mountains of Moab and the north country of Samaria and Galilee in a never-ending procession to the great temple of Solomon. It was a spiritual spawning for all Hebrews; a coming home; a communion with God at his appointed house. This was the winter solstice of the Jewish year 3790. The gaiety of the Feast of Chanukan had ended as Joseph and his wife left Nazareth.

  1. Each night, when the sun was gone and the road obscure, Joseph led the ass a little way off from the road and into a clearing where there was very little brush and few insects. Then he tied the ass, tilted the goatskin and filled the earthen jar with water from it, and sat. There was not much to talk about. Their minds were troubled with momentous events far beyond the scope of their thought. Mary was big with the unborn child, and awkward, but she managed to prepare the food as appetizingly as possible. There was no meat. Even at home, they never had meat more than once a month. Mostly it was lamb, chopped into cubes and roasted and then set on a plate beside charoseth and other herbs and fruits. They slept in the open, saving what little money they had for the day of the baby. Sometimes, when there was no moon, Joseph set a lamp on the ground and Mary removed her veil and brushed the long dark hair which hung to her waist. She said that she would like to bathe in the Jordan, and she said it wistfullly because she knew that Joseph would say no, and a good wife did not dispute the will of her husband. He said it gently, reminding her that her time was near, that this would be her first-born, and he would not assume the risk of the river. With a gruff tenderness Joseph wet some cloths in the Jordan and brought them to Mary to wash herself.

  1. On the evening of the fourth day they were at Jericho, a few miles above the Salt Sea and within a glance of Mt. Nebo to the east. Joseph wanted to stay at an inn, where they could pay for space on the floor, but Mary begged him not to do it. “This is not an important day,” she said. He knew what she meant. In the morning, Joseph led Mary and the ass into the wilderness. It was twenty miles to Bethany, and, from there, three to the heart of Jerusalem. Towards sunset, Joseph stopped at the top of a rise. The ass stopped. Mary looked up, a tired child with eyes partly conscious of the scene. “Jerusalem,” Joseph said, pointing. Mary looked. The onderment of what she saw caused her nausea to fade. It was a thing to see. Jerusalem was a white jewel pronged by the great stone wall around it. Joseph pulled the ass to the side of the road because the pilgrims behind him were shouting. “Jerusalem,” he said again. He said it as though it were an earthly anteroom to paradise, as indeed it was.

  1. The sun would be gone in ten minutes and there was much to see because they could not stay in Jerusalem. Their destination, Bethlehem, was still five miles to the south, but Joseph did not mind the night walk if he could stop a moment and drink in all of this and remember it when he was old. Softly, haltingly, Joseph found his voice and, as he drank in the exquisite and almost fearful beauty, he began to tell the story to his wife—a story she knew as well as he. He reminded her that he came of the family of David, even though his branch was small and poor. It was David’s son Solomon who had built the Great Temple. He had commissioned Hiram, the King of Tyre, to draw the plans and do the engineering. The work was finished in seven years, a miracle of goodness. The temple was 1,600 feet long and 970 feet wide. The bigger the temple got, the more remote Solomon felt from God, and he needed the solace of women, so on the Mount of Offense to the left of the city he had built a palace and placed therein five hundred concubines.

  1. The sin needed washing and, long after Solomon repented, the Jews split into two nations—Judea and Israel—and the Babylonians defeated them and reduced the walls of the temple. Now the Jews were the chattels of Roman emperors and the Caesars appointed Herod as king to rule the people. Herod proclaimed himself a Jew and made daily sacrifices, but he was not even a good hypocrite. Herod married ten times and he was so cruel that Caesar Augustus in Rome said that it was safer to be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son. This was a sacrilegious joke on the dietary laws, and Joseph did not like to repeat it. Still, he had also done good things for God. He had paid ten thousand workmen to repair the temple and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. “Darkness is upon us,” said Mary. She had a feeling of foreboding. She wanted to proceed to Bethlehem for no reason other than that she was trembling and the baby was unusually quiet. Joseph stopped in mid-speech. He knew that she would not interrupt him unless there was a reason. Without further conversation, he led the ass westward into the valley. It was soon night and moonless. Something happened suddenly to Mary and she knew in a moment that this would be the night of the baby. She asked Joseph to stop and he became alarmed and asked if she was unquiet. “No,” she said. “I feel no pain, but we must find an inn. The baby—with God’s help—will be born tonight.”

Christmas Movie 1: Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas

 

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