f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Violet Nesdoly - "My Messiah"

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Violet Nesdoly - "My Messiah"

I shiver under my goat hair cloak. It's cold at night on the hills outside Bethlehem. I wish I were at home in bed. But a few weeks ago my father said, "Joel, you're 12. You need to learn the night watch." And so here I am, cold and sleepy, but I have to stay awake because it's my turn to watch the sheep. I look over at the flock, an island of wooly pebbles. Beside me, father snores a soft rhythm. Nearby, Abiram and Kohar, still awake, talk quietly.

"Plugged with travelers," Kohar says.

"Caesar is insane to command a census at this time of year," says Abiram. "He just wants more names for his filthy tax list." Then, lowering his voice so I barely hear, "I met a man in the village who's gathering an army to fight those Gentile thieves. He's training them to use swords." When he notices I'm listening, he stops. "The lamblet has, big ears." He winks at Kohar.

He doesn't want me to hear because of my father. Father's the chief shepherd and he doesn't approve of resistance fighters. He has one passion. It's to see the coming of Messiah.

"Messiah is coming," he always says, "and when He comes, He will be a true Savior. He will bring freedom and set up God's kingdom in His own wonderful way."

In the past, I never doubted him. But the talk tonight reminds me of the anger I feel when I see the Roman soldiers. They ride into Bethlehem and inspect it on snorting horses. They beat people who don't pay taxes. They make fun of synagogue teachers. They treat us like animals.

Above me now, the black sky is dotted with stars. Is there really a God up there? All my life I've heard there is, but lately I wonder. Maybe God and Messiah are only wishes. My father serves God without question. Yet for our family, things only get worse. The price for wool goes down, my mother has to open a stall at the market and my father works longer - for what? Just to give Caesar more?

I imagine my fingers tracing the cold metal handle of a sword under my cloak. I shiver, get up, toss a few sticks into the fire. The flames lick and began to dance.

Then blinding brightness!

At first I think something has flamed in the fire pit, but in the next instant, the sky turns from dark to dazzling and I see the light is coming, not from the fire but from a man. I can’t move. Is this God? Has He read my doubting thoughts? Is He going to punish me?

Around me the others sit up.

"Don't be afraid," The shining man's voice booms. His bright eyes look right into mine. "I bring you the most joyful news ever told. And it's for everyone! The Savior has been born tonight in Bethlehem! Yes! This is the Messiah, the Lord. How will you know him? You'll find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth, lying in a manger."

Then the sky gets even brighter and as far as I can see are more shining men. They stretch way into the distance like an army, and they are chanting. "Glory to God in the highest Heaven. Peace on earth, good will to men. Glory to God in the highest Heaven. Peace on earth, good will to men."

It's grand, majestic, the most beautiful sound I've ever heard. I wish they would never stop. But gradually the sound gets quieter and the shining army fades. Finally only the flickering firelight shows a ring of stunned faces. I hear the t-whoo, t-whoo of an owl.

Then everyone starts talking at once.

"Angels! Those were angels"

"Thousands, millions!"

"Messiah! He said Messiah!" It's my father. "I'm going to Bethlehem to find that baby."

"We're going with you!"

"Father, what about the sheep? Can I come too," I ask.

"If God can fill the sky with angels, He can surely watch a few sheep," my father says, with a laugh.

"Joel, I wouldn't have you miss this for the world!"

As we hurry into town, the talk turns to how we'll find this baby in the whole town of Bethlehem, and at night. Father's faith is unshakable. "If angels told us about the baby, we'll find him," he says.

"It's a baby in a manger."

"Many mangers here," Abiram says as we enter the town.

Bethlehem sleeps. As we pass house after house, inn after inn, no one's awake. Then I see a light.

"There Father," I point to the dim glow, coming from a shelter behind an inn.

We trot across the courtyard and push open the door. Inside, a man leans over something in the manger. Then Father and I hear the cry of a newborn baby.

"God be praised!" Father exclaims. The others crowd into the doorway.

The man straightens up and looks at us. "We have permission," he says. "The innkeeper--"

"We're sorry to bother you," Father says, "but we were told about the baby by angels.

"The sky was full of them," I add.

A young woman sits up from a pile of hay. Bits of straw stick to her hair and cloak. The man picks up the wailing baby and places it in her arms.

My Father walks over and crouches down beside her. "The angels called this baby Messiah," he says as he reaches out and touches the child, then kneels. "My Messiah."

The stable is full of a holy presence and we all fall to our knees.

As we troop through town on our way back to the hills we sing and talk and laugh.

Someone in a house along the way flings open a window and shouts, "Quiet down you drunks! How's a person to sleep?"

Father calls back, "We're not drunk. An amazing thing just happened!" Then he tells it all.

As he's talking other windows open. He tells and retells the story.

"Incredible! Amazing!" the people say. "Do you believe it?"

At our hillside encampment the sheep are still there, all safe. Only embers glow in the fire pit. I toss in some sticks and sit close to the warmth. It feels like days since I was last here.

A minute later, Abiram comes and sits beside me.

"No need to tell your father about the resistance army, Joel," he says. "I won't be joining."

I think, neither will I.