Monday, December 24, 2012

Midwinter Memories {twenty-four}

To start at the beginning ...

As promised, Jacob fetched Ruth from the stable just as the winter sun was peeking over the hills of Bethlehem.  In the short walk from the stable door to the door of her home, Ruth talked about the stories Mary and Joseph had shared about the angels that had visited them and Jacob recounted his experiences of the night before as he and the shepherds had traveled door to door telling everyone in the City of David about the birth of Jesus.  Many villagers had listened, astonished at the news, while others has laughed and closed their doors on the shepherds.  “We had a few visitors last night after you left,” Ruth said, “Several came and brought gifts to Mary and Joseph.  Perhaps more will come today.  They will stay for a few days before heading back to Nazareth.”

As they neared the door, Ruth stopped.  She could hear her mother and father’s raised voices as they argued.  Embarrassed, Ruth thanked Jacob and opened the door.  The house fell into silence as she walked into the early morning gloom.  Her father sat in his chair by the fire while her mother paced the floor, wringing her hands.  “We can ask her now,” her father turned his attention fully to Ruth and beckoned for her to stand by him.  “Your mother was just telling me about our guests in the stable.  You have just left them, yes?”  Ruth nodded silently.  “And how are they, little Ruth?”

“They are well, Abba.  I told them I would bring them breakfast when it was ready,” she glanced at her mother, nervously, “If that’s okay, Mother.”  Ruth’s mother nodded stiffly and looked to the fire, still twisting her shawl in her fingers.
“And what about this baby.  Tell me about him.”
Ruth swallowed hard and fiddled with the edge of her mother’s cloak.  Her father gently lifted her chin with his large, chapped finger and looked her in the eye, encouraging her to speak.  With a glance at her mother, she told her father everything about the night before, including the stories Mary and Joseph had shared about their angelic visitors.  As she finished speaking, silence filled the house.
Her father leaned back in his chair and rubbed his face, thinking.  Then he nodded and remarked, “That fits with the announcements I have heard throughout Bethlehem.  We had our own visitors last night, a band of shepherds reciting a message they received from a chorus of angels.  I believe you know Jacob?  He was one of the messengers.”  Ruth blushed and studied the hem of her cloak before nodding.  “The prophet Micah foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.  Perhaps the promises of God are being fulfilled in our days ... and in our stable.  I will go now and see for myself.”
As he straightened up and stood, Ruth beamed at her father, clutching his rough hands.  “It’s true, Papa.  The Messiah has come.”  He patted her head and walked purposely out the door, letting it fall closed behind him.  Turning to her mother, Ruth saw sadness and fear etched in her face.  Reaching for her mother she hoped to appeal to her, but instead her mother turned to the fire, wrapping her shawl tightly about her shoulders.  A moment later, Benjamin fussed in his cradle and her mother hurried to busy herself with her infant son.  Tears burned in Ruth’s eyes as she walked to the door, fetched the pots for water and left for the town well.
In the days that followed, Ruth’s family was frozen, brittle.  Her father spoke endlessly about the promises of the prophets and invited teachers of the law to the house to hear more about the Messiah.  In contrast, her mother built a wall around herself, holding herself distant from everyone.  There was a coldness between her parents that Ruth had never experienced before.  Her father assured her that in time her mother would come to understand the truth, but Ruth was doubtful.  Even after the young couple left, disappearing several days later in the middle of the night, Ruth’s mother was silent and withdrawn.  

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