Christmas–9. The Gifts

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

  1. The Magi waited after their audience with Herod until the star came up, east of Jerusalem, and then, when it again neared the zenith in the night sky, they mounted their camels, and followed it the final few miles. They asked the few pilgrims who still remained after the roman census if a king had been born in the area. The pilgrims said that they had heard no such news. It was Gaspar who said that the quesiton should be rephrased. Instead of asking if a king was born, let us ask if a baby has been born. They tried this tack with no success until they stopped at the inn for refreshment. They were told that an unknown couple from the north had had a baby. The newborn could be found below, in the stable. The three wise men looked at each other, and wondered. A stable? A king in a stable? The three men pitched a tent outside the inn and removed their traveling garments and changed into rainment befitting their station in life. From the sadle pouches, they withdrew their gifts, and in solemn file, walked down the path to the stable. At the entrance to the stony grotto, they were met by Joseph. Gaspar introduced himself and his confreres, and told Joseph that they had come a long way to adore the new king.

  1. The foster father excused himself, and went inside to consult with Mary. In a moment, he was back, asking them to enter, apologizing for the humbleness of his quarters. The Magi did not hear him. They were looking beyond Joseph to Mary, who sat crouched on the straw with the infant in her arms. The three wise men threw themselves onto the grain-sanded floor, the folds of thir brocaded garments spilling into the chaff. They touched their foreheads to the floor, and announced they had come to pay homage to the new king. Mary glanced at them tenderly, and held her baby so that they could see his face. The wise men studied the infant’s face as though they were trying to etch it in their memories. When Gaspar felt that it was time to go he nodded to Melchior, who made a formal address about bringing gifts suitable to one who would be referred to as the All Highest. Melchior announced the gifts of the Magi as they were laid out upon a white cloth. There was a small packet of gold dust. Then a jar of frankincense, a fragrant essence of resins and oils from East Africa, and myrrh, a rare orange-colored gum used as a perfume unguent.

  1. Joseph was abashed. He tried to express his gratitude, but the words died on the roof of his mouth. Mary smiled and thanked the visitors, and hoped that God would guide them home in safety. The Magi backed to the door of the stable and left. They decided to spend the night in Bethlehem, and to leave in the morning. In the night, the Magi were warned not to return to King Herod with the news of finding the messiah. They were not told why. In the morning, the three philosophers agreed that, although it would be wrong to ignore the invitation of herod to return to Jerusalem, it would be worse to ignore the warning of an angel in a dream. So, instead of returning north to Jerusalem, they headed east into Peraea. There was a time of quiet; a time of family communion; a time to think. There were two ceremonies to be undergone before they could go home to Nazareth—the presentation of the first-born at the temple in Jerusalem, and the purification of the mother. Joseph said that it would not be wise to return to Nazareth and then come back for the visitation to the temple. It would be better to remain in Bethlehem, take the child to Jerusalem, obey the law, and return to the cave and pack up preparatory to leaving for the long trip home the next day. Mary agreed.

  1. At dawn, Joseph saddled the little jackass, and packed enough food and water for one day’s travel. It would be five miles up to Jerusalem and five back. Joseph passed the big field of the potter to the south of Jerusalem, walked up the Valley of the Kidron to the north side, and entered the Sheep Gate. He took Mary to the Gate of the Women and gave her some coins. Joseph took the baby in his arms and the mother smiled at the awkwardly tender manner in which he held Jesus. The foster father first walked out into the courtyard and bought two turtledoves for sixteen cents. This was called the offering of the poor. A proper offering would have been a lamb, but the price of unblemished lambs on the temple grounds was seventy-five cents. Joseph could not afford anything but the most modest sacrifice. The presentation ceremony was in effect, a buying back of a son. The first-born, under Jewish law, was reserved for God. He must be free of such bodily blemishes as would bar him from the priesthood and, on his thirty-first day or after, the father must first offer the male son to God, then redemm him from a priest. The cost was high—about $2.50.

  1. The young carpenter gave the baby to a priest. As he turned toward the altar, an old man named Simeon peered into the folds protecting the baby’s face, and at once fell back, shielding his eyes. The old man was a devout and conscientious Jew who had longed for the promise of redemption by God, and his longing was so poignant that the Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not die until he had been permitted to see the messiah. Because of this, Simeon had attended the presentation of male sons every morning for many years, waiting for the promise to be fulfilled. Now, for the first time, he had looked at one more baby’s face and had fallen back as though blinded. Before anyone could stop Simeon, he took Jesus from the arms of the priest and, with aged eyes on the morning sky, crooned a hymn to God. The priests and the communicants listened in wonder. Mary opened her eyes and saw at once that this was another in a long chain of divine manifestations. Simeon handed the baby back to the priest, and turned to mary with tears in his eyes. “Alas!” he said to her. “This babe is destined to be the downfall no less than the restoration of many in Israel! His very name will provoke contradiction, and your own soul, also , shall be pierced by a sword! And thus the secret thoughts of many a heart shall be laid bare.”

  1. This was the first that Mary knew that, in her selection as the mother of God, there would be sorrow and tragedy. She was meditating on these things when a commotion arose and out of the crowd came the oldest-looking woman Mary had ever seen. This was Anna, the prophetess, one of the holiest of women. Anna had married young, and, for seven years, had been happy. Her husband had been taken from her suddenly, and she had turned to God and the great temple. She was there every morning; she was there every evening. The prophetess was probably one hundred and six years of age. When she had dragged her ancient frame to the side of Jesus, she peered at him, and turned away, thanking God over and over. From that day on, she went among the women at the temple, preaching about Jesus to all who hoped for the redemption of Israel. Order was restored in the temple, and the baby was presented to the Lord. He was found to be without blemish. Joseph redeemed him with money and with a sacrificial offering of the doves. The sun was hardly at its zenith when Joseph led his spouse and the baby back to where the jackass was tethered.

Christmas Movie 5: Christmas Carol

 

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