Escape to Egypt: A Christmas Mini-Series

Escape to Egypt

by Leslie Crouse

The Shekinah led the Magi to a humble house in a town mentioned by Herod. When it rested over top they moved past. Surely this was not the house. But the Shekinah did not move with them. It stayed, rooted above the little home. Though small, it was clean and well cared for.

Their entourage had overwhelmed Bethlehem. All the people were terrified. Belteshazzar wondered, Of us? Or of Herod’s retribution? Either way, they settled the soldiers, servants and food suppliers outside the city limits, in the Judean foothills. There were shepherds there keeping watch over their flocks.

As he crossed toward Bethlehem, he saw a shepherd carefully watching him. A wooly man who looked very much like his sheep, but it was the man’s sword that caught his attention. What was it about that sword? Beyond being out of place on a shepherd, Belteshazzar sensed there was something powerful at work here. He must be close. His senses were never wrong.

His servant knocked on the door of the small house and a young, pregnant woman no older than sixteen opened the door. She bounced a baby that was around 6 months old on her hip. He explained himself and she calmly welcomed him in.

Had she expected them? Or, perhaps she simply knew who she held. Her husband also walked in, presumably from work as his hair was covered in wood shavings. But he had a kind, welcoming smile.

Since the home was small, only three of them came in carrying the gifts they had brought. Suddenly, the Shekinah Glory of the LORD filled the room and all the Magi fell down trembling and worshipping. Hours passed as they humbled themselves in pure worship. Then, it was gone.

They slowly arose and looked around. The man introduced himself as Joseph son of Jacob, his wife as Mary and the baby as Jesus saying, “His name means that he will save us from our sins.”

Belteshazzar presented their gifts. Gold. Frankincense. Myrrh. Kingly spices used for anointing and embalming. But surely, an Eternal King would have no need of embalming.

He explained, “Outside, there are also horses and wagons. Silver woven tapestries and our best food offerings from Parthia as well. We are here to recognize the true King of the Jews and offer our friendship. If you ever need to call for reinforcements or aid, please call upon the Parthian Empire as it would be our greatest honor to serve the Eternal King.”

Mary approached Belteshazzar and offered he hold the child. At first, he hesitated. It was not done! But this was no royal palace. He wrapped his arms awkwardly around the floppy baby. Then he thought lightening had hit him. So much power! He had never experienced such overwhelming glory! He was undone.

Of all the kings he had met, of all the throne rooms he had stood in, they had all been just men. Never had he lost control. Yet, tears ran down his face and he began to shake with the weight of glory. What would this king grow to become? Would people be healed by simply touching his clothes? Or hearing his voice?

When baby Jesus looked into Belteshazzar’s eyes and his tiny hand touched his beard he saw such intense glory. As if all of Shekinah dwelled in him. Yes! Yes! That is, it! The fire in his eyes is the same living fire that led us here! He would not mistake it for the world. And as he gazed into this baby’s deep brown eyes, he saw the unmistakable glitter of gold flakes as well. The glory they had followed now dwelled in this child!

Mary broke the silence. She waved her hand at what they had all seen and said, “In our language, Shekinah means to dwell. We use it to describe God’s glory coming down to dwell among us. Until now, God’s glory would only come for a time and then leave. But now, his glory is here to stay,” she stroked Jesus’ brown hair lovingly, “He is Immanuel, God with us.”

All his life, Belteshazzar had worshiped wealth. Strived for infamy and greatness. No longer. If God had abandoned his throne, humble himself and enter the brokenness of humanity, then so would he. He thought, From now on, I will serve not strive.

Later that night, an angel appeared to Belteshazzar in his sleep warning him not to return to Herod. Suspicions confirmed, he informed the entourage to prepare for the journey home without delay.

~~~~

Herod paced like a caged lion. “It has been a week! Where are they?!” He whirled toward his captain of the guard. “Your incompetence has cost us everything! What happened?” The Captain’s face was ashen with fear. “Sire, we trailed them as you directed. But the Shekinah Glory both went before them and behind them, as a rear guard. We could not see them through the cloud and if we got close our men died.”

Belial whispered in Herod’s ear, “Herod, you were always a worthless counterfeit.” He sneered. “The Glory of the LORD has chosen another king. A Jewish king. The LORD rejected your father Esau and he has rejected you too. You must kill them all. Teach them a lesson they will never forget.” His worst fears had come true.

Herod stroked his beard and thought to himself, I will eliminate this new king. But, the people must be taught a lesson. I am sick of their constant pandering for a new king. Streets will run with rivers of blood from my enemies. I will show them what I think of their LORD GOD and his glory.

Herod called for the captain of the guard. In the morning, he would begin the genocide. When the Captain arrived, Herod said, “I want it done in daylight so all will see the extent of my wrath.”

~~~~

Joseph stared at the gold, wagons, horses, food and other gifts they had left Jesus. It was unbelievable. Where could he hide it all? Herod would find out for sure and come for the boy. He prayed. He sensed danger in his spirit.

That night, Joseph was tossing in a fitful sleep when Gabriel appeared to him and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”

Joseph woke Mary. “Come Mary, we must flee to Egypt. Tonight.” He laid his hand on her pregnant belly and said, “I hate to ask a long journey of you when you are again with child, but we must go. There is no time to waste. The LORD has provided everything we need.”

Together, they packed the wagons, horses, food and gold the Magi had miraculously brought the day before. Joseph marveled at God’s provision. The Magi’s gifts would aid in their fight to Egypt and even help them create a home there. Joseph had yet to tell Mary they may be there for years.

As they fled in the night, Joseph paused only briefly to warn their dear friends Hananiah and Evie of the coming wrath. After Mary said her goodbyes, she climbed into the wagon and, over her shoulder, took a final look at the little stable hidden in the hillside.

~~~~

Thank you for reading the finale of my Christmas Mini-Series! I hope you enjoyed each story as much as I did. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Do not miss a single story of this series!

Herod: A Christmas Mini-Series

Herod

by Leslie Crouse

Herod had been born a servant and knew what it meant to be powerless. Yet, through political brilliance he was now Herod the Great. They called him a madman for murdering his favorite wife and her children. But she had been of the Hasmonean dynasty and he would not tolerate any claim to his throne.

He was a violent man but would leave a different legacy through his building projects. Recently, he had completed his masterpiece. Jerusalem’s new temple. Named Herod’s Temple in his honor. It was a veritable circus in the court of the Gentiles, but he had appointed Annas as High Priest of Jerusalem and the man made sure the temple was a lucrative business.

And just this morning, Annas had reported the Shekinah Glory of God was now dwelling over Jerusalem! It had not happened since Solomon’s day. Herod finished another large glass of wine and leaned back giving a satisfied sigh. I am Herod the Great King. Even the God of Abraham recognizes my rightful place on the throne with the presence of His Shekinah glory.

~~~~

The journey from the Parthian Empire had taken about 4 months. Belteshazzar led the entourage of Magi, soldiers, servants and beasts as they traveled. In total there were about 700 of them and the journey had gone slower than he liked.

But, the sword-shaped Shekinah had led them steadily. By day it looked much like a cloud sparkling with golden flakes. At night, it appeared as a pillar of living fire. It was a fearsome sight to behold and any who got too close died.

Belteshazzar was excited. He was here, witnessing history being made. There were bad relations between the Parthian Empire and Herod. Herod was an Edomite who hated the Jews and he had stolen the Hasmonean throne with Roman assistance. He was deceitful at best. A maniacal murderer at worst.

Belteshazzar knew Phraates IV was all too eager to recognize a new king and rebuild the bridge with Judea. They were there to be ambassadors as much as to celebrate the birth of the new “King of the Jews.” And Phraates IV was adamant they use that very title, “King of the Jews” when referring to the new king.

He could see the walls of Jerusalem. Soon, he would know if Herod would be friend or foe.

~~~~

“Your Majesty, I have an urgent message from your Captain at the wall.” Herod set his wine down and extended his scepter allowing the man to continue his report. “There is a great entourage approaching Jerusalem. Our scouts are reporting it is of Parthian origin.”  

Herod froze, wine halfway to his wet lips. The Parthians? They hate me. I murdered their precious Hasmonean heir and the princess and her children. “How many?”

The man bowed and continued, “Between 600-800, oh Great King. There are many soldiers and Magi.”

Herod thought for a moment. How can he maneuver this to his advantage? His armies were away, reinforcing a Roman battle. Now was not the time for teaching Parthians lessons in submission. Perhaps they have seen the Shekinah Glory of the LORD and come to recognize me as the rightful king.

Herod replied, “Prepare a feast for them. I want all the best entertainment present. We will welcome them as friends and find out what their purpose is.”

~~~~

That evening the Parthian entourage marched through Jerusalem with much fanfare. The people were terrified it meant another war. Given the number in this entourage, Herod too, was nervous. His armies were gone, and this was a large number of soldiers. What is their intent? He wondered.

The Chief Magus, Belteshazzar, approached his throne and bowed low. “Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw his star,” pointing toward the Shekinah Glory of the LORD, “when it rose and have come to worship him.” For a moment, Herod simply stared.

Belial slithered up the throne and whispered, “Who dares make a claim to the Jewish throne when you are the one who has conquered this country?” White hot fury filled Herod.

Always the master of political diplomacy, Herod smiled, “My friends, how my heart rejoices at your arrival! I welcome you at this time of celebration. Please, before we discuss this further, I insist you rest from your great journey. Come, my servants will show you to your rooms.”

Belteshazzar bowed and said, “You are gracious, Sire.” Herod, though extremely joyful at this news, had avoided revealing any information. Belteshazzar looked into Herod’s joyful eyes and reminded himself that this was a madman and not to be trusted. Used to being put off by kings, he bowed low again and allowed Herod’s servants to usher him and the other Magi to their prepared rooms.

Herod called for an immediate assembly of all the chief priests and scribes of the people. He inquired where exactly the Christ was to be born and all information about him. Annas reported “In Bethlehem of Judea,” and went into a long Jewish prophecy.

Herod paced in his chambers. He hated the Jews. This hope for a messiah they held on to was foolishness. It fuels rebellions and has been the cause of several false messiahs. He was ready to squash this Jewish hope once and for all. But the Parthians were a new dynamic and that sparked a fear he did not like to recognize. Why are they involved? The Shekinah led them here? The LORD’s manifest glory is not for me, but for another. Again, rage consumed him.

Several hours later, Herod summoned Belteshazzar and the other Magi to his private quarters where they discussed the Shekinah and the time it first appeared. Then he shared the information about the Messiah. Who he was and how they all had waited so long for the Eternal King.  Herod finished saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word that I too may come and worship him.”

Belteshazzar knew something did not add up here with Herod. If he had been waiting for this King, why did the Shekinah come to them and not Jerusalem? Why would Herod not search for the long-awaited king himself? Did the king expect the Parthian Empire to do the work for him? And what would they find? This journey was turning out to be very interesting indeed. Dangerous.

The Birth of Christ: A Christmas Mini-Series

The Birth of Christ

by Leslie Crouse

Mary could hardly breath with each pain, but when Joseph and the innkeeper, Hananiah, ushered her into the stable it was like walking into the arms of an old friend. Every smell warmed and comforted. The fresh hay. The soft sounds of the sheep.

Hananiah gave them some fresh blankets and brought water. Then he sent his servant to find the midwife. Mary eased herself down as Joseph prepared a place for her. They had both silently prayed the pains would stop, but they knew it was not to be. Joseph did not understand why God would allow His Son to be born in a stable. It did not seem right.

To Mary, it was perfect. The stable had always been her secret place she went to pray. It was where Joseph had given her a manger as a betrothal gift. Where the angel had delivered a life-changing message. Where she had taken refuge when the Nazareth gossips were particularly spiteful. For her, being here in a stable on the most important day of her life was like fingerprints of God’s love.  

~~~~

Joseph paced. Helpless! Mary was in the throws of childbirth and had asked him to turn his back. She was not ready for his help in that department yet. To occupy his mind through every groan, he did what he did best. He built.

He found some tools in the stable and began shaping a piece of scrap wood. At first, he did not know what he was building. But as it took shape he smiled. A manger. The token of their memories together and his love for her. Now, a souvenir for Jesus. One day Joseph would say, “Son, on the night you were born there was no room in the inn. So, I made a manger for you.”

Before he knew it, a baby cried. He whipped around, forgetting her privacy. He rushed over and picked up the baby boy. So tiny! He handed the baby to Mary for warmth. Looking around Joseph wondered, Do we have no cloths to wrap him in?

At that very moment, Hananiah’s wife, Evie, came in with an armload of pristine cloths. Joseph looked up at her and practically attacked her with his pleading for help. He did not know how to do this! Evie smiled at him and made quick work of a swaddle.

He noticed Mary was exhausted. She had fallen back into the hay and looked as if she could barely keep her eyes open. Hananiah came in too, carrying soup, hot water and more blankets. There were several looks flashing between him and Evie. Joseph had not been married long, but he could pick up on marital friction. He just hoped they were not the cause of it.

Joseph handed Jesus over to the woman who could conquer a swaddle. He was not sure what happened, but he could only describe it as a miracle. The change that came over her face. And Hananiah was laughing and crying! What was happening?

Joseph looked back at Mary. Seeking an answer as much as giving them privacy. Mary smiled and laid her head on his shoulder.

~~~~

Mary was so very tired. Birth was… carnal. And while this birth had been a miracle, she had been so caught up in the “doing” of it, that she had missed the wonder of it. She tried to remember all she had learned from the midwife. What position to be in. How to breathe. When to cut the cord. Tears of exhaustion filled her eyes. Where were the feelings everyone talked about? Right now, all she felt was residual pain and relief that Jesus was healthy and strong.

She watched the scene in front of her though. The look on Joseph’s face as he held Jesus for the first time. His hair wild from the stress.

Evie as she swaddled Jesus and held him. Then, Hananiah as he began weeping and laughing.

Too exhausted to fully process all she was experiencing, she watched detachedly, locking the memories in her heart to think upon later.

Yet, as she watched, it was as if a key snaped into place and she realized her son is what she had been waiting for. Jesus would heal this broken world. One heart at a time.

Joseph walked over to her with a question in his eyes. “His first healing.” Mary whispered. Joseph looked again at the couple and smiled his agreement. Yes, Jesus was her son and he would heal the brokenness of humanity.

Healing meant many things. Spiritual. Physical. Emotional. And at this moment, God was making this couple whole.

~~~~

Herod sat on his throne smiling like a cat. “More wine!” He yelled from his dais at the front of the room, full of feasting and debauched celebration. His people. He thought again on the chronicles that had been read to him late last night. All his achievements. He was the Great King Herod. He had put down rebellions. Earned the right to rule Judea. Octavian and Antony had given him this territory, but it was his own cunning that had conquered it.

He had crushed the Maccabean rebellion and publicly executed the last of the Maccabean priestly line. The last high priest had been but a child, but Herod would do it again in a heartbeat. Fear made people pliable. Herod’s lips curled in an arrogant smirk as he surveyed the puppets in front of him. Judea is mine.

Belial slithered from one side of Herod’s throne to the other stoking the flames of pride. Hissing a satisfied chuckle, he continued his work here. Then, when Jesus was declared Messiah he would unleash the Darkness that was growing in power here in Herod’s palace.

Mary’s Visit: A Christmas Mini-Series

Mary’s Visit

by Leslie Crouse

…continued from Mary’s Hiding Place.

~ Six Months Later ~

For the last several months the only prayer in Mary’s heart had been for Elizabeth and the new thing the LORD was doing. That night while in the stable deep in her prayers, she heard a voice. Looking up to see a bright shining angel, she began to shake with fear.

“Greetings, O favored one, the LORD is with you!” Favored? God is not a respecter of men. Is this an angel of light? Mary attempted to discern the greeting. She knew Darkness often masqueraded as angels of light.

The angel spoke again more gently this time, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” Angel of Light. Darkness would use my fear against me. Giving her time to discern his greeting, the angel continued, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

Oh! A grin split her face in a marvelous smile. Would the LORD allow her a part in His plan!? Wait – what? Wide-eyed, Mary stammered, “H-how will this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel smiled, clearly enjoying this birth announcement. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” Mind whirling, Mary could not take it all in. But the angel did not pause this time.

“And behold,” Mary looked up from her thoughts and saw a scene playing out in front of her. Her barren cousin Elizabeth waddled around her house with –thanks to midwife training – what appeared to be six months of baby in her belly!

The angel continued, “…your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing is impossible with God.” The angel’s joy made him beam with light. What was his name? Gabriel. Mary looked him in the eye, bowed her head and said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” The angel nodded and disappeared.

Gabriel liked the common folk. They were not arrogant like those tedious priests. He thought again of Zechariah and grimaced. Truly, silence was the only solution for a priest who questioned Yahweh. Yet, Yahweh in His mercy had restrained Gabriel’s hand and limited Zechariah’s silence to nine months. Yahweh remembered Zechariah and Elizabeth’s pain and granted His mercy freely.

Mary bolted from the hay loft. Nearly tripping, she paused before the threshold and took a deep breath. First, she must brave her parents and tell them all the angel had said. She could not do any of this alone. Confident in the LORD, Mary squared her shoulders and waited for a quiet moment alone with her parents.

Their “discussions” had woken everyone in the house. Mother believed her. Father had struck her for the first time. When she denied any wrong doing, he had yelled, “I will not abide your falsehoods! I know men! How could you be so stupid daughter?! Unless Joseph marries you NOW, they will kill you! Before our very eyes!” Ready to call Joseph to account, her father stormed to the door intent upon the carpenter’s home. Mary stood in stunned silence, her cheek stinging from her father’s hand. Then, her mother intervened and suggested a new plan.

“Send Mary to Ein Karem to stay with Elizabeth until the woman gives birth. Perhaps Mary’s midwife training may be useful to her. Mary’s absence would buy us time to address this issue with Joseph and find a way forward. And, if Mary suffers from pregnancy in those first three months, no one will be wise to it.”

Father glared angrily at Mary. “Pack your bags young lady. You are no longer a daughter of mine. You will not return to my house. I wash my hands of you.” Heartbroken, a river of tears was her only companion as she prepared for Ein Karem. Surely God would mend this? She looked South toward Ein Karem and prayed she would find sanctuary among this little town in the Judean hills.

Mary left before dawn. Her father would not see her off. Her mother had asked a friend who had business in Jerusalem to escort Mary. “Tell no one,” mother had said. Mary walked in silence preparing her heart for the coming storm of more unbelief, accusations, anger and discipline.

Father was right. An unwed mother would not be tolerated in the village. Unless Joseph acknowledged an act that was not his, she would be stoned to death. Joseph. She knew him to be a righteous man who cherished the law. What would he do?

A spirit of Fear circled about her, telling her all the ways an unwed mother could die. It’s menacing laugh echoed in the her recesses of her mind as more tears formed in her eyes. No! I will hold unswervingly to the vow I have made to the LORD. She would be faithful. But she was terrified.

As Mary walked and prayed she sensed the evil straining to be unleashed. It was in these hours, on a lonely, dusty road that Gabriel’s words became entrenched in her heart; a lifelong mantra she would end up clinging to in all her darkest hours.

Nothing is impossible with God.

Look for Joseph’s story next in the Christmas Mini-Series, An Angry Father. If you love these stories, share them with your friends on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter!

Mary’s Hiding Place: A Christmas Mini-Series

Mary’s Hiding Place

by Leslie Crouse

~ Fifteen Months Before The Birth Of Christ ~

Mary fell back into the fresh hay finding comfort in the clean, grassy scent of her father stable. Every morning before dawn she came to the stable to pray. Few understood it. But Sarah, her mother, allowed her this time of solitude. When the sun shone upon the roof Joseph would arrive to escort her to the midwife. Another day of tedious house calls.  

Her mother watched from the window. The moment Mary had begun signs of womanhood, Sarah had insisted she train with Nazareth’s midwife. “You are to assist and learn all you can about the female body and birthing process,” she had instructed Mary. “One never knows the turns life can take.” Mother believed in equipping her daughters.

Mary did not like it, but she had already learned much. Besides, her family lacked money for a midwife’s expertise, so her sisters took turns assisting the local midwife as an exchange for services when needed. But the pre-dawn hours were hers.

In the stable Mary could set it all aside and bask in the presence of the LORD. This was her heart. She came to the stable, her hiding place, every morning finding privacy and freedom to dig into prayer. Her father called it intercession. He had instructed her in the lives of Daniel, Moses, Elijah and others. Ancient, spiritual giants, all of them.

Mary was no spiritual giant. All she knew is that she burned with the need to cry out for others. So she prayed until the urgency was replaced with peace. She found joy and purpose in it. Today, her cousin Elizabeth was heavy upon her heart.

A knock sounded at the post below. Has an hour gone by already? She peeked down into the breezeway. She covered her burning face with her hands and cringed. Joseph. As children they had played in the neighbor’s pond, caught frogs from local streams and he had helped her with her lambs. Her best friend. But he had gone and changed everything when he had asked her father’s permission to marry her. Which means he knew. Mary stifled a groan.

How humiliating! Someone – probably her brother – had told him she had begun her monthlies and was of marriageable age now. Joseph was her friend, not her idea of a husband! Regardless, one discussion led to another and now they were legally betrothed.

In celebration of the betrothal, he had built her a manger handcrafted for the lambs she raised. Everyone thought it odd. Mary, however, was begrudgingly moved by it. Together they had saved that struggling lamb. When he gave her the manger he whispered, “May we never forget our unblemished lamb.” Joseph is a good man. And as my husband, he understands my need to pray. At that last thought, her eyes lit up.

Something was shifting in the spiritual realm. She could sense it. There was an eagerness inside of her. An excitement she could hardly contain. The LORD was doing a new thing. An urgency to pray harder than ever before gripped her heart. Whatever the LORD’s plans, she wanted to be a part of it. For her, the LORD was a pearl of great value, worth any price.

Mary prayed daily for Elizabeth. She loved Elizabeth like an aunt because she was so much older than Mary’s cousins. Mary had no idea what was going on, but she knew Herod to be Judea’s arrogant, unpredictable king and Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah, a priest in the temple. An explosive combination. What forces were at play?

…look for the continuation in Mary’s Visit.

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The Shepherd’s Sword: A Christmas Mini-Series

The Shepherd’s Sword

by Leslie Crouse

…continued from The Shepherd.

Belial had not been informed of Heaven’s plan. But Darkness heard the angel’s announcement. All of creation did. He quickly rallied the powers of Darkness for a counter attack. If it was war Heaven wanted, war it would get. This invasion was not to be tolerated. Darkness would not release its hold on earth so easily and this shepherd with his spindly sword was standing in his way.

~~~~

Shammah took his hand off the door handle. Glanced to the inn. Did no one else sense the Darkness pressing in? Were they all sleeping peacefully while Darkness invaded their city? Jehovah! I am no soldier! A lion or bear here and there, but never this! And why the sword? It’s useless against such… things! Another shepherd, in another time, with another inadequate weapon. The irony.

Or was it? What had David done? Then, like a song on the wind an idea formed. Shammah thrust the sword tip into the ground. Not wishing to attract the attention of the Roman soldiers around the corner, he began to speak in a barely audible voice:

I come in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel… the LORD saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the LORD’s.

Menacing snarls rose from all around him as they paused in their approach. But it did not last. Darkness wanted the baby inside. Shammah dragged his sword tip through the sandy dirt leaving a line behind him as he spoke aloud the only words his mind could form.

” ‘He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty...’ ”

Shammah rounded the first corner of the stable and proceeded toward the back as the guttural sounds grew in number. Muscles solid with tension, Shammah punctuated each step with the words scrolling through his mind:

“…you will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness…

He turned the third corner of the stable. Almost there. One shadow gnashed his fangs and Shammah’s heart crashed into his ribs. A rancid odor overpowered his thoughts for a moment as he locked eyes with those that glowed red.

“…For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways…”

Shammah was finishing the last words of the psalm just as he was completing the circle around the stable. Lifting the tip of his sword from the sand he noticed a stiff wind began to blow. Over the growls and snarls he heard the ringing of a multitude of swords being unsheathed. Deadly silence reigned for the span of a heartbeat.

Then, a bone-shattering thunder crashed and the earth shook with the force of it. Shammah collapsed with exhaustion.

~~~~

Thwarted! Belial snarled at his defeat. He would come again. Later. But next time he would use men. Men were proud and pride was his greatest weapon. “Yes,” he hissed. Perhaps that buffoon sitting on the throne would be useful. He was already a promising vessel of Darkness. As his plan formed a low, guttural sound escaped into the night. But for now, he would remind that shepherd of his worth. Belial signaled to his servant Rejection and nodded to the sleeping shepherd.

~~~~

Shammah fell into a deep sleep. He floated above as he watched his father approach an infant. Himself he perceived. Eli laid his hand on Shammah’s head and said, “Son, I love you, but from this day forward I cannot look at you for all of my sorrows are upon your head.” Shammah awakened to the familiar weight bearing down on his soul. He sat up rubbing his beard and focused on a huge man who whistled as he went about his morning chores.

“Shalom, my friend! What a glorious morning! Such a silent, holy night last night. Wouldn’t you say? Don’t believe I ever slept better. May write a song about it.” The man laughed with his entire body it seemed. “My name is Hananiah and I am the innkeeper here. Are you ready to meet the Savior of the world? Is that why you have come?”

Shammah sat staring at the jovial man when the other shepherds appeared. Shammah blinked. Did last night happen? Shammah looked around for confirmation and saw it. The line in the sand. He unsheathed his sword and looked at the newly engraved words, THE BATTLE IS THE LORDS. He turned it over. WORD OF GOD glinted in the morning light. Chills spread over his arms and legs making every hair stand on end.

“Best not let the Romans see that sword. May get the wrong idea. Come!” Hananiah led the way to the stable undaunted by Shammah’s mute astonishment.

A baby’s cry penetrated his heavy thoughts as he followed Hananiah in. Finally! The stable he had set out for hours ago. Shammah approached the couple and the woman held out the baby to him. “His name is Jesus.” she said with a smile.

Shammah looked into the eyes of baby Jesus and felt a deeper connection with this child than any other person before. A tear escaped. He could not explain it, but somehow he knew he was looking into the face of another scapegoat.

Baby Jesus’ tiny hand gripped his thumb and in that moment, Shammah wept. Peace flooded his soul. Where darkness had been, light now penetrated every corner and the burdens he had carried for a lifetime were gone.

Then he wept for the boy. He understood what this boy would face. This boy would grow to be a man of many of sorrows. Rejected by men. Acquainted with grief. This tiny boy would trade his peace for the weight of another’s sin and sorrow. Would there also come a day when his father cannot bear to look him and forsakes him as well? As Shammah wept, a tear slipped down the young woman’s face.

Who was this baby? Why had Darkness attacked so forcefully? Would he set the captives of Darkness free too? “Good news of great joy that will be for all people,” the angel had said. “…On earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.” Was God pleased with Shammah? Is faith all that was needed? It was all so much to take in.

Of this he was certain: never had he felt such light. Love, peace and joy flooded his heart. Overwhelmed, Shammah bowed his head and worshipped.

~~~~~

Thank you for reading my Christmas Mini-Series! If you like what you read please share the stories with your friends! To continue reading, look for Mary’s Hiding Place next!

-Leslie

The Shepherd: A Christmas Mini-Series

The Shepherd

by Leslie Crouse

…continued from The Innkeeper’s Wife.

Shammah slid loaves of bread, raisin cakes and dried figs into his pack. Strapping on his canteen and bed roll he was almost ready. He just needed his staff, his rod and his sword. He did not usually carry a sword, but he had a niggling feeling he would need it. Judea was treacherous.

This week they would move the flocks into the Judean mountains near Bethlehem. David’s home town. He had been a shepherd too. Shammah smiled to himself. Perhaps I could learn to master the sling like David. Then Father may take notice.

Eli, his father, stared at the fire refusing to look up. Shammah informed him he was leaving and was granted no more than a grunt in response. Shammah was a blight on the family. Death and ruination had visited them the day he was born and Father had never forgotten.

Father lost everything when the caravan had been raided. After limping home with only his life spared he discovered his wife had died in childbirth as well. Two blows in the span of one day. Grief was indelibly printed on the fabric of their family.

Father held Shammah personally responsible. Ruin he had named him. From the moment he entered the world Shammah had become the family scapegoat bearing the grief, sorrow and sin of others. Thus, father had rejected him and assigned him to shepherding duties. Out of sight. Out of mind. Out of trouble.

Shammah did not mind. He was no one’s prize. Shepherding was a dirty business, but he liked to use the oil found on the wool for his beard. He smelled like an animal, but the sheep liked him. Followed him. Knew his voice. Trusted him without question. And he liked the solitude. Better the Judean mountains with their wild animals than my cold father. Resolute in his decision, Shammah refused to look back at the campfire. It was time to move out.

Five days later, Shammah and the other shepherds found what they had been searching for. Green pastures. Quiet waters gliding through the ravines sourced from the higher mountain regions. It had been a grueling journey and everyone was ready to find rest in the meadows. It was no wonder David wrote psalms of worship here. Truly, these remote places restored the soul and brought one closer to Jehovah.

Father had not been a man of faith. But Rachel, their aged servant who raised him, had taught him the words of Jehovah. As a boy, Shammah had hungered for the steadfast love of a father described in the sacred scriptures. As a man, he was not convinced of the reality. But, out here he felt closer to the Presence of Jehovah. Less distraction.

As evening drew near one of the shepherd boys began to play his flute. Music quieted the sheep and the soul while also keeping predators at bay. It was Shammah’s favorite time. In honor of the city of David, the boy was playing one of David’s psalms. Or, at least it sounded like one of David’s.

Shammah gazed at the unusually bright stars and began humming along trying to remember the words:

“Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his hosts! Praise him sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars!”

He shut his eyes and hummed the verses he did not remember and picked up again at the end:

“He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for…

The reedy notes abruptly ceased and Shammah opened his eyes. A giant stood before him! He was so big and shone so bright they all cowered in unmanly fear. And then he spoke:

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” As suddenly as he appeared with the message he was gone.

Then, a cacophony of singing erupted like he had never heard before. All the heavens. Praise from the highest heights. All his angels. All the hosts. All the shining stars. Jehovah’s word is true! Shammah marveled. The horn of salvation! He is here? Tonight?

Bursting with excitement, Shammah shouted, “We must go see!” But no one answered him. The others lay on the ground, passed out with fear. He did not blame them, but would not wait. He started running down the path to Bethlehem when he forgot his sword. Why did he care?! He wouldn’t need it! Ah! It is like my feet are frozen to the ground! I must get it first.

Forty minutes later Shammah began his descent into the far side of the city. That was when he heard it. A feral, blood-chilling snarl. Judean lions? So close to the city? Hand on his sword he peered into the darkness and once his eyes focused, he froze. Not. Lions. Shammah looked to the hills again. What once had been covered in angels’ songs of praise now had writhing, dark figures coming from all directions slinking toward the stable built into the hillside.

Nearby were two pairs of red, glowing eyes intent upon the stable door. In the light of the moon Shammah saw the glint of unnaturally long fangs. A musky, unclean smell permeated the suddenly very cold air. At the soft cry of a baby from inside, righteous anger welled up within Shammah. He planted his feet and drew his sword.

…to be continued as The Shepherd’s Sword on December 14, 2020.

All quotes taken from The ESV Bible by Crossway Publishers.

The Innkeeper: A Christmas Mini-Series

The Innkeeper

by Leslie Crouse

Hananiah sat amidst the noisy dinner guests watching them fight over the last of Evie’s famous challah bread. His wife was the best cook in Bethlehem and he was big enough to prove it. Evie’s heart was even bigger. He watched her serve their guests with that soft smile and sparkling eyes. After twenty years together, he loved her deeper than he could have imagined.

Over the din he heard, “Where are your children? I do not believe I have seen them running around here with my own.” He cringed and glanced at his wife Evie. Silence fell in the room as Hananiah watched a flood of sorrow overtake Evie’s eyes before she nodded at him and ducked into the kitchen.

He cleared the lump forming in his throat at the sight of his wife’s pain and answered, “The LORD will bless us in His time.” This was no new question. Small talk always led this direction and over the years Evie had learned to let him answer while she avoided the knowing looks.

That quick flash of pain in her eyes was the only indication of their deep sorrow. Does not God hear their cry? Does he not see what a wonderful mother she would make? Anger fought to fill his heart but he pushed it back down. God knew best. Over the years Evie had not hardened her heart and he would honor her by doing the same.

God had blessed them in so many ways and he was not ungrateful. Having been born here, they did not need to travel during this ridiculous census. Hananiah and Evie had been able to stay put and collect the income brought on by Caesar’s decree. Pompous man. If he were God fearing he would know strength is not found in numbers but in the name of El Shaddai. Ah! He must shake this dismal mood or his guests would suffer for it.

At the sound of a knock or, rather a bang on the door, Hananiah began the task of standing up. Difficult after another of Evie’s fine meals. He kissed her cheek as he walked by and whispered something in her ear that made her smile and swat his arm.

Outside stood a young man wringing his hands. “Shalom! Sir, I beg of you, I must find a place to stay tonight. My wife’s pains have begun and I fear we do not have long. I have asked everywhere. Please say there is a place for us.” Hananiah looked at the woman and took a double take. Wife? This was a mere girl! Something did not seem right here. Why can Evie and he not find joy in children while this undeserving couple did? LORD! It is not right! Well, whatever she was, clearly she was in labor.

Hananiah gritted his teeth. He wanted help, but the inn had been full for days and there was no way he would ask a family to leave. Refunds were impossible. They had already spent the rental income on linens, supplies and fresh grain for the animals. With town as busy as it was, food and supplies were scarce and greedy men had raised prices. Again.

The city square was no place for a woman to give birth. Where could they go? He must think.

“Shalom my friend. I see you are in need of… much.” He began leading them to the stable but the young woman paused to brace herself – one hand against the wall and another wrapped around her large belly – suppressing a low groan. She was embarrassed and obviously this was her first or she would have been better prepared.

Where was her mother? Maid? He set them up in the stable with fresh water for them as well as their animals and told them he would return shortly with blankets and food. It was the least he could do. Wasn’t it?

As he walked back toward the inn he heard another of her cries and the sound launched him back in time to when his baby sister was born. He was the second son of nine and had listened to births before.

He supposed he could let them have Evie and his room. It was in the back, separate from the others. But what a noisy business! Messy too. No. I will not do that to Evie. I will not make Evie watch a girl give birth in her own bed and then clean up after her too. Besides, if the other guests are disturbed our inn will always be remembered as such and destroy any future business. It is decided then. The barn it is. Evie would not approve but he would do what he must. His wife and his business needed to be priority.

Another cry pierced the night pulling him from his searing conscience and justifications.  The more he thought about it the more urgent the girl’s need became. This girl needs a midwife now! Where is that servant boy?

“Jacob, go get the midwife and bring her to the stable as fast as you can!” Hananiah yelled.

“But Sir! Grandmother Anna left for her hometown day before last. She isn’t – ” Jacob said.

“Then knock on every door and find one! We have no time!” Hananiah interrupted. At the rate she was going that baby may be here before the boy made it back. He watched Jacob, race down the dusty street. Truly, at this point any midwife would do. Any experienced mother.

Bitterness welled up again. Evie would not hesitate to help but she did not have the knowledge needed. He must tell her about the situation though. Maybe he could put it off until after the baby was born. She had her hands full with their guests. And if the guests caught wind that couple would never get any privacy.

“HANANIAH BEN JOHN! What do you think you are DOING? You told that poor girl to give birth in a barn? A BARN!” Fists planted on her hips, Eve skewered him with that fiery look of hers that withers every argument. She was on a war path now and was coming straight for him.

He had known she would not approve, but he had done the only thing he could. Right? That Jacob and his big mouth! What was done was done and right now they did not have time to argue.

“Eve, you must know given everything going on this was the best option. I will not argue with you about it. There is too much to do.” Eve whirled away in a fury. She began slamming open cupboards and ripping out all the brand new linens he had just purchased for their guests. He turned to get fresh water when he heard a ripping sound and his eyes grew round.

“Evie!” Hananiah’s face blanched as Eve ruthlessly tore their new linens to shreds. Never had he seen her so angry. It gave him pause. He turned his back and took a deep breath searching his heart one more time. Why had the barn seemed like such a good idea again? It is much too dirty for a woman giving birth. He knew that!

Before he could remember his arguments, His shame was punctuated by a loud smack as Eve stormed out the kitchen door arms full of the most expensive rags he had ever seen.

…Continue reading my new Christmas Mini-series with The Innkeeper’s Wife on December 11, 2020.

Christmas 2020

Summer melted into fall, and fall into winter. As our community navigates the Covid-19 pandemic, much has changed.

Kids wear masks to school. For months we all wore gaiters which are now out and ear loop masks are in. I had hoped we wouldn’t need subcategories for the word “mask.”

Shields are installed on every counter, nail salon booth, front desk, and grocery check out. Restaurants and other businesses vacillate between 25-50% capacity. Many of them never recover. 

Churches also operate between 25-50% capacity as childrens classrooms are limited with registration required and rows of seats are roped off to create “social distancing.” The new catch phrase of 2020.

Most people are able to spell the word quarantine now and use it in everyday conversations. Kids transition between online learning and in class learning. Parents who swore they would never homeschool find it is not so bad after all and have seriously considered abandoning traditional school options.

Isolation and depression are skyrocketing as the government slams guilt and fear based propaganda into the people demanding families not meet for Thanksgiving or Christmas lest we unwittingly kill grandma via the virus.

The devastating effects of this message is yet to be seen as people take ownership of false guilt and spend their years struggling beneath a burden that was never theirs to bear.

Unable to enforce the laws they have dictated, leaders instead use the weapon of fear to turn neighbor against neighbor, calling upon them to report each other for noncompliance and disguising the ugly reality they are creating with a warped teaching of “loving your neighbor.”

At the approach of Christmas, I find my soul burdened and distracted from the true meaning. Traditionally a time of celebration and reuinting with family, it falls flat in the midst of this pandemic.

But is that what Christmas is about? Family? Friends? Travel? Bustle? As I find myself drifting away from the spirit of Christmas in a sense of loss toward all that has changed, the anchor of my soul pulls tight against the drift.

You see, I chose Christ. My soul is anchored inextricably to him and nothing can separate me from his love. When I begin to drift with the cultural current, my anchor pulls tight and I am not lost. Because this season is not about family, or parties, or shopping or even snow.  It is about Christ. Without Christ, Christmas becomes a shimmering mirage making promises of hope, joy and peace only to disappear when I try to take hold.

Hope, healing, love, joy and peace are found in Christ. They are not promises I dream of or wish for when the pandemic is over, they are realities I can take hold of now.  Christ is the rock I stand on in the storm.

Christ is my Hope. Christ is my Healing. Christ is my Joy. Christ is my Love. Christ is my Peace. In Christ I find all my heart longs for. All my soul needs.

2020. Has there ever been a year when we needed Christ more? Not a holiday, a religion, a building or a rebellion. No. We need a personal encounter with the God of the universe who has overcome the world and all its troubles. One who freely gives all he has to us. The One who has conquered sickness and death. The One whose family is not altered or changed by death.

If you, too, feel the loss of Christmas this year you don’t need to. Christ is right here waiting for you with hope, joy, peace, love and healing.

This year, I made my own ornaments and they say exactly what I want them to.