Friday, December 23, 2016
Merry Christmas, Mr. Friend...
It was my first visit to see Mr. Friend since his older brother, age 96, passed away after a long illness with a lot of suffering. Now, our Mr. Friend is the last surviving sibling of a group of ten. His siblings were very close growing up and throughout their lives. He seems to be handling this well, but I told him that it makes me think of my own group of eleven kids. One of the things they love about being in a big family is the idea that they will never have to be alone in life unless they want to be. There will always be someone to call, to help, to live with, to rely on in an emergency. Really thinking it through to the time that one of our children might be 93-years-old and all alone out of all our immediate family made me get all teary, and made him get all teary, and then we shared a hug and cried a little more before wiping our eyes, smiling, and going on to a more cheerful subject... Christmas!
Me: "So, are you going to be going out anywhere on Christmas?"
Mr. Friend: "Well... I certainly hope not! My niece wants me to go with her to her family. But, driving all that way south of the cities on bad roads and in snow storms... they keep bugging me about it and think it would be good for me!"
Me, smiling: "That's because we all love you. Everyone wants you to come over."
Mr. Friend: "Yes, well. But, Christmas is just for kids anyway. All that...'what gift for him'... 'what gift for her'... even for the adults! All that money! And parents telling lies all the time to make their kids behave... it's just not right. All that Santa stuff, I mean. "
Me, laughing: "Well, OK. I'll just call you Scrooge and NOT tell you we were hoping you might come over for dinner the day after Christmas, that's when we are doing our dinner. It was OK at Thanksgiving, wasn't it?"
Mr. Friend, laughing: "Well, I guess that's ok. It was good to catch up. But, I don't like going out any more in the bad weather."
(We sat quietly together for a little bit.)
Mr. Friend, talking again: "What I don't understand is why we give presents at Christmas to our own families and make a big fuss. They didn't have anything like Christmas at all when Jesus was alive or his disciples either. Someone told me that. Is there something in the Bible about people giving presents to Jesus? I thought I remembered that and that would be ok, to give presents to Jesus."
Me, surprised: "Well, yes! Don't you know that part? I'm not sure that's why we give gifts to each other, but yes... Wise men from the East... traveling far...following the star... bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the new baby King. The great King of the Jews they knew had been born because they saw his star when it rose in the East?
(Me thinking to myself, wow... how DID they know so much about that, believe it enough to travel to Israel?? They saw a star and knew a King had been born in Israel??)
Mr. Friend: "Yes, I think I remember something about that, but I didn't know if that was a real part or part of the made-up part of the story. You know how people are always making stories bigger and bigger, and I know they make up parts on the TV when they show it on TV. Do you think any of that really happened? Or do you think people just made it up."
Me: "I do! I think it is the Truest Story that's ever been told! I really do. I mean that with all my heart... I think the parts that are in the Bible are the real story."
We talked a little bit on a historical level about there being no doubt that Jesus was a real person, and that we know when he lived, and that it's supported not only from inside the Bible, but from other known history as well. He guessed that was right. He believes the Bible, he just thinks a lot of people mess up what is in the Bible and what isn't – an opinion I certainly share.
Mr. Friend; "Well, Ok, then. What part of the Christmas story is in the Bible then?"
And so, hardly believing it could be true that this 93-year-old Swedish farmer didn't really know the Christmas story, I tried to organize my thoughts so I could tell this True Story in the right way, even if I did have to tell it from memory and figure out where to begin.
I told him about part of the story being in the Gospel of Luke. And part of the story being in the Gospel of Matthew. And an important thing about this True Story is that it doesn't start Once Upon a Time like a fairy tale. It starts at a very specific time, with real Emperors and real Kings and other known people mentioned in written histories and old documents. And both Luke and Matthew tell us a lot about Jesus's family... his family goes back to King David (have you heard of King David? Sort of? Ok)... and even back further to Abraham, and Noah, and Adam. It even lists some of the mothers in the genealogy, which is unusual. The genealogies tell us that the human family of Jesus was very real, he has a real history and he came to us here in a real place and a real time. And it's a time in history you can figure out because of Roman history and how good they were at keeping records.
Me: "Is this all making sense?"
Mr. Friend shrugs, but sits up close to listen and makes a "go on" motion with his hand.
"Ok. Well, that's one reason Jesus ended up in Bethlehem anyway, because the Romans were taking a census and were making people travel all over the place to make sure they got counted properly. Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem together, because of the census. Well, wait.. I don't think Mary really had to be there, Joseph had to go back to his original hometown. But maybe Joseph didn't want to leave her at home, or maybe she didn't want to be left at home... you know, because of the scandal of her being pregnant before they were married. But really, she did have to be there... because of the prophecies about where the Messiah was going to be born. They weren't thinking about the prophesies, it's just that there really are dozens, maybe hundreds of prophesies about Jesus in the old testament and some of the interesting things about the Christmas story happened just the way the prophesies said it would happen. Some of the prophesies are mentioned specifically in the Gospels when they are telling this story."
Mr. Friend, very interested: "Well. I wondered how he ended up in such an out of the way place!"
Me, trying again to organize my thoughts: "Right. So right when he was born, in Bethlehem... angels, a lot of angels, appeared to some shepherds who were nearby in some fields with their sheep, at night time. And the angel of the Lord told them the good news about the baby's birth, a Savior who is Christ the Lord, and they told the shepherds to go and find the baby lying in a manger - and they went to find him right away and did find him - just like the angels had said... they found Mary and Joseph and a baby lying in a manger. This is the part you always see in Nativity scenes."
He nods. I still can't believe he doesn't already know this story by heart. I'm wondering what I'm leaving out.
Me:"Ok, so the part you are asking about is actually in the other book, in Matthew's book. He tells the story about wise men who see a star and somehow know that a child has been born who will be King of the Jews. They travel a long distance to find this King, and they assume that the King of the Jews will be in Jerusalem, so they go to the palace in Jerusalem and ask to see the child... and the interesting thing is... they want to worship the child! They somehow know that this child is not just a normal baby. They seem to know this child is the long awaited Messiah that the Jewish people have been waiting for..."
(I'm getting sort of choked up telling this story at this point. It is an amazing experience telling this story to someone who really hasn't heard it before! Telling it like it is real news! It's pretty amazing news and an incredible story!)
Me, continuing: "But, here is the bad part. There is no new baby king in Jerusalem, and the king the wise men went to see was a very wicked king. He was very concerned about this news and seemed to believe it was true right away. He found out from his advisors where the Christ was to be born, where he would be, according to the scriptures. They told him it would be in Bethlehem, where Jesus really was... and then the wicked king told the wise men to go find the baby and come back and tell him where the baby could be found. The wicked king told the wise men he wanted to worship the baby, too. But he was really lying about that. He actually wanted to destroy the baby, so his own kingship wouldn't be threatened. "
Mr. Friend, eyes wide... shocked!
Me, tears in my eyes: "I know! He was a very wicked man. So the wise men DO find baby Jesus and they do bring him presents of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Royal gifts, for a King, not just for a baby. Well, he probably wasn't a little tiny baby anymore - this was some time after his birth, I think. I've heard that his star appeared when he was born, and that is why the wicked king asked what time the star appeared - so he could do this next thing. I don't even want to tell you, because it is really, really bad. Anyway, the wise men are warned in a dream from God not to go back to the wicked king and they don't go back, but the bad king does the next part anyway. The wicked king sent soldiers to Bethlehem and told them to kill all the baby boys up to the age of 2 years old... (I'm holding back tears and Mr. Friend is on the edge of his seat) - and they did it. They really did kill those baby boys.
(The horror of this is really hitting me. Mr. Friend can't believe it. He obviously has never heard of this before).
Mr. Friend: "But Jesus!? What?"
Me, remembering the next part. "No, no, he's ok. He got away. God sent a dream to Joseph to tell him to take the boy, his mother , and himself and go away to Egypt. He had dreams from God before and they had all come true, and so, I think the Bible says they left - right that night of the dream... they got up and left and so they weren't there when the soldiers came."
Mr. Friend, looking relieved but still listening for all he's worth.
Me: "Well, you know we were talking about the gifts that people brought to Jesus? There is a tradition that Joseph used the gold to finance their travel to Egypt, but I don't know if that part is true. There is another tradition about the frankincense that I don't remember. And I think that the myrrh was possibly used during his burial, when he was crucified, before he rose from the dead. That part is tradition. The gifts aren't mentioned again in the Bible that I know of. Anyway - they stayed in Egypt until Joseph had another dream that it was safe to go back home, that's the real Bible story again. The evil king had died. But they didn't go back to Bethlehem, they went back to a town called Nazareth, where Joseph and Mary lived before going to Bethlehem. And that actually fulfilled another prophesy, because the Old Testament tells that the Christ shall be called a Nazarene. It really is neat how many things about the birth of Jesus can be found in the prophesies. It helps us believe that it is true."
By the end of this - we both had tears in our eyes again, and he said. "Well, I really hope it's all true. I mean all of it. I think about it every day. I have a lot of questions as soon as I see Jesus."
I asked him if I could pray for him.
Mr. Friend: "Well, what do I have to do?"
Me: "Nothing. You just have to hold my hands and don't worry if you can't hear me very well with my head bowed down. God can hear me."
Mr. Friend, held out his hands.
After that we were both sort of crying again. It was a very tearful visit! Nothing like any other visit of all our visits in the past 13 years. We went on to talk about a lot of things that he was wondering about. Some questions I could answer. Some questions I couldn't answer. All questions that Jesus can answer. Lord, please answer all his questions!!
And then we went on to talking about cell phones! Because he had been wondering about that as well.
Did I think he could learn to use one?
So I showed him how easy it is to make a call to my "Favorites". I showed him how to check the weather. I had to teach him what kind of touch to use on the touch screen. Just touch the App lightly. The what? The App. What's an App? Well, think about it like a special TV channel. Each one does it's own specific thing. One is a clock. One is the weather. One is a compass. One is for games. This one is for photos and this one is a camera! Yes, a camera.
And we took Mr. Friend's first selfie.
And he agreed to at least think about coming over for dinner, because it doesn't hurt to think about things.
I certainly left his home thinking about things.
It was an extraordinary visit.