In honor of the Christmas season, I am sharing a short story that I wrote several years ago. Enjoy!
Joseph eyed his newest creation. The table had been hewn and sanded to perfection. His customer would be pleased. But as he sent his oldest son to deliver the message of its completion, Joseph knew it would not be enough. He worked hard to provide for his family of six, soon to be seven. Between the work growing scarce and the high taxes, money was growing tight.
He put away his tools, looking bleakly at the empty shed that should house a collection of projects. Money was tight everywhere. Fewer orders were coming in. It translated into less money for Joseph’s growing family. Thankful that his eldest was still away, he entered the house. Mary would have to be told.
Four-year-old James and six-year old Simon eagerly greeted him. Joseph gave them customary hugs, and he and the boys made his way into the kitchen, where Mary was preparing the noonday meal. Baby Rebekah lay in a basket, near Mary’s watchful eye as she stirred the pot over the fire. Mary’s growing belly only reminded Joseph of his many problems.
She turned as Joseph entered the kitchen. Mary appraised him, nodded, and turned back to the food. She knew. The family heard the front door open and close, announcing that eight-year-old Jesus was back home.
“They said they’ll pick it up tomorrow, Abba.”
“Thank you, son.”
The meal was soon ready, and the family gathered around their table. After the blessing came the happy commotion that occurred with each meal. The younger ones were watched and assisted as needed, and the baby gurgled beside Mary and Joseph, still laying in her basket.
Joseph’s attention was soon drawn to his oldest son. Jesus was getting tall, and his small muscles were slowly developing as he assisted his father in the shop. His sandy brown hair and easygoing smile reminded him of Mary. This Son of the Promise would soon celebrate his ninth birthday.
Joseph doubted he would ever forget the strange events that had surrounded his marriage to Mary. She’d left to visit a cousin, and returned three months later, pregnant. Mary had told him of the angel’s words, of her elderly cousin bearing a son. Zechariah’s being struck dumb because of his unbelief of the angel that had visited him.
Joseph was a practical man, and hadn’t believed in the angelic visit. Until his own encounter with the powerful angel. He’d followed the angel’s admonitions at once. He married her early, without waiting for their engagement period to end. The Almighty had worked a miracle, and Mary, the virgin, was pregnant. She would bring forth a son, the angel had told him, and they would call him Jesus.
Then an edict from Caesar had forced them to travel to Bethlehem to register. The inns were full, and the couple had to take shelter in a nearby stable. It had been that night that Mary delivered. The innkeeper had sent his wife over to help with the birthing, a fact for which Joseph was forever grateful.
And then he arrived. Jesus, the Messiah, was born. Mary had laid the baby in an empty manger, having nowhere else to lay him. A group of shepherds arrived, asking to see the baby the angels had told them of. They knelt before the infant, and each breathed a prayer of thanks that they had seen the face of their Savior.
The next day, one of the shepherds returned, extending an invitation to stay at their house. They had accepted, and had moved to the nearby house of the shepherd. He and his wife welcomed them warmly.
A week later, as Joseph had been preparing to return home, they had another strange visit. A group of six astronomers and princes had arrived, their servants and belongings in tow. They had seen the star in the East, and they had followed it to that area. They, too, knew that the infant was the Promised One of old. They had seen the child, bowed, and worshipped. And then they had presented their gifts for the King.
Joseph’s thoughts jolted back to the present as Mary dismissed the children from the table. Joseph helped Mary rise, and then he picked up Rebekah, who had begun to cry.
“Jesus,” Mary said. “Take your brothers outside.”
The younger boys eagerly left the house with Jesus, ready to play their ball game that they all enjoyed. Rebekah had stopped crying, once again seeing her father’s face. Mary and Joseph were free to talk.
“It’s not enough,” Joseph told her. “Taxes are due in a week. The payment for the table won’t cover it.”
Mary took Rebekah from Joseph’s arms. “But you were so hopeful when the order came in. You thought it would be enough.”
Joseph shook his head. “No. I thought that order would generate more from that section of town. Another order or two would cover what we owe. Nothing else has come in. The table isn’t enough.”
Mary sighed. “What else can we sell? We need everything, Joseph! We sold our extras off years ago, during the last tax hike when James came along.”
Joseph looked around the room, hoping to find something comfortable to stare at while he gave his suggestion. Finding nothing but Mary’s searching eyes, he relented and gave his answer. “We still have the gifts,” Mary closed her eyes, and Joseph hurriedly continued. “Perhaps one of them will be enough. We don’t have to sell them all.”
She sighed again, returning Rebekah to Joseph’s arms. “No. You’re right. With another child on the way, taxes due, and no more orders…it is time. We must tell him.”
“Do you think he’s ready for that?” Joseph asked. Mary was more attuned to the children then he was.
“I do not know. But let’s tell him while we still have those gifts. Show him something of that time.”
The time came as Mary was putting the younger ones to bed. Joseph and Jesus checked on their animals and made sure the shed was locked, as they did each night. After looking in on the animals, Jesus turned to leave.
Jesus turned back, and held the light Joseph offered him. Joseph climbed the ladder to the small loft. While he could have used the light, he already knew where the box lay. He picked it up and returned to the ladder. Jesus was standing close by the ladder, holding the light as high as he could to help Joseph.
Joseph retrieved the light, and handed Jesus the heavy box. With this done, they locked up the barn and returned to the house. Joseph directed Jesus to lay the box on the table, which he did. “What is it, Abba?”
“You’ll see, son. Let’s wait for your mother to get here.”
Mary descended the stairs soon after that, and smiled at Jesus’ confused expression. “Jesus, your father and I have something important to tell you.” She looked at Joseph, willing him to continue.
“Do you remember when Rebekah was born?” Joseph finally asked.
Jesus nodded. “You were away, trying to get lumber for your next order. Mama had me fetch Aunt Deborah, and then send a message to you.”
Joseph nodded as well. “And when I came back and saw Aunt Deborah, do you remember what she said to me?”
Jesus was still confused, but nodded again. “‘There’s always a story with Joseph’s children.’…What did she mean by that?”
Mary, seeing where Joseph was going, picked up the tale. “You’ve heard us tell about how James was born on the same day as that earthquake. How Simon came along the day we returned from Egypt.”
Jesus nodded, still waiting. Joseph started again. “Well, there’s a story with your birth, too.”
Joseph nodded. “What would you say if I told you that angels announced your arrival?”
“Angels? Like in the Torah?”
Mary agreed. “Your father and I both saw an angel before you were born. Telling us you were on the way. And how you…were the Promised One. A King whose reign would never end.”
“A…a king? Me?”
Joseph smiled. “All things come in time, son. But don’t worry about that just yet. There’s more to the story.”
“More? An angel foretold my birth, called me a king, and there’s more?”
Mary smiled again. “We had to go to Bethlehem just before you were born. There wasn’t any room when we arrived, and an innkeeper and his wife let us stay in the stable that night…you came along, and then you had visitors. Shepherds found us, and told us angels had told them the Messiah had been born. He would be wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
“I was in a manger? Like what we have in the barn?”
Joseph nodded. “We didn’t have anything else. But there’s more, son. Before we left Bethlehem, you had more visitors. Magi from the East. They pointed out a bright star, that had led their way. They knew who you were, too. And they brought gifts with them. Gifts befitting a king.”
Joseph turned his attention to the crudely wrapped box, still sitting on the table. He pulled out a knife, and cut the strings they had carefully tied so long ago. The old paper fell away, revealing a heavily jeweled box. Its clasp and hinges appeared to be made of gold. The top of the box was a deep blue, and the bottom was a majestic red. In the center, aside from the clasp and hinges, was a large layer of white. Each of the colors sparkled with every movement of the fire from the kitchen.
Jesus was stunned. He stared for a long time at the box and eventually reached out and touched it. “Wow.”
“Open it,” Mary instructed.
Jesus did, and was surprised to find three smaller jeweled boxes nestled inside. Carefully, he pulled each one out. The first box was a dark shade of green that sparkled with the firelight. Its octagon top came to a small point in the center. The second box was a circle, ornamented with blue and white jewels. The third box was another small octagon, only this was decorated with red and yellow.
Only after pulling out each of the boxes did Jesus open any of them. Finding each one empty, he turned once again to his parents.
Mary continued the tale, pointing to each of the boxes that had contained the gifts. “They brought you gold, frankincense and myrrh.”
“We had to sell those gifts long ago, son,” Joseph added. “But we kept the boxes. Because we knew one day we would tell you about this.”
Jesus looked at the boxes again, before appraising his parents. “Am I a king?”
Mary smiled again. “One day, I’m sure you will be.”
“But Jesus,” Joseph interjected. “You don’t need to tell anyone about this. We already have a king, and it could cause trouble if he hears about another one. All right?”
“All right, Abba. I don’t want to live in the palace anyway. I like it here.” Joseph and Mary smiled in response. “Can I tell Simon and James?”
Mary and Joseph exchanged a glance. “Not yet,” Joseph answered. “We need to wait until they’re old enough to keep secrets.”
“All right,” Jesus looked at the sparkling boxes again. “These are really pretty…but we can’t do much with them,” He held up the blue box for a moment. “It doesn’t seem right to put nails in something like this.”
“And if we had it out,” Joseph said. “The boys would want to know where we got it.”
Mary started the conversation again. “These boxes were meant to hold magnificent things…things we do not have, and will not have again,” Mary sighed. “Jesus, would you mind if we sold them? So they can hold pretty things again, like they’re supposed to?”
Jesus nodded immediately. “Sure, Mama,” He turned to Joseph. “Can you show me where the star was?”
Joseph smiled again. “I sure can.”
As the two walked up to the roof, Jesus commented, “It’s nice that I have a story. Simon and James have good birthday stories, so I’m glad I have one, too. Even if I can’t tell them yet.”
Joseph’s smiled widened as they looked at the stars. “One day, son, we’ll tell them your story. In fact, I’m sure one day your birthday story will be told again and again. When it’s not a secret anymore.”
“When I’m King?”
“Maybe, son. We’ll see.”