Monday, December 19, 2011

Ebenezer Christian and the Three Christmas Spirits, Chapter 13

(If you wish to read Ebenezer Christian and the Three Christmas Spirits from the beginning, click here for the table of contents.)
Chapter Thirteen
The Stable and the Cross
     Ebenezer Christian faced what appeared to be the ground floor of a two-story home. Just inside the darkened entrance he saw a small corral, crudely built of whatever branches could be scavenged from the few nearby trees that had wood hard enough to serve the purpose. It seemed to Ebenezer Christian that most of the trees nearby were date palms.  
     A few donkeys rested within the corral. This primitive spot was a stable.  Ebenezer Christian was surprised that the ground floor of someone's home should be used as a stable; but these were different times in a different culture.
     "Is this where it all began?" Ebenezer Christian asked.
     "Yes, it is."
     Ebenezer Christian involuntarily looked up. "Where's the Star?"
     "The Star of Bethlehem is over there to the west of us." She pointed to a star that shined somewhat brighter than the surrounding stars.
     "I thought it was supposed to be directly over the stable."
     "No, not for another seventy days, when the Wise Men arrive. At this time, the Earth is tilted on its axis in such a way that the Wise Men in the East now see it directly west of them—and west of us, too, I might add. Follow me." She passed through the rails of the corral and entered the house, and Ebenezer Christian followed her.
     "It sure stinks in here," Ebenezer Christian said.
     "Well, it is a stable," the spirit replied.
     "I know that, but you'd think somebody would have cleaned it out for the Holy Family."
     "They cleaned it out as well as they could, but it's still a stable. They couldn't make it smell good."
     A minute or so after Ebenezer Christian had entered, his eyes adjusted to the semi-darkness. At his feet, he saw a man of about thirty sleeping on a bed of straw. Beside him, awake and pensive, sat a girl of about fifteen years of age. "Mary was that young?" he asked.
     "Mary would have found little in common with the American teenagers of today," the spirit replied. "Life was hard in those days, and it demanded much of people. At fifteen, Mary was a mature young woman."
     He became aware of another odor. "Something smells like body odor," he remarked.
     "It is human body odor," the spirit replied. "It was a long way from Nazareth. Since there was no room for them in the inn, they couldn't take a bath. They bathed in the Jordan River on the way down here, but that was days ago."
     Ebenezer Christian looked to Mary's left. There against the wall was a feeding trough for animals. Lying in the manger, wrapped in strips of old cloth, the newborn Baby Jesus slept peacefully.
     The images echoed through Ebenezer Christian's heart: a Baby, born in a stable, amid animal dung and body odor, wrapped in strips of old cloth for baby clothes, using hay for a bed. Our Lord and Savior was born in this miserable place under these miserable conditions.
     The Christmas stories that had always been presented to Ebenezer Christian had been highly sanitized and sentimentalized. What he saw before him scarcely seemed the like same story. One version of the story was like a parody of the other. Ebenezer Christian was sure he knew which was the parody and which was reality.
     Ebenezer Christian turned his eyes upon the face of the sleeping Baby Jesus. "He looks just like any other baby," he whispered.
     "And this looks just like many other stables in this area," the spirit replied, then added, "and David, who later became King David, looked just like any other shepherd."
     The Baby stirred and began to cry a little.
     Mary gently lifted Him from the manger and laid Him on her lap. She drew her bodice aside and presented her breast. Jesus' first feeding began.
     "Should we be watching this?" Ebenezer Christian asked.
     "Ordinarily, no," the spirit replied, "but it's important for you to know the truth—all of it. The Gospel of Luke 11:27, (KJV) graphically mentions what you now see. Bible translations published since the Victorian Age have become increasingly squeamish in their choice of words. For now, though, there's something else you must watch." The spirit waved her hand in a wide, circular motion, as though erasing the scene of the Madonna and Child from Ebenezer Christian's view.
     Through the patch of space the shade had cleared, Ebenezer Christian saw the backs of several Roman soldiers. Between them, he saw that they were holding someone's arm flat against a wooden beam. One of the soldiers placed a six-inch nail to the victim's wrist. The other soldier swung a mallet, driving the nail through the wrist and into the beam. The victim screamed loudly enough to shatter Ebenezer Christian's emotions and momentarily knock the breath out of him.
     Ebenezer Christian caught his breath and said, "He must be one of the thieves who were crucified with Jesus. Jesus wouldn't have screamed like that."
     "The two thieves were roped to their crosses," the shade replied. "When the nail pierced Jesus' wrist, it passed through the median nerve: the main nerve to the hand. It was no sin or sign of weakness for Him to scream. His pain was real."
     He watched as the soldiers lifted the crossbeam up to the part of the cross that stood erect in the ground and fixed the crossbeam into place. It was then that Ebenezer Christian saw our suffering Lord.
     The soldiers still had to put the third and final nail in place. As they went about their work, Ebenezer Christian was not able to see anything below Jesus' knees, but what he did see was shocking and wretched. Jesus was bloodied and bruised from His head to His knees.
     The crown of thorns (which was more like a cap than a crown) that had been placed on His head earlier that day had torn the skin in several places. A small trickle of blood forming a backward "3" had formed across the furrows over His left eyebrow. His right eye was blackened and swollen shut from the blow He had received from a Roman baton, and the bruise next to His eye was over two inches wide.
     Almost every square inch of His body had been lacerated by Roman whips. Each whip had four tails, and each tail had been tipped with a small, barbell-shaped bit of lead designed to tear into the flesh of its victim. Each laceration dripped with blood. Blood flowed from His wrists down each of His arms.
     The ordeal of carrying His crossbeam to Golgotha also had left its marks upon His body.
     "Even today," remarked the shade, "people walking along that rocky road find their footing so unsteady that a healthy, well-fed, well-rested person can not carry they weight Jesus carried without stumbling many times. Jesus had not slept or eaten since the Wednesday night before His arrest; and he had been tried and tortured within an inch of His life all day Thursday and into Thursday night."
     "I thought He had been arrested on Thursday night or early Friday morning," Ebenezer Christian pondered.
        "That's what most people think," the spirit replied.  "The many events between Jesus' arrest and crucifixion were spread out over a period of more than a few hours.  It was actually a day and a few hours."
     The act of carrying the crossbeam had caused ugly abrasions on Jesus' right shoulder. Stumbling and caused contusions on both knees and His right elbow. His nose was bleeding and looked as if it had been damaged—possibly as the result of a fall.
     Ebenezer Christian caught his breath and sighed, "I'd never realized how much He suffered. He looks awful." A moment later, he caught his breath again. "He's naked," he breathed, as though he had been punched in the chest. "I thought He had a cloth to cover His nakedness."
     "No, he didn't. People have a hard time accepting a suffering and naked Christ. A thousand years ago, painters found the idea so revolting that paintings from that day actually showed Him in purple robes, wearing a kingly crown and looking triumphant. Even today, people try to hide from the reality of the cross.
     "Some people want to have Jesus without the cross, and others want to have the cross without Jesus—as a mere ornament. But why don't people wear replicas of electric chairs or guillotines? They're all instruments of execution. It's because of Jesus that people wear the cross, although many people prefer to forget this.
     "Unless we comprehend the enormity of our sins, we can't comprehend the immensity of God's justice. Unless we comprehend the magnitude of Jesus' sufferings when He was crucified, we can't comprehend the magnanimity of God's love.
     "A little earlier, you may have gotten the impression that great Christian art is a thing of the past. The truth is, a few contemporary artists effectively portrayed the suffering you see before you. Unfortunately, very few Christians want to see it. They prefer to sentimentalize the crucifixion."
     As the shade was saying this, the Roman soldier who had nailed Jesus to the cross turned and looked at Ebenezer Christian, full in the face. Both the soldier and Ebenezer Christian gasped when they saw one another. The Roman soldier's face was the face of Ebenezer Christian.
     The scene vanished.
     Ebenezer Christian saw that Mary had returned Jesus to the manger. He was aware of a presence over his left shoulder, but by the time he turned around, it was gone. He had the vague impression, though, that the visitor had been one of the shepherds to which the angels had appeared.
     A few minutes later, four shepherds smelling strongly of sheep stepped cautiously and reverently into the stable. Mary shook Joseph awake. Joseph stirred a little uncertainly at first, and then he saw the strangers and sprang to his feet.
     In the Aramaic tongue, the shepherds (judging from their gestures) excitedly told Joseph about the angelic visitation. Ebenezer Christian noted that, just as the angel had said, Jesus was swathed in strips of cloth and lying in a manger. If the shepherds had arrived only a few minutes earlier, the scene would have been slightly different, and the shepherds would not have had their “sign.” Mary drew her sleeping Baby from the manger and held Him in her arms.
     The shepherds at first seemed at a loss as to what to do. They knew He was their Savior, as the angel had told him; but they also saw that He looked like any other baby. Just how do you react to Someone Who is the Savior and at the same time a Baby?
     They saw and believed.  So did Ebenezer Christian.
    Not that he had ever doubted, mind you; but not doubting is not the same thing as fully believing. Previously, he had believed for the same reason that most people believe almost anything that most people believe (such as the proposition that the Earth is round) because belief worked better than disbelief. It had been a matter of utilitarian convenience.
     Now that Ebenezer Christian had come face-to-face with Jesus Himself, his belief was a matter of unshakable conviction. Moved to tears, Ebenezer Christian fell to his knees beside the shepherds and worshiped the Christ Child.
     As he struggled for the words to express his adoration, Ebenezer Christian's tongue wavered between silence and words he felt were far too inadequate. He began to stammer and babble; and as a joyous Spirit rushed into him, his stammering and babbling were transmuted into what he later was to describe as the pure language of the spirit. Far removed from the arbitrary sounds invented by men, the words Ebenezer Christian uttered in those moments expressed the very essence of the things he felt in his heart.
     As Ebenezer Christian wept and prayed, an arm wrapped around his shoulder and began shaking him. A woman's voice called his name several times.
     Ebenezer Christian woke up, kneeling on his own bed. His wife Mary Martha Christian said, "Wake up, Eb! I thought you were going crazy! You were having a bad dream!"
     "No," he corrected her. "I was having the best dream I've had in my life!"  From the beginning, he started telling her about it.
*          *          *
     (This novella, Ebenezer Christian and the Three Christmas Spirits, has proven to be the least popular series I've ever posted.  Since Tuesday of last week, I've seen readership of the American Action Report dive from a modest 185 page views a day to an embarrassing 74, and a drop to only 7 returning visitors.  I have long believed that spiritual renewal was essential to the restoration of our liberties and our republic, and I had hoped to encourage this renewal through the medium of fiction; but I don't know if anyone is reading it.  Unless someone wants to read the conclusion of this Christmas story, I see no reason to further burden anyone's patience by posting it.)

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