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The Greatest Stories Ever ... Retold
By Ross Thomas Lucas
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Ross Thomas Lucas
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHow Did I Get Here?
(Inspired by Luke 2:1-4)
How Did I Get Here?
He stumbled, almost falling, his toe hurting from the unexpected contact with the rut in the road. Suppressing a curse, he regained his balance. Then, still being off balance, he turned the ankle of the other foot, causing him to stumble once more.
"How did I get myself into this?" he thought.
Behind him the donkey he led shied at his stumble. He felt the tug on the lead he held in his hand. As he tightened his grip he heard his wife, who was on the donkey's back, call to him
"Are you okay?"
"Yes," he replied, "I have just forgotten how to walk."
Looking back at his wife he remembered how he had gotten himself into this situation, and he smiled. A little internal laugh said if he had to do it all over again he would. She was worth it.
Pausing to take a breath and also to let the ache in his ankle and toe subside. He placed his free hand on his hip he looked at the sky. Memories of the last year came flooding back. He tried to sort out the meaning of all that had happened, but the images flowed much too quickly.
It was only a year ago that he had been a young man like many other young men he knew. Having just finished his apprenticeship with a local carpenter he felt he was getting his life on track. He was in the process of starting his own business.
He liked the work he did with his hands. It felt good to take pieces of wood and shape and mold them into something new — a table, a chair or perhaps a yoke for oxen. There was something special about touching the wood, feeling its grain, seeing how to cut it so that the strength of the wood would be maximized.
In some ways he always felt a loss when he finished something. He had given birth to that table, that stool, and now it would pass into someone else's hands. The furniture would remain, he would fade into the background, forgotten until someone asked where the bench or whatever piece of furniture caught their eye had come from.
Having established his trade, he was turning his thoughts to marriage. He might be a man in terms of religious law, but to really be a man meant getting married and having children, not that he considered the idea of getting married to be an onerous task.
He had known for some time who he would marry. The marriage had been arranged between their families some time ago. All that had held it up was his need to be able to earn a living so he could support his family.
Once the engagement was announced he had reflected on how lucky he was. In arranged marriages, parents often had a different set of criteria than the young man or woman getting married. His friend Simon had just gotten married. By community standards that particular marriage might be an excellent match. Still, feeling a little guilty at the thought, he would hate to awaken each morning and have to look at Simon's wife. She wasn't unattractive exactly — just to Joseph she seemed dull.
When he found out who his parents had arranged for him to marry he was more than just relieved; he was overjoyed. Although, he thought, he really had not been all that surprised with who she was. He had been hinting about who he hoped they would arrange to be his wife.
She was a couple of years younger than he was. Having grown up in the same village they had played together as children. They had even gotten in trouble together when, while chasing each other in the streets, they had run headlong into the local potter. When they collided he had stumbled back, his robes flying. The pots he had been on his way to deliver to a customer had shot off in every direction. Many of them broke when they came crashing to the ground. The potter had been quite unhappy about the broken pots.
He smiled as he remembered the time when he and his friends "hated" all girls. During that time he had been pretty mean to the girl who would become his wife, teasing her about anything and everything whenever other boys were around. Later, when the other boys had gone their way, he would feel guilty and try and talk to her. He liked talking to her, he just didn't want anyone to see him doing it. For her part, she had patiently put up with his antics.
By the time he had his career in place the girl had matured into an attractive young woman. He knew there were other young men in the village whose parents had also sought to arrange a marriage between their son and her. Her parents never went for the arrangements. He suspected it was because she, like him, knew who she wanted to be with.
The day the engagement was announced had been the happiest day of his life. Work took on new meaning. It was a joy to work, not only because he enjoyed what he did, but because it made the coming marriage possible.
He pulled on the donkey's lead and continued down the road. He was aware of how tired he was from the trip. His thoughts, however, still returned to the last year.
After the engagement and before the marriage his whole world had fallen apart. She had sent a message for him to come and see her. When he arrived he noted that rather than the usual glow, her face was dark and worried. She stuttered as she tried to get the words out. Trying to tell him there was something important he had to know. Finally she got it out. She was pregnant.
He remembered in detail the feelings and thoughts that went through his mind. How could this be true? He knew he had not had sex with her. He had wanted to but he knew it was wrong so he had waited. Apparently, he had thought, she hadn't held back. He couldn't help but think of the other men in the village who she might have been with. He didn't like the thoughts and images that paraded through his mind.
While he had been regaining his balance from the news she had just waited. Finally, he managed one word, "Who?"
Even now, a year later, walking along a dusty highway he could remember the look on her face as he said that word. She was hurt. She struggled to explain the unexplainable. Finally she managed to get out a story about an angel visiting her and that the child she carried was a direct gift from God.
He was angry. He knew how pregnancy occurred. Did she think he was stupid?
Fear and shame also vied for a piece of his mind. What would his family and friends say when they found out? He could hear his friends making fun of him. They wouldn't believe it wasn't his baby. The synagogue officials wouldn't believe it either. He could already hear them chastising him for getting her pregnant.
In the midst of the shame, the fear and the anger, he groped for some hope. What if she were actually telling the truth? He had never known her to lie to him. He really did want to marry her. In the midst of thinking about how he felt about her, he became angrier. This time the anger was not directed at her but at people who would say cruel things about her.
Finally he shook his head to clear the cobwebs. He looked at her with difficulty, ignoring the pleading in her eyes. "I need some time to think this through," he managed to get out. He then went back to his house.
He remembered clearly the night of "unclarity" as he struggled with how he should respond. He wanted to believe her but it was more than he could do. He finally decided that he couldn't go through with the marriage. It tore his heart out to say it, but that was the logical decision.
Still, as he reached his decision he realized how much he did love her. When he made the announcement that the wedding was off she would be publicly humiliated. Someone might even want to stone her to death as an adulteress. Then he remembered she had a cousin, Elizabeth, who lived some distance away. Perhaps she could live there. If he was careful he could protect her. Oh, some of the men would tease him about not being able to keep a wife. But he could live with that as long as she was protected.
He was glad something else had happened that night to prompt him to change his decision. Even now, so many months after it happened, he wondered if it was a dream or something else that happened to him that night. In the middle of the night a man showed up in his room. The man told him that he knew what he had been considering. Then the man said for him to go ahead with the marriage, because, his future wife had told him the truth about the baby.
While he never fully decided who that man was, he laid hold of what the visitor said like a drowning man will grasp anything to stay afloat. Maybe it was because he really wanted to marry her no matter what she had done. Maybe it was something else. He did know when the man told him to go ahead with the marriage he just "felt" right about it.
He had sought her out the first thing the next morning. She was obviously worried and looked like she hadn't slept much. When he told her he had decided to go ahead with the marriage, she had appeared to almost faint from relief.
He smiled to himself as he shifted the donkey's lead from one hand to the other. He had never regretted the decision to marry her — he doubted he ever would. He shifted his backpack, trying to make it more comfortable and continued walking down the road. They were near the end of their journey now. He looked forward to the rest. As he continued the slow, steady pace toward their destination, he continued to ruminate over the events of the last year.
It had been hard after the wedding. He had expected no less. Once it became known that his wife was pregnant people started calculating how long it had been since the wedding and came to the obvious conclusions. The young men around his age were of two types: those who teased him about it and those who condemned him for what they thought were his failings.
Everyone assumed he was the father. He let them think whatever they liked. His concern was that they not turn on his wife. He threw himself into his work, producing more than ever before. That way he had little time left to be around people who might make a comment or give him "the look."
It was only a short time ago that the messenger came with the notice that there was a census being taken. The Roman government had decided that they wanted to know who was living where. They wanted to know so they could be sure they "taxed people properly."
At first he was just annoyed that the government was intruding once more. When he learned that he would have to go to Bethlehem for the census to be completed his annoyance turned to anger. It was a long trip and he would have to take his wife with him. He was fully aware that she was in no shape to travel. He also knew that the government didn't give a care about her condition; all that mattered to them was that he get there during the prescribed period.
He had delayed the trip as long as he could, hoping the baby would come while they were still safely at home with people he knew and could rely on to be there when the baby decided to finally make its appearance. When he felt he was pushing the envelope he gathered a few things and put them in a pack, bought a donkey and started off.
His wife walked when she could. He was irritated when she would tease him about trying to make her ride. He was only trying to see that she and the baby were healthy. Still, most of the time she would admit to being really tired and she would ride on the donkey.
It was a long trip, about seventy miles as the crow flies, further than that as the donkey walks, and looking back at it he wondered how they had made it this far. On a good day they could get in ten to fifteen miles. On the lucky nights they had found a family member to put them up. Some nights they slept in the open, cuddling together to keep warm under the only blanket they had. There had been enough money for food. He would have enough left over when they got to Bethlehem to at least be comfortable. His wife had kept laughing the whole way. When he would get overly worried she would make a joke to get him to laugh also.
Much of the time he didn't feel like laughing. In addition to the strain of traveling, finding a place each evening and being sure there was food and water available, he also had to worry about bandits. At least the Romans did what they could to make the roads safe. Still, there were always people trying to get rich off of someone else's labor who would relieve him of the cash he had if given the chance.
Every stranger he met on the road he watched with suspicion. He was not a fighter. He was strong because of the work he did but that would not help against a sword. He laughed at himself from time to time. He and his wife didn't look like they had any money. A robber would have to be pretty desperate to attack them. Still, it could happen.
As they rounded a curve in the road, two men stepped out from behind some rocks. They were tough looking men. The carried swords, sheathed but available to be drawn at a moments notice. He was sure they were about to be robbed, or worse. One of the men had stood in front of him, blocking the road.
"Where are you headed," the man asked
He tried to remain calm, wanting to project a feeling of self-confidence. At the same time, he was sure they could hear his heart beating faster each moment.
"We're going to Bethlehem. You know — the stupid census the Romans are taking."
The other man had stepped to their side. He watched the soon to be mother who had remained sitting quietly on the donkey. After a moment he stepped up to the man in the middle of the road and whispered to him. The whispers were too soft to hear but whatever it was, the first man looked at his wife and then nodded.
He spoke again, "Be careful, it isn't always safe on these roads." Then the two of men walked on down the road, going in the opposite direction of Bethlehem.
There were times on the trip when they would join up with other travelers. That was when things were easiest. But eventually the others would either reach their destination or pull ahead because they weren't being slowed down by an expectant mother. Then it was just his wife, the unborn baby, himself and of course the donkey, on a lonely road to Bethlehem.
Wrapped up in his memories, he stumbled again. He hadn't realized how tired he was. At least the town was just ahead. As he came over a rise in the road he saw Bethlehem. He stood there for a minute looking at Herod's summer palace on the hillside. It was the most noticeable thing about the town. There were also a lot of Roman soldiers coming and going. He was thankful his attempt to avoid their attention was successful.
It was while they were still a mile or so outside of town that his wife gave a little gasp. The first thing he noticed when he turned and looked at her was that she was sweating.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
She smiled. "I think the baby has decided it is time to see what this world is all about."
He quickened his pace, much to the donkey's discontent.
He noted that there were people who had set up camp outside of town. If he'd had a tent he might have considered doing that himself. As it was, he kept going.
When they reached town he was surprised at how crowded it was. There were people everywhere. He couldn't walk down the main street because it was filled with people who were pushing each other to get through. Everywhere there seemed to be stalls that vendors had set up.
As he turned down a side street that seemed a little less busy. A sign indicating an Inn hung from the building near the end of the street. He went to the door and knocked. Judging from the loudness of the voices inside, he had decided that he should just open the door and go in. It was doubtful the innkeeper would be able to hear his knocks. But before he could act on his decision the door opened and a man looked him up and down. The man was obviously stressed out.
"Can I help you?" he asked.
"Yes, I need a room."
The innkeeper shook his head. "Who doesn't? I don't have any space at all left."
As he asked the innkeeper if there was somewhere else they could stay his voice cracked. He nodded toward his wife. "I think she is going to deliver the baby pretty soon. She started labor just as we were coming into town."
The innkeeper looked past Joseph to see Mary still sitting on the donkey. He mumbled something under his breath and then told Joseph to wait a minute.
Excerpted from The Greatest Stories Ever ... Retold by Ross Thomas Lucas Copyright © 2010 by Ross Thomas Lucas. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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