Abel’s Advent

farquharson8

“Abel’s Advent” is the second in a series of original short stories I am posting with a Christmas theme. The biblical Christmas story has for me an air of mystery about it, more than any other, which I wanted to convey in this piece. Another gift for my treasured readers.

                                                                                      

The fields lay locked in the frozen stillness of a mid-winter day. Glorying in the tingle of frigid air on his cheeks, Abel stamped the frost-hardened trail alongside his grandfather toward the low hills cradling their farm. He had no name for the exquisite joy singing through his veins; all he knew was he could not wish to be anywhere else. No roof but endless sky, no lessons but what the wind whistled in his ears, his legs strong beneath him and his grandfather’s shadow keeping stride with his.

They were on their way to check on the sheep flock wintering in the shelter of the hills. It was the day before Christmas and if Abel and his family were going to enjoy tomorrow’s festivities, they needed to know all was well with their livestock. Abel whistled through his teeth to his dog Tip, exploring the trail ahead. She ran back to him, seeming to laugh up into his face with lolling pink tongue and eager eyes. She too felt the exhilaration of a perfect winter’s day sparkling through her limbs, and away she raced again.

Abel’s grandfather chuckled at Tip’s antics, swinging his arm around his grandson’s shoulders as they began their hill ascent. Perhaps he didn’t have the vigor of the boy and dog, but his seasoned gaze took in the winter beauty with quiet gratitude. Bare branches finely etched against an azure sky, the white winter sun glinting on frosted grass and trees. Creation called him closer to his home in heaven, his heart responding instinctively in praise to his Maker.

They glanced at each other at the first jangle of a sheep bell. It was reassuring to know the flock was nearby. Of all the farm creatures, Abel loved the sheep the most. Perhaps it was their gentle spirits or the peaceful way they had of grazing on a green summer hillside. He enjoyed caring for them and believed they gifted him with their trust. The next hours were taken with checking fences, water supply and the condition of the flock. When the two shepherds were satisfied with their tasks, they lit a warming fire in the shelter of a bluff and ate a simple lunch. Abel waited expectantly, for he knew what was coming next. At home with the family, his grandfather kept his own quiet counsel , but when they sat out under the open winter sky, the setting seemed to call out the tales and legends he remembered from of old, and Abel was a willing listener.

With his feet stretched out to the fire, the old man chewed contentedly on the stem of his pipe and squinted through the smoke at his grandson.
“There’s an old, old legend, my boy, about the animals on Christmas night. Have you ever heard what happens to them?”
Abel shook his head, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees.
“Some say that at the stroke of midnight, in stables and barns and fields around the world, God’s creatures kneel and pray in homage to the Christ Child. ‘Tis not to be proven, but many a generation has said it to be so.”
Smoke wreathed around the old shepherd’s head, lending an air of sacred mystery to the tale.
“When you think on it, the beasts in the stable were the first to see the Child, besides Mary and Joseph. Interesting that innocent creatures were there to welcome the Innocent One into the world. I wonder if they had a sense that He was the one who made them?”
He sucked on his pipe as he contemplated the sheep flock grazing peacefully nearby. Then shuffling stiffly to his feet, his grandfather exclaimed to Abel, “Ah, my boy, we are fortunate fellows to be out on a hillside with the flock on the eve of Christmas, just like those blessed shepherds long ago. Now keep your eyes open for the heavenly host!”
His grandfather laughed at Abel’s quick glance at the sky.

Tip’s sharp bark sounded in the distance. At first Abel thought the dog must have found a rabbit, but the barking grew higher and more frantic. Together he and his grandfather hurried up the hillside towards the commotion. The plaintive bleat of a sheep in distress joined Tip’s bark. Coming over a rocky outcrop, they found the dog circling round a ewe wedged between two boulders. Not only was she stuck, but she was about to give birth to an unexpected winter lamb. The experienced old shepherd quickly took stock of the dilemma, giving orders to Abel to bring the rope and burlap bag from their camp.

They worked intently to free the distressed ewe. Finally as she grew weak and tired, Abel and his grandfather maneuvered the rope around her forequarters and pulled her free. Minutes later she expelled a tiny tangle of legs and wet wool onto the cold earth. The old shepherd grabbed the burlap sack and briskly dried the tiny lamb until it bleated weakly and struggled to stand up. Wrapping the newborn in the sack, he gently lifted it into Abel’s arms.
“Keep her warm”, he instructed, then turned his attention to the prostrate ewe.

Abel was captivated by the tiny creature in his arms. She was scrawny and weak, yet fresh from her Maker’s hand, her new little life had the power to call forth all of Abel’s protective instincts. With the ewe on her feet now, they made ready to take her and her lamb back to the farm, where they would be safe and warm in the barn. Night was closing in and the temperature was dropping. Beneath them a blue twilight filled the valley bowl to its uneven rim and from there the night sky rose like swaths of silken fabric scattered with stars.

Carrying the tiny lamb in his arms, Abel tipped his face skyward with a sense of expectancy. In his spirit he knew this was no ordinary night. He wondered if the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth had a premonition of what was to come? That night must have begun as a thousand nights previous, yet before it was over their lives would be changed forever. The glory of the Lord shone from the sky around them in the glow of a great company of angels. The Savior of their souls showed himself in the helpless form of a newborn baby. How could the two be the same? Abel wondered. He knew the reality of God coming to earth as a baby. The truth of it was the foundation beneath his feet, yet the mystery of it expanded in his soul beyond knowing.

Night had descended completely by the time the shepherds and their flock of two reached the farmstead. They settled the ewe and her lamb on a bed of fresh hay in a corner of the barn, then went into the house to be warmed and fed themselves. Abel’s family was gathered around the table enjoying a Christmas Eve meal. He felt oddly reluctant to join in the noisy, warm circle, as if part of him wanted to linger under the cold night sky. There was a supernal air out there he wanted to breathe in a little longer, but he allowed his mother to draw him close to the fire and put a heaping plate of food in his hands. As he ate, he felt the knowing eye of his grandfather upon him. The old man nodded. The draw of this night was not new to him. He could see its power at work in his grandson.

Long after the household had settled around him in slumber, Abel lay awake. His uncovered window framed the cool, clear light of stars and moon, and it seemed the earth held its breath in anticipation. He would check on the ewe and her lamb again, although he had done so several times this evening. Tip rose from her mat by the back door to faithfully accompany her master across the yard to the barn. Its thick timbers held the warm aliveness of its occupants as a rock absorbs the heat of the sun. The farm beasts stirred only slightly in the soft glow of Abel’s lantern, for they knew him well, accepting his presence with gentle patience. He breathed in the wholesome scent of earth, hay and healthy animals and settled himself close to the ewe and lamb, with Tip by his feet. The little lamb blinked solemnly at Abel from near the protective flank of its mother. Though he could see all was well, he still lingered. His thoughts had the clarity of a midnight vigil and it seemed the walls between the ages had been removed in the magic hour, for he found himself imagining that long ago night of Jesus’ birth as if it were here and now. The cave-like enclosure of the stall became an ancient stable; the ewe’s feed trough, a manger of stone. Through a window high in the hay loft, he thought he saw a singular star gleaming brighter than all the others.

He dreamt on with open eyes until that strange false dawn when cocks crow and animals stir. A bell in the nearby town tolled midnight. On the first strike a quiet peace stilled the farm animals, yet they were all awake, their eyes uncommonly bright in the lantern light. The tale his grandfather had told him earlier became more than legend as he saw the draft horses and oxen lower their great heads. He could not watch. Struck with a holy awe, he threw his arm over his eyes and fell to his knees in the hay.

The twelve strokes of the bell seemed to keep time with the beating of his heart. This heart which was home to the Savior born on this night long ago…. this heart expanding in worship to the Holy Child…. this heart still young enough to experience the mystery of the Incarnation, yet wise enough to know it to be the purest truth ever told. He had no right to be here at the hour when God’s creatures gave Him honor. But he did not leave. He stayed kneeling by a stack of hay, then slept a deep peaceful sleep with his head on his arms.

His grandfather came to the barn at dawn. He was not surprised to find Abel there, asleep on his knees in the hay. He looked into the wise eyes of the farm animals and nodded knowingly. Then he took a pitch fork to the hay which lay flattened in front of where each animal stood, and he sang his grandson awake with an old Christmas hymn.

Before the paling of the stars,
Before the winter morn,
Before the earliest cock crow
Jesus Christ was born.
Born in a stable,
Cradled in a manger,
In the world His hands had made, born a stranger.
Jesus on His mother’s breast in the stable cold
Spotless lamb of God was He
Shepherd of the fold.
Let us kneel with Mary, Maid
With Joseph, bent and hoary
With saint and angel, ox and ass
To hail the Lord of Glory.  *
***********************************************

* “Before the Paling of the Stars” by Christina Rosetti; Lyra Messianica pub. 1864

* “The Evening Glow” painting  by Joseph Farquharson; Scottish landscape artist 1846-1935

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Advent Week 2 – D is for Dwell

Christmas houseThis is the second in a series of devotionals using the word “Advent” as an acrostic for each week celebrated. My prayer for you, dear reader, is that it would help draw you closer to the heart of the One whose birth we celebrate this blessed Christmas season. 

The night is cold, the stars bright in the sky as I leave the city behind to make my way home. The inhospitable darkness beyond the car headlights makes me eager to get there. When I round the corner I see the lights of my house twinkling golden through the trees. Breathing slows, shoulders relax as I close the door behind me and step into the warmth. This is more than just a house; it is my dwelling, the place where my life is lived in the everyday of waking and sleeping, dreams and decisions, loving and learning.

That night long ago, when Mary and Joseph were far from their home, God came to earth to live. He wanted so much to be with us, to dwell with us, that He came as a baby, in the same way we did. The mystery of the incarnation, God dwelling in a human body, broke into history when eternity invaded time. With the frail cry of a newly birthed baby, hope came to dwell.

There is something about the word dwell that evokes so much more than just habitation. When someone dwells somewhere they live fully in that place, to such an extent it becomes part of who they are. To dwell somewhere involves making it a home, putting a personal stamp on it, investing emotional energy into settling there.

God demonstrated His desire to identify with His creatures when He sent His Son to dwell with us. He could have spoken to us through angels or from the clouds of heaven, but He chose instead to live as one of us. Jesus knew what it meant to have intimate conversation with friends over a meal, to rest His tired body in a bed at night, to see His mother waiting to welcome Him.

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 NIV)

Those many long years ago He came to dwell as a man. Now He can be invited to dwell again as God’s Spirit within our hearts. Jesus said, “Anyone who loves Me will obey My teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (John 14:23) To think that my small human heart is “a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.” (Eph. 2:22)

Anyone’s heart can be a dwelling for Him. He came first to earth as a baby in a borrowed manger bed; now He wants to come as a permanent dweller in your heart. The rooms don’t have to be spotless or the meals perfect. Just open the door in a warm welcome and He will move in.

“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.” ~ (Rev. 21:3)

Dwell

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I am using the word “Advent” as an acrostic for a series of posts for each week the season is celebrated. This second week the letter is D.

 

The night is cold, the stars bright in the sky as I leave the city behind to make my way home. The inhospitable darkness beyond the car headlights makes me eager to get there. When I round the corner I see the lights of my house twinkling golden through the trees. Breathing slows, shoulders relax as I close the door behind me and step into the warmth. This is more than just a house; it is my dwelling, the place where my life is lived in the everyday of waking and sleeping, dreams and decisions, loving and learning.

That night long ago, when Mary and Joseph were far from their home, God came to earth to live. He wanted so much to be with us, to dwell with us, that He came as a baby, in the same way we did. The mystery of the incarnation, God dwelling in a human body, broke into history when eternity invaded time. With the frail cry of a newly birthed baby, hope came to dwell.

There is something about the word dwell that evokes so much more than just habitation. When someone dwells somewhere they live fully in that place, to such an extent it becomes part of who they are. To dwell somewhere involves making it a home, putting a personal stamp on it, investing emotional energy into settling there.

God demonstrated His desire to identify with His creatures when He sent His Son to dwell with us. He could have spoken to us through angels or from the clouds of heaven, but He chose instead to live as one of us. Jesus knew what it meant to have intimate conversation with friends over a meal, to rest His tired body in a bed at night, to see His mother waiting to welcome Him.

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 NIV)

Those many long years ago He came to dwell as a man. Now He can be invited to dwell again as God’s Spirit within our hearts. Jesus said, “Anyone who loves Me will obey My teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (John 14:23) To think that my small human heart is “a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.” (Eph. 2:22)

Anyone’s heart can be a dwelling for Him. He came first to earth as a baby in a borrowed manger bed; now He wants to come as a permanent dweller in your heart. The rooms don’t have to be spotless or the meals perfect. Just open the door in a warm welcome and He will move in.

Pleased as man with men to dwell
Jesus our Emmanuel.
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

© Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

Perfection Born

IMG_0317 As a child I remember having a constant sense of anticipation, of longing for something I didn’t even know how to name. In hindsight I now recognize that vague feeling as a desire for perfection. Within my childish heart God stirred the memory of life back in the Garden, when perfection was reality and nothing stood between the Creator and His creation. Of course, I did not know it as that, only as a yearning without words.

I remember moments which seemed on the verge of perfection, only to fall short of realization. Sitting on a cushion of springy moss in a sun-dappled forest, I experienced the piercing epiphany of seeing beauty in a furled sword fern shoot. The symmetrical detail of  the tightly curled fern captivated me, bringing unexpected tears. Those tears surprised me, later becoming a sign for identifying longings not quite realized. I’ve had many ephemeral moments of near-perfection since then, but I’ve discovered only one moment in history which fulfills my longing completely.

When a star shone on a lowly stable …
When a woman cried out in the pains of childbirth …
When a feed trough was prepared for an infant’s bed …
Then perfection was born.

Perfect man, perfect God.
Jesus, God’s son, came at the perfect time in history.
“But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5 KJV)

Born of a woman, veiled in flesh as a man. Born to a virgin, a pure woman. As the angel told her, “So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35b NIV)
God’s son, conceived without sin, because He is sinless.
“But you know that He appeared so that He might take away our sins. And in Him is no sin.” (1 John 3:5)

He came to fulfill God’s perfect plan. A plan wrought before time began, because He knew we needed a Savior to redeem us from our sins. And only perfection would do.
“He is, therefore, exactly the kind of High Priest we need; for he is holy and blameless, unstained by sin, undefiled by sinners, and to him has been given the place of honor in heaven. Under the old system, even the high priests were weak and sinful men who could not keep from doing wrong, but later God appointed by his oath his Son who is perfect forever.” (Hebrews 7: 26 & 28 TLB)

He gave Himself, His very life, as the perfect sacrifice, so we could stand clean before God. “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”(Hebrews 10:14 NIV) What an amazing provision! We are made perfect because of His perfect sacrifice.

What kind of paradoxical thinking brings perfection into the world in a dusty animal barn, as a helpless infant, with a poor, adolescent mother? God, whose thoughts are higher than our thoughts, created this plan and gave it to us as a gift, whether we understand it or not.
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”  ( James 1:17 NIV)

The perfect gift of Jesus, our Savior, requires acceptance from humans hopelessly flawed. God’s perfect plan is implemented when His Son is acknowledged for who He is and invited to live His life within us.

And so my childhood yearning for perfection at last finds rest, completion, fulfillment in a baby in a manger. In that tiny infant hand, reaching to where He came from, destined for cruel nails, He holds my heart and I am content.

Nativity

IMG_0282I wrote this Christmas devotional for our church’s December bulletin, so thought I would give you an early start to the season. May it stir your anticipation for this most joyous celebration!

I carefully unwrap each porcelain figurine, setting them within the rustic wooden creche. A shepherd with a lamb, three wise men dressed in fine robes, a donkey, a sheep and an ox. An angel with outspread wings looks down upon Mary and Joseph gazing at the baby in a hay-filled manger. Draping a string of small white lights behind the nativity scene, I stand back to see the effect and my heart is warmed with wonder once again.

When my mother found faith in Christ later in life, she especially treasured this nativity set, now handed down to me. I remember her eyes lighting up with joy as she reverently placed each figure. She told me she liked to imagine what that night was like for those present, but she could identify best with Mary, Jesus’ mother. After all, she was a mother too and could remember in detail the birth of each of her three children.

How is it that the story of a baby boy birthed by a poor teenaged girl in an obscure middle eastern village centuries ago, has become the focus, the purpose, the joyous reason for the best-loved celebration of the year? The facts of the story are ordinary but for the baby’s miraculous conception and identity. It is this infant who sets the story apart, who has given longevity to a tale no different from many birth stories, but for His heritage.

“Nativity” means birth, or origin, especially in relation to the circumstances surrounding it. The nativity of Jesus Christ occurred in Bethlehem long ago, but His origin is without beginning. During His earthly ministry He was confronted by the Jews about who He claimed to be. “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58 NIV) They could not miss His reference to God’s own name for Himself. “God said to Moses, “I AM who I AM. This is My name forever, the name you shall call Me from generation to generation.” (Ex. 3:15)

The mystery of the incarnation will forever bewilder and fascinate. The essence of almighty God planted in the womb of a woman? Pushed into the world the same as those He created, shivering in the cold, held to His mother’s breast? I can only think about this mind-stretching concept for a short while. It is beyond me, but the actuality of God’s plan is as real as my own heartbeat. “So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen His glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.” (John 1:14 NLT)  He made His home among us! This is the essence of Christmas, the truth behind every nativity scene, the gift given with love beyond scope. Jesus Christ, God in flesh, walked this earth like you and I, died and rose again, then gave us His Spirit to dwell in our hearts, as close as our very breath.

Every year when I cradle that little porcelain baby in my hands and place it in the manger scene, Christmas hits me anew. God came, He lived with us, and He still does.

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.

Come to the Manger

baby in mangerMy heart is at home in a manger
It rests in a baby’s small hand
Whose fingers have fashioned the stars of the night
And counted each granule of sand.

This child is King and Creator
A Savior sent down from above
Immanuel, wrapped in a baby’s soft skin
God with us, to know and to love.

So often my heart tends to wander
Out into the cold night of sin
Away from the warmth of the manger
Away from the child within.

Just a baby, so helpless and frail
Yet He holds the whole earth in His heart
His love draws me close to the manger
When my wanderings would keep me apart.

Cattle once fed in this bower
Where now lies a Savior’s small head
He offers Himself as the sweet Bread of Life
On which our soul’s longing is fed.

Come, draw near to the manger
Leave the world and its darkness behind
Consider the child who gave Himself for you
No greater gift will you find.