This is the second chapter of my book, “Our Darkness, His Light: Ordinary People in the Extraordinary Story of Christ.” Josiah is a character who “bookends” the story that starts at the manger and ends at the empty tomb.
In my fictional account of the nativity, Josiah is the owner of the manger where Jesus was born. He now lives with his own son in Bethlehem and Joseph and Mary have moved into a house down the street.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
Matthew 2:1-2 (NIV)
“Where are you going?” Rachel asked.
I shrugged into my outer cloak and grabbed the walking stick. “I promised Joseph I would help him finish something in his workshop.” I couldn’t tell her it was a chair I was making especially for her.
My son, Joseph, burbled and cooed in his mother’s arms. “But, it’s after sunset.”
“Yes, and much cooler. Joseph’s workshop on his roof will be much more tolerable now.” I kissed my son’s forehead. His dark, unruly hair smelled of scented oil. “You know, it’s been two years.” I tousled Joseph’s hair and he grabbed my finger with his strong grip.
“Since the birth of Yeshua. Yes, I remember, Josiah. Also, that was the night we had our, uh, disagreement.”
I reached past Joseph and patted Rachel’s stomach. “And, this child will be our daughter, Rachel. Yahweh has told me as much.”
Rachel’s smile was brighter than the star I had seen that night. “Well, I will be putting our Joseph down for the night so be careful on your journey to Joseph’s house.” She leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek.
I stepped out of our house into the cool night air. The sky was clear and filled with blazing stars. One star in particular seemed to lie low on the horizon. For two years now, the star had filled the night sky visible even with a full moon! Now, it seemed brighter and closer than ever! As I turned toward Joseph’s house, I noticed the star seemed to hover over the street where he lived! How was this possible? Surely just an illusion.
Warm, moist air bathed the back of my neck and I whirled. Moisture hit me on the cheek! My eyes widened as I stared into the snout of a camel. I stumbled back in shock. Astride the camel sat the most unusual man I had ever seen. His robes were shiny and shimmering in the star light. A golden colored turban covered his head and his long, gray beard was dotted with gold chain woven into the hairs. More camels appeared at his side. Another notable individual came into sight.
The man wore a long, dark crimson robe embroidered with shiny silver threads. His deep crimson turban was swept up into a peak and his long, black beard bore hanging pearls. He was tall in the seat of his camel and he grimaced at my sight.
“Camel spit is good for you, my friend.” He said in a heavy accent.
A third man astride a camel was short and dumpy and dressed in resplendent white and copper. His flat turban sat on his head like a plate. His white beard and mustache matched his outfit. He laughed.
“Our friend is not accustomed to camels, it seems. My good friend, we have come a long way looking for the King. Can you tell us where to find him?” The white clad man asked.
“We follow the star.” The first man said pointing to the shining star in the distance.
“For two years we have followed the star!” The crimson clad man growled.
“Yes, but tonight it is most assuredly bright, and it has come to rest. I believe our days of following the star may be over. After all, King Herod’s seers agreed with our assessment.” Gold said.
I looked behind them at a long entourage of camels and men filling the meager streets of Bethlehem. People had emerged from their homes and talked among themselves.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“We are magi from the East. We saw the signs in the heavens predicted by your prophet Daniel. They told of the birth of the King of Kings. Maybe two years ago? We are not certain if the signs appeared at his conception or at his birth, but he would be between one and two years of age.” White said.
“Signs in the heavens?” I said hoarsely. Like angels singing? Like shepherds visiting my manger? “I think I know of who you speak. But he is no king. He is the son of a carpenter, born in my meager manger. No fanfare. No royal reception. I cannot say that he is a king.”
White laughed. “See, I told you we should have paid more attention to the writings of Isaiah! He described a lowly birth for the king among commoners.” He looked at me. “There was one seer in an ebon black robe who insisted this king would be born in a palace. His icy blue eyes were particularly piercing, and he had Herod’s ear. My friends were almost persuaded, but I have studied the prophecies. I believe this king will be a servant leader, not necessarily a commander of armies. I believe he will surprise everyone with his nature as a king. But my part‐ ners disagree.”
“He will be a mighty priest king!” Gold pronounced.
“He will be a sacrifice for his people.” White spoke. “His love for his people will be so great, he will give his life in service to his people.”
I shook my head. “I do not know of what you speak. Our scriptures talk of the Messiah, the coming conqueror who will free us.”
“There are those who still subscribe to such a theory.” Gold said.
“Like Herod’s seers?” Crimson said. “I do not trust them. Fear filled their eyes when we spoke of the star.”
“Fear of Herod!” White said. “Everyone knows how ruthless the man can be.”
I pointed toward the star. “If what you suspect is true, that star is over my friend’s house. He has a young boy just now two years old.” My heart began to race. Could it be true? Was Yeshua the Messiah? If so, I hoped and prayed he was none of these magi’s visions for a king. The Messiah would rescue us from the Romans. And, from Herod. And, get vengeance for the death of my brother! “I will take you there.”
What followed was the strangest parade Bethlehem had ever seen. We reached the street that led to Joseph’s small house. “There.” I pointed. Crimson motioned to a nearby empty field. “Set up our tents there.” He spoke to servants behind him. “In the morning we will present our tribute to the king.”
“Set up your tents if you will.” Gold slid off of his camel. “But, I am seeing the king tonight! We have journeyed too far to sit idly during the night.” He clapped his hands and one of his servants ran forward with a golden box. “I suggest the two of you get your gifts ready. I am sure the boy will be asleep soon.”
I ran to Joseph’s house and knocked on his door. The latched clicked open and Joseph smiled when he saw me. “Josiah, I was hoping you had not forgotten. We finish the chair tonight.”
Behind him in the soft glow from a lamp, Yeshua sat on the floor in a white robe. He played with two sheep Joseph had carved from wood. Mary stood up from her chair. Her face stiffened. “What is it, Josiah? You look frightened.”
“It is the magi. They have followed the star. They are looking for a king.” I mumbled and from behind me I heard the sudden harmonious cacophony of a dozen voices raised in chanting. Joseph and Mary moved past me and I stepped into the room. Yeshua stood up and reached out to take my robe in his hands. He looked up at me with the most intense gaze and his long, brown hair curled around his ears.
“It’s okay, little one. They mean no harm.”
But Yeshua did not seem frightened. He seemed expectant? Waiting? Fulfilled? I could not adequately describe the expres‐ sion on his toddler face. He turned to the open door and walked forward, pausing just within the frame.
Gold spoke with Joseph and Mary and his voice carried into the house. “We spoke to Herod’s seers and they told us according to your scripture:
‘In Bethlehem in Judea you will find him. For this is what the prophet has written:
‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ We have traveled from the East for long months to see this new king.”
Mary reached to Joseph and he pulled her into his embrace. “We knew something like this might happen.” Joseph said. “Gabriel came to me in a dream.”
“And, spoke to me in person.” Mary said. They both turned and looked at Yeshua standing in the doorway. Their faces were lit up by a combination of awe, and yes, fear. Gold’s face paled and he stepped forward with the golde box. He knelt before the child.
“I bring you a gift of gold. It is the gift to a king. May your reign bring peace to our world.” He placed the golden box at the boy’s feet.
Crimson came forward and knelt beside his companion. “I bring you the gift of Frankincense, the offering of a priest for the righteousness of his people. May your reign be filled with compassion and forgiveness.” He placed a wooden box with silver highlights before the boy.
White came forward and his face was stained with tears. His mouth was trembling and he knelt before the boy. He held out a pure, white urn with a flat top. “And, with a heart broken by the prophecies I bring you myrrh, the herb used to anoint the dead. For, if you are the king the prophets truly foretell, you will give all for those you love.” He placed the receptacle before the boy.
The visit of the Magi was the talk of the town for days while they camped in the nearby foothills. Once they had worshipped Yeshua, they had retired to their tents to rest before their long trip back through Jerusalem and to their Eastern lands. Rachel and Joseph were on the roof when I got up that morning. She held Joseph and was pointing to the tents in the distance.
“Those are camels. And they live in those beautiful tents, Joseph. They are strangers to this land.”
Joseph laughed and clapped his hands. I placed a hand on the boy’s hair and ruffled it. “My son, I love you so much.”
Joseph looked up at me. “Da?”
My heart swelled with pride. I raised my arms and stretched them out as far as they would go. “I love you this much and more than I can reach.”
Joseph looked at his own hands and then stretched them out as far as he could. “Da!” He smiled.
I turned away from Rachel to hide my tears of joy. But when my gaze fell on the tents I felt my heart tremble with the news I had learned. “They will soon return to Jerusalem. I was told by one of the servants that Herod requested they give him a report.” I frowned. “I’m not so sure that is a good idea.”
Rachel glared at me. “Why would you say such?”
“The man had his wife and mother-in-law killed. And, then had his three sons executed! He does not worship Yahweh, Rachel. He has killed anyone in his way! No man in his right man would trust such a king!”
Rachel put her hands over Joseph’s ears. “Must you speak thus before our son?” She pulled Joseph more tightly into her arms. He curled his bare legs over her pregnant stomach. “I’ll be downstairs taking a nap with our son and future daughter.” She left me standing on the roof glaring at the tents on the hillside.
The banging on the door echoed through the house and Joseph woke up crying. I sat up on my mat and reached for Rachel. She was not there. She was sleeping in the other chamber with Joseph. I stumbled down the ladder to the lower level. The donkey and the goats were restless in their manger as more thudding came from the door. I opened the latch and there before me stood Joseph. Behind him astride his donkey was Mary holding Yeshua. A second donkey was burdened down with their possessions.
“Joseph?” I mumbled.
“Josiah, you are a good man. Yahweh has smiled upon you and blessed you. So, I must give you a warning. An angel of the Lord appeared to me in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’”
My heart began to race. “But, the magi?”
“Left yesterday. I should have listened to them. One of them also had a visitation from an angel in a dream warning them not to return to their land through Jerusalem. But, Josiah, they are pagans and I did not believe an angel would visit them. Two angels have given a warning. I wanted you to know before we left. Your friendship has meant so much to me.” He stepped aside and motioned to the completed chair. “I finished the chair for your wife. Go with God and have peace, my friend.” He bowed his head and hurried out to Mary. He grabbed the reigns of her donkey and made his way down the street. Mary cast one long, tearful glance in my direction, and they were gone into the dark night.
I sat in the chair and looked at the sleeping city. Two angels. I had seen my own angel. No, I had seen a host of angels! Herod would kill the child? Of course, he would! This future king was a threat to his reign. The man had killed his own sons! But, how would he know which child was which? My heart froze with fear and I bolted to my feet. I looked once at the city of my childhood, the city in which I had wed my wife, the city in which my first-born son had been born and realized I would never see it again. I ran into the house to wake up Rachel. We had to leave the city, or my son Joseph would face the same fate as his late uncle.
I paused at the foot of the ladder and looked back out through the open door at the empty chair. A vision swam before me. Mothers sitting in chairs with their dead sons in their arms, wailing and weeping! I should warn them all! But they would not believe me! Who would believe such? I had no time to warn anyone. It was time to leave Bethlehem. I had a sister in Jerusalem. Perhaps she would take us in while we waited to see what Herod would do.
“Rachel, pack your bags. We must leave now!” I started up the ladder.
“Our Darkness, His Light” is available at all online bookstores.
Posted on December 21, 2021, in Steel Chronicles and tagged Bethlehem Star, Christ child, Christmas, Herod, Joseph, Magi, manger, Nativity. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on The Gifts.