Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Countdown to Christmas/Advent (10/23/08)
By Beth Muehlhausen
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(A fictional paraphrase of Luke 1:26-56 and 2:1-7)
I’m just finishing dinner preparation; shaping thin, unleavened cakes by hand. Mother deftly and quickly browns each one in a very hot pan over the fire, first one side and then the other.
Life is generally predictable in Nazareth; meals here are simple but satisfying. Our traditions are comfortable. I love my fiancée and look forward to settling down.
I wipe flour from my hands with a soft cloth hanging obediently from my waistband like an apron, and notice the quiet. Family members who were previously milling about have momentarily dispersed. Sweet silence overwhelms even the prospect of a human whisper, allowing me a pensive moment.
As I shake out the cloth, a floury cloud puffs before me and settles on the ground.
“Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you!”
Gabriel’s words break into my reverie without introduction or apology.
“Don’t be afraid! My message is this: you will miraculously give birth; the Lord God will give your son the throne of David and his kingdom will never end.”
Something inside burns - hot lava in my veins? - and I feel faint. Stricken, my body stands immobile like a stone before the little pile of flour still at my feet. Gabriel deserves a response, and yet the words barely escape my trembling lips. “But how? I am still a virgin.”
“The Holy Spirit will overshadow you; your child will be, quite literally, the Son of God. Your elderly, barren relative Elizabeth is in her sixth month of pregnancy. Nothing is impossible with God.”
Time stands still in this kairos moment.
“I am the Lord’s servant. May it be as you have said.”
The next day I awaken before daylight and pack a few things, full of anticipation. As soon as the sun rises I hurry to Elizabeth’s town in the hill country of Judea.
“Hello, Elizabeth? Are you home?”
Elizabeth appears to be transformed; her facial expression seems childlike with wonder, and much younger than her years. She is filled with the Holy Spirit, and her baby leaps in her womb as she greets me. “Blessed are you, Mary, and your child!”
Overwhelmed with emotion and praise for God’s sovereignty, I sing:
Glory to God!
Oh my soul,
Rejoice in Him!
He knows me, His servant;
People forever will call me blessed.
My Mighty God does wonders:
His name is Holy.
He has scattered the prideful;
He has brought down lofty rulers.
But those who fear Him
Know His mercy
And His mighty deeds
Throughout all time.
He has lifted up those who are humble,
Filled the hungry,
And sent the rich away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel,
And remembered to show mercy
To Abraham and his descendents forever,
Even as He promised our fathers.
Elizabeth invites me to stay, and I do, for several glorious months. We often talk late into the night about our faithful God, our hope in Him, and our children-to-be. Jointly we celebrate my son’s first butterfly movements and the more obvious kicks and stretches of Elizabeth’s baby. We are encouraged; strengthened in spirit; refreshed by our unity and mutual expectation.
When I return home it is time for my fiancée Joseph to head to Bethlehem for Caesar’s census. I accompany him: Joseph on foot, and me perched atop the peaked back of a skinny donkey.
Fortunately Joseph understands my weariness and discomfort. His compassion translates into frequent stops when he props me against his chest so I can rest comfortably before traveling on.
The afternoon we arrive in Bethlehem the sky seems unusually clear above the crowded, noisy city. There’s no room for us at the inn and yet Joseph, being a resourceful sort, makes a spot for us in a corner of the stable where a pile of soft straw welcomes my swollen, aching body.
That night seems to last forever; labor pains push internally like tidal waves, affording me little sleep.
The roosters finally announce morning in our musty stall: do-do, to-do-to-do! My labor intensifies; Joseph does his best to attend to me. Hours crawl like snails, so very slowly. I focus beyond the pain and yet cry out to the Lord for His strength.
As night falls, a gigantic star hangs in the sky over the stable. My long-awaited blessing is almost upon me: the birth of Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
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