The Fallen King

I wake in a sweat from the same horrible dream, trying to sift terror from reality.

My friend lies bloody and still. His woman wails over her dying child. And… there is more, but I cannot say it. I push the scene away, but it plays over and over, a fresh nightmare each time I open my eyes.

The dream begins in springtime.

Not far away, there is war and death, but I am safe at home. I wander to the roof and lean against the parapet, its warm walls soaked in the afternoon sun. A gentle breeze carries the scent of new life, rising from the valley below. Here and there, wildflowers paint little bursts of color on the ground.

It is a safe place. A quiet place. But here the arrow found me, and I fell.

My eyes meandered across the cheerful, unruly maze of courts and streets and houses, and then to my undoing. A movement, a color, a shape, the gleam of water on skin. She was hidden from others, but not from me, the King. I saw her from my place, so high above. And I watched.

It seemed a safe place, but the deadly arrow was me, and how far I have fallen.

I used my high place to spy and then steal and then kill and then hide. God made me their shepherd, but I have torn the sheep.

I wake in a sweat and my sin is ever before me. I am King over nations, but how I long for the dangerous years when God was my hiding place, when my hands were empty but clean.

“Have mercy, O God, because of your great love! All this evil I have done, but please don’t throw me from your presence. Don’t take your Holy Spirit from me!”

Well, the wailing woman whom I stole from my murdered friend clutches a dead child to her heart, and I wonder if we are forever cursed.

And that is the question, isn’t it? This good God who hates evil… How can he live with such as us? I have broken every law and humiliated the nation. I have no sacrifice to offer but this broken, humiliated heart.

“For the sake of your name, Lord, forgive my iniquity, though it is great. Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me.”

I comfort my stolen wife and a year later, another son is born. I watch in wonder as she embraces the child, tears of joy running down her face. Then I cringe as a servant appears, whispering that Nathan, the prophet, has arrived with a message.

Nathan, the fearless critic who exposed my cover-up. Nathan, who announced that our first son would die.

I slip from the room, remembering my many tears. Does God forgive? Really forgive? Are we forever cursed by the things we have done?

Nathan walks confidently toward my throne as I study the floor, dreading what I am about to hear. He stops a few feet away and waits for me to meet his eye.

“The Lord has sent me to tell you the child’s name,” he says, and his face softens. “He is to be called ‘Jedidiah’, for he is loved by God”.

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This story is a dramatization of events recorded in 2 Samuel 11 – 12. (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Samuel+11-12&version=NIV)

Jedidiah, also known as Solomon, became the third king of Israel, succeeding his father, David.

Jesus, born one thousand years later, was also a descendant of King David’s marriage with Bathsheba.

“You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
    you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.”
-Psalm 51:17 (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=psalm+51&version=NIV)

“You are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.”
-Nehemiah 9:17

Meeting the Lion

There are butterflies in my stomach, a rasp in my voice. So many years I have waited, yet I am almost afraid to go in.

I will be alone, I think, though you can never be sure in this place. It is, after all, a place of meeting – if a man stepping into a lion’s den can be called a meeting. A lion no one can see.

Two priests and one king he has devoured for doing what I will do. No, for doing it wrong, I remind myself. He is not unfair. Yet he is still a lion.

I take a quick breath, rest one hand against the other to slow their trembling, and I wait. I am too old to be this nervous, and too alone. My life is narrow and still. No children, no grandchildren. Just my wrinkled wife and I, living out our days. My wrinkled wife, who still stares as mothers pass, children in their arms – who stares as one starving, though we are past our years and there is no more hope.

Will the great Lion receive me, this dried-up old priest who cannot even father a child?

I walk unsteadily toward the door and step into the temple, peer into the golden, glowing Holy Place. I am to burn incense on the altar which stands across the room. Behind the altar hangs the great, thick curtain – blue, purple, and red, with embroidered angels staring back at me. Behind that, the holiest and most dangerous place of all.

I pause for an instant, remind myself to breathe, and take a few steps forward, but something goes wrong. There is a flash, a sudden glare from the golden walls, and I freeze in astonishment. There, by the altar, something stands – not a picture, but a moving creature, bright and tall.

“Don’t be afraid,” it said, which struck me as unreasonable. Dazzled and blinking, I squinted at the brilliant form, shielding my eyes with quivering hands.

“Zechariah, your prayers have been heard, and Elizabeth will have her joy. You will have a son, and you are to name him John. He will turn the hearts of the fathers toward their children, and the children toward the Lord, their God.”

“But… but how can that be?” I sputtered. “We’re too old.”

Well, that was a mistake.

“I am Gabriel,” he said soberly and glued my lips closed for months to come. Until, in fact, the day my wrinkled wife laughed with tears running down her face, surrounded by friends, our baby boy in her arms.

By then, bright Gabriel had appeared also to Mary and she, at least, believed him. A chill runs up my spine to think of it. The sun is rising on God’s ancient promise to lead us out of death and darkness, and the child in Mary’s womb – God’s own Messiah – will accomplish this.

These are things too great for me, for I was a priest of the great Lion of Judah, trembling to go before him, and afraid he had forgotten my name.

But I am different now, for I have felt the tender mercy of our God, who hears our prayers and forgets no one.

———————–

This story is a dramatization of Luke 1 (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=luke%201&version=NIV)

“And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God.”
-Luke 1:76-78

Note: 2 Chronicles 26:18 and Leviticus 10:1-2 tell of a king and two priests who were punished for incorrectly performing this procedure.

The Clue of Beauty

A girl begins to sing, and she sings very well. The other judges are pleased, but one sinks into her chair, hides her face in her hands, and weeps.

A busy mall in December. The roaring crowd of shoppers abruptly stops and looks around, silenced by a lonely voice singing a half-forgotten Christmas song.

In a movie theatre with my young son, something inside me leaps as the rings of Saturn crawl across the window of our spaceship.

It feels like a clue, the way beauty can capture us, the way it sometimes tears a hole in the dense fabric of the day, allowing something deep and heartbreaking to shine through.

We might stare in wonder, or close our eyes for a moment, retreating to a secret place. It feels like memory, like a familiar voice we had somehow forgotten or the scent of a home we somehow lost. It calls to something deep inside us, and something in us longs to answer.

And then it is gone. The tear is mended, and we return to ourselves, immersed in the events of the day.

Such experiences are easy to dismiss. We call them emotion, or art, or nostalgia. We pin them like dead butterflies and file them away. But they leave us tender, either wary of whatever waits outside, calling to half-forgotten parts of us, or maybe wishing we knew how to answer.

And that is the question. What to do with the clue?

If our culture is right, we humans are biological accidents with no soul, no reason to love, and no reason to feel awe or joy in the presence of beauty. Beauty means nothing because life means nothing.

But what if our hearts are right after all? What if we long for more because there is more? What if the beauty that captivates us is more solid and enduring than our everyday routine? What if something outside is calling to the most important part of us, and there is a way for us to answer?

And that’s the point of Christmas.

We find great beauty in this world, but it is a world of goodbyes. Good things come, but also evil, and in the end we die.

In this angry and hopeless world, if we happen to think of God, we often think of him as distant and vague, but Christmas brings us back to reality. To a tired man and woman, far from home, making do in a cold stable. To a newborn baby, wrinkled and freshly scrubbed, looking into his mother’s face. Not God up there, but God right here. God so small. God with us.

The Christ-child came as beauty always comes, as a gift and a word. A gift that offers joy and demands nothing. A word that tells of the giver and his goodwill toward us.

When we are moved by beauty, we are moved toward home. Toward the Creator of beauty who is always giving and always calling to the deepest part of us. Toward the Christ-child who gave us his very self, living and dying in a way that is still tearing holes in the darkness.

——

Talent show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZT-rdjv8wgQ

Mall choir: https://www.facebook.com/CarmanLicciardello/videos/533740169977550

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart, yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

-Ecclesiastes 3

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

-Luke 2

Waiting

He tries to keep up but stumbles, grabs a passing elbow to catch himself. The woman who belongs to the elbow jerks her head toward him, annoyed, shakes him off, and walks on.

Wobbly and panting, he raises a wrinkled hand to his face, then shuffles aside toward a bench. The crowd flows around him like a river around a rock.

He has been here for a long time now, in the way, good for nothing. Waiting.

Some days, he feels confident and sits near the gate, watching. Other days, he feels like a stupid old man, in the way and good for nothing, maybe just waiting to die.

But however he feels, he knows what he was told. He knows. And so, every day, he comes.

A centurion rides by, slowly, sneering down at the crowd, sword gleaming.

Watching him, the old man nods and admits to himself that it’s an odd story. So, a new king is coming to deliver us? Not if Rome hears about it. And this new king will be hated, pierced, and forsaken? This is what I am waiting for?

Well, that’s one side of the story – the side that mocks him on bad days. But there is another side.

He grew up reading with his father and when the old scrolls told of the coming Messiah, his heart burned in his chest. Unto this stubborn, trampled, seemingly God-forsaken nation, a son would be given: Immanuel – “God with us”.

And it has already happened, God’s spirit told him. “You will meet him before you die.”

“Lord knows,” the old man groans, “that can’t be long now.” His legs are still quivering and his head spinning, but he watches the gate, waiting for the Messiah to walk through.

“The government will be on his shoulders,” the scroll said, so they must be broad shoulders. “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God…” So, he will be a man of amazing power, perhaps tall and regal like Saul, or young and energetic like David. Or maybe wise and dignified like Moses. I don’t know how I will recognize him but, somehow, this man will reflect the magnificence of our God.

Suddenly, there is a stirring in Simeon’s spirit and the old burning in his chest, as if God were shouting at him to LOOK! But he has been looking and there is nothing to see. A couple of gangly teenagers laughing, one proud merchant in a bright robe, a poor couple in tattered clothes…

He did not understand, but something drew him from his seat. The poor man looked up as Simeon approached, and gave him a curious, respectful nod. The man’s wife, a mere girl, clutched a baby to her chest.

And, suddenly, Simeon did understand. Our Immanuel. Our God With Us. Not come to show the magnificence of your power, but the magnificence of your love. Your love for us, who are weak and tattered.

Tears streaming down his face, Simeon kneels before the child, trembling, until Joseph takes his hand to help him up. The girl watches, eyes wide, but places the child in his gnarled hands.

Burning with a joy he has never felt before, Simeon stares at the baby and the baby stares at him. “Now, Lord, you can let me die in peace for my old eyes have seen your salvation; Israel’s glory and the light of all mankind.”


This story is a dramatization of events recorded in Luke 2. (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+2%3A22-38)

Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel.
-Isaiah 7

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness,
a light has dawned…

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
-Isaiah 9

First Snow

And so, the summer sighs and turns away,

its once green leaves alight in bright farewell.

One final fire before their dull decay.

One final wave before they curled and fell.

The time has come for frost, for geese in flight;

their lonely shouts and silent, throbbing wings.

Dark, crooked branches etch the brooding night.

A quiet withering of summer things.

Meadows sway and bow and fade to white;

A silvering of every blade and flower.

Edged by the piercing gleam of warmthless light,

a frozen kiss to mark their final hour.

Pond’s trilling chorus stills, to silence yields.

Forsaken gardens and forgotten vines.

Night winds moaning over empty fields;

Each stem, a hollowed bone of gentler times.

All melt into the sober, aching earth.

All fall before the stony rule of snow.

The end we saw afar even from birth

must come and every mortal thing must go.