From the I Am the Clay “Story” Series
It was necessary for [Jesus] to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. Hebrews 2:17 NIV
The priest who is anointed and ordained…as high priest…is to put on the sacred linen garments and make atonement for…all the members of the community. Leviticus 16:32,33 NIV
“Barnabus!” the woman called from the mouth of the cave. “It’s almost time for dinner.”
“Coming!” Her husband’s voice echoed from deep within the animal shelter.
He stepped out into the late afternoon sunlight holding a strip of cloth. “What’s that?” his wife asked.
“It appears to be baby swaddling. That young couple must have left it behind.” He handed it to her.
“My, my,” she said as she examined the cloth. “This is fine linen. Where did those poor children get this?”
“I don’t know. I guess they brought it with them, knowing she might have her baby while they were here,” he replied, closing the gate behind him. “And we don’t know that they were poor.”
“She had her baby in a stable.”
“Our stable—warm and comfortable. I tried to give them our room but they wouldn’t hear of it; insisted they would be fine.” They made their way toward the inn.
“And they were fine—a beautiful baby boy and a story they can tell their grandchildren,” she said folding the piece of cloth as they walked. “Still, I wonder where they got this linen…”
• • •
The gray-haired priest opened the door and came in from the outside, wiping the perspiration from his brow. Even in the hill country, the late summer heat was intense.
His middle-aged wife and her young relative were wrapping up loaves of bread and several pieces of fruit in cloth parcels. “Has Levi finished saddling the donkey?”
“We’re almost finished packing food for their trip back. Oh, and I have some things here for the family.” She bent down to pick up a large package tied up in sack cloth.
“Elizabeth! No—I’ll get that.” The young woman hurried over to pick up the bundle, but the man intercepted her, putting his hand firmly on her shoulder. He pointed to Elizabeth, then to a stool near the table. “Zechariah’s right—you should sit for a while. You’re doing far too much; I came to help you.” She went to pull the chair out from the table while he bent over and retrieved the package.
“You have helped, dear one, more than you’ll ever know. But I’m pregnant, not helpless,” she said. In spite of her protestation, she allowed her young relative to help her sit down. Elizabeth called out to Zechariah as he carried the bundle outside.
“Tell Levi…” She caught herself. “I mean… Mary will be ready to go shortly.”
He nodded again and pointed at Mary and then at the other stool, as he closed the door behind him. She obediently took her own seat at the table.
“It’s been nine months—you would think I would be used to it by now,” said Elizabeth. “I miss hearing his voice. He’s never been a big talker, but since that day in the temple, the house has been so quiet.”
“Enjoy the quiet while you can—little John will be coming soon. Any more activity from him?”
Elizabeth laid her hands on her round belly. “The occasional kick—nothing like the day you showed up at our door.”
“I’ll never forget that.” Mary fussed with the fruit and bread. “So much to try and make sense of. Angels and babies where there shouldn’t be babies…”
“Just enjoy the blessing—the honor.” Elizabeth reached across the table and took Mary’s hand. “He chose you, dear one. Of all women, He chose you.”
Mary lowered her eyes, still uncomfortable with the attention. “I just wish I understood why.”
“Did you doubt the angel when he spoke to you?”
Mary shook her head. “No.”
“Did you willingly accept the task He has for you?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Do you believe He will do what He promised?”
Mary smiled. “You know I do.”
Elizabeth squeezed her hand. “There’s your answer. There aren’t many who would trust Him with such a pure heart.”
“Still, the angel told me about your baby for a reason—he knew I would come running here for reassurance. Not sure what that says about my trust.”
“You just needed to keep company with a wise old pregnant woman who believed your shocking news AND a mute old priest who couldn’t tell anyone even if he wanted to!” Both women laughed.
Mary stood up and began gathering the parcels of food into a sackcloth bag. “The Lord knew this time with you was just what I needed—sharing our joy, learning from your strength.”
“You’re strong, too, my love,” Elizabeth, said. “And you’re going to need that strength. You’re not going to be able to hide your secret much longer.”
Mary patted her just-visible stomach. “Everyone knows you’re a great cook—they’ll think I ate a lot.” Elizabeth laughed again.
“Have you thought about what you’ll say to your parents? To Joseph?”
“I have,” Mary said, nodding. “I’m going to tell them the truth.”
“Galileans can be judgmental. When’s the last time anyone there heard of a miracle happening, especially one like yours?”
“I’m looking at one,” Mary said, smiling. “And you can be sure I will remind them of a certain wise old pregnant woman and her mute priest husband who are also about to have a baby.”
Elizabeth acted appalled. “Two scandalous miracles in the same family—what will people say?”
Mary chuckled. “I’m about to find out.” She tied the bag together. “I guess that’s everything.”
“Not everything,” said Elizabeth. “I have something for you. Can you hand me my sewing basket there in the corner?”
Mary retrieved the woven basket and placed it on the table for Elizabeth. “What’s in here?”
“Something I’ve been working on at night when the baby keeps me up.” Elizabeth held out a hand to Mary. “Help me up.”
She removed the lid and dug down under assorted scraps of fabric, pulling a small bundle of white cloth from the bottom of the basket. “You’ll need something to wrap Jesus in when he comes.” She handed the cloth to Mary. “These are strips of linen from one of Zechariah’s priestly garments. It’s beyond repair for him to wear when he serves in the temple, but it’ll make soft and warm swaddling cloth.”
Mary felt of the tightly-woven white linen fabric. “This is so kind of you. But these are from priestly garments. It wouldn’t be appropriate to wrap Jesus in them.”
“Listen to me, dear,” Elizabeth said. “It’s almost impossible to be married to a priest—especially a devout one—without knowing what has been written. This linen will be appropriate to clothe my Lord.”
“I don’t—” Mary tried to hand the linen cloth back to Elizabeth.
Elizabeth clasped her hands around Mary’s. “Mary… Everything—everything—points to this child being God’s promised Messiah. The angel told you He would be a king, that He would sit on David’s throne, didn’t he? And David wrote that He would be a priest like Melchizedek—a king priest.” Elizabeth closed Mary’s hands over the fabric. “Take it. It’s only fitting.”
Mary stared at the linen for a moment than clutched the cloth to her chest, looking every bit as young as she was. “A priest?”
“Yes, dear. The priest offers the sacrifice to atone for our sin and usher us into the presence of God. I don’t know how that can happen with Jesus, as He’s not in the lineage of Aaron, or even Levi, and can’t serve in the temple. But somehow, it will happen.”
Mary sat back down on her stool. “I don’t know if I’m ready for this.”
Elizabeth brushed a strand of dark hair from her face. “Everyone feels that way with their first child—whether it’s God’s or not. With you, it’s just going to be a little more complicated.” She held out her hands to help Mary up. “Maybe a lot more complicated. But God will be with you—I know it.”
“I wish I could stay longer—at least until John comes.”
“So do I. But you need to get home while you can still travel. And Joseph is waiting for you.”
“What if he doesn’t believe me?”
“He will—he’s a good man.”
Zechariah opened the door and came back inside with Levi in tow. “Zechariah said you were ready to go.” Zechariah looked at him questioningly. “They know what I mean.”
Mary handed Levi a wrapped parcel. “Here’s some food Elizabeth packed for us.”
“Be sure and leave room on the donkey for your sister to ride.”
“Yes ma’am. Looks like she could stand to walk a little, though.”
Elizabeth shrugged. “What can I say? Everyone knows I’m a great cook.”
Mary stifled a grin. “I’ll be right out.” Levi closed the door behind him.
She hugged her pregnant-against-all-odds relative. “This has been an amazing time. Please pray for me. I know the Lord will be with me, but… Just please pray.”
Zechariah clasped his hands together and pointed toward the ceiling.
“Thank you, Zechariah. And thank you for your patience and ‘quiet’ support since I’ve been here.” Zechariah laughed, silently. “You’ll be wonderful parents.”
Elizabeth touched Mary’s stomach lightly. “So will you. We love you, dear one.”
“And I love you both.”
Zechariah opened the door and the three made their way outside, where Levi had finished tying the parcel of food on the donkey. “We need to go if we’re going to make it to Shiloh by dark.”
“I’m coming.” Mary stopped and turned back toward Elizabeth. “A king priest?” she said softly.
Elizabeth nodded. “And Messiah.”
Levi helped Mary get settled on the loaded animal, still holding the linen cloth. “You want to put that in one of the bags?”
“No—I’ll hold it.”
“What is it?”
“Just some old linen cloth.”
“What do you need that for?”
She gently rubbed the soft linen. “It’s complicated.”
He gave her an inquisitive look, then gathered the reins. “Are you ready?”
Mary glanced at Elizabeth and smiled. “Yes—I think I am…”
• • •
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©Dusty Teague 2016