The Donkey

An “I Am the Clay” Vignette*

Mary-Joseph_Donkey

It was a pleasant, late fall day in the Samarian hill country. The main road was lined with men, women, children, the rich, the poor—each heading south, each on his or her way to take part in a government-ordered census.

Most seemed to be traveling in large groups of family and neighbors, with the exception of the young couple with the donkey traveling alone. (They had waited until most everyone in their own village had left, so as to keep from answering too many questions.)

She—Mary, very expectant—rode comfortably on the back of the donkey (Levi, she had named him; a good-natured jab at her younger brother with the same name) while he, Joseph, led the way.

Like us, Levi’s task was to carry the unborn Savior and, in effect, the good news He would bring—the gospel—to “all Judea and Samaria, and (our task, not Levi’s) to the ends of the earth.”

Unlike us, though, Levi wasn’t aware of that; after all, he was only a donkey. He didn’t know the one he was carrying was Immanuel—“God with us”—the one the prophet Isaiah had written about 700 years earlier.

Still, he faithfully carried out the task assigned to him.

The question is—are we? Are we faithfully carrying out the task assigned to us? Do we see it our calling to carry the light of the gospel to every corner of a dark world? Or are we content to leave that baby in the manger? Content to shop and feast and sing of the angels and the shepherds, the star and the wise men, the manger and the stable, and then pack it up and store it in the attic until next year?

That’s not why He came. He didn’t come to be the centerpiece of our Christmas pageant or the “reason for the season.” He came—His words, once He was old enough to speak them—“that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”

Not just life, but abundant life.

One day, after He was grown, He said that “life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:16 NIV) He also said that “everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19:29 NIV)

The abundant life He came to give isn’t found in things or people or events—even events inspired by His birth. It’s found in Him, who He is. And one day, He told us who He is…

…He said He is “the life.” (John 14:6 NIV)

The life.”

As one who has been given “the life,” how can I not do as “the life” said and carry His good news to “the ends of the earth”?

Good question.

Levi faithfully carried out the task assigned to him…

Are we…?


*A brief written piece about a person or event. Or a donkey.

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A merciful and faithful High Priest

From the I Am the Clay “Story” Series

mary-visits-elisabeth-large

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…”

And now for the rest of the story…

The Lamb

Shepherd

From the CLAY “Story” Series

And you, O tower of the flock, the stronghold of the daughter of Zion, to you shall it come… Micah 4:8 NKJV

“Shimri—come quickly! Hannah is about to lamb!”

The young man came bounding up the hill, his tunic gathered so he could run and his torch held high.

“Hannah? You named a ewe Hannah?”

“Would you just come with me? We need to get her up to the birthing floor in the tower before the lamb comes.”

Shimri grabbed his staff and followed his younger brother down the hill.

“Nathanel, slow down—I don’t have a torch.”

Nathanel stopped while Shimri caught up. “If we don’t hurry—“

“She’ll be fine. Where is she?”

“Under the sycamore at the foot of the hill. This is her first lamb and I just—“

Shimri smiled. “So that’s why you named her Hannah. Good to know you’ve been paying attention in synagogue. Am I going to run into a Ruth or a Jochebed while we’re out here?”

“No. They’re both over in the far pasture.”

Shimri chuckled under his breath. “Of course they are.”

And now for the rest of the story…

Star of Wonder

From the CLAY “Story” Series

wisemen and star

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem…Wise men from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” Matthew 2:1-2

“Stars don’t move like that,” the venerable Persian scholar said, never looking up from the scroll on which he was writing.

“Apparently they do,” replied his younger and obviously excited peer. “This one is most assuredly moving at an unusual pace.”

“Maybe you’ve mistaken one of the other worlds for a star.”

“I may have not have your longevity with the Magi, but I’m no raw apprentice, either,” replied the younger of the two, obviously indignant. “Our order have been watching the skies for centuries, recording the movements of every visible point of light in the heavens. Since joining our esteemed ranks, I have diligently studied those charts and bear more than a passing acquaintance with our knowledge of the celestial bodies.”

His elder associate glanced up from his work. “Is that so.”

“Yes. And this is definitely a new star and it is definitely moving.”

“So you may have discovered a new star—it’s happened before. We’ll name it after you.”

Struggling to retain his composure, the younger man leaned over the intricately carved table at which his colleague sat and spoke at a measured pace. “Will you come with me, please, and see for yourself?”

And now for the rest of the story…

Carols, communion, and candlelight

The animated television special, A Charlie Brown Christmas, offers one of my all-time favorite, quintessentially classic Christmas moments. It’s the moment during rehearsal for the Christmas pageant when, frustrated by the materialism and commercialization of Christmas, Charlie Brown cries out in desperation, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”

In response, Linus – quirky, philosophical, security blanket-toting Linus – answers, “Sure, Charlie Brown; I can tell you what Christmas is all about.”

He steps downstage, blanket in tow, and calls out, “Lights, please.” The unseen but obedient lighting technician brings all the lights down to a single spotlight on Linus, who says:

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

“‘And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’”

Linus collects his blanket and walks back to his frustrated friend. “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Indeed it is.

The Christmas Eve service at my church tonight – a night of carols, communion, and candlelight, three of my favorite church-related “C’s” – will offer another of my favorite Christmas moments.

Everyone will be given a candle when they enter the church. After an evening of beautiful music, fun (and always entertaining) moments with the children, a moving message by my pastor, and communion, the pastor will light his candle from the large Christ candle on the stage. He will then light one of the other pastor’s candles, who will light someone else’s candle, who will light someone else’s, until the light is passed throughout the packed sanctuary. The house lights will gradually be turned out as the room is filled with the strains of “Here I Am to Worship” sung by candlelight:

Light of the world, you stepped down into darkness, opened my eyes, let me see
Beauty that made this heart adore You, hope of a life spent with You.
Here I am to worship, here I am to bow down, here I am to say that You’re my God.
You’re altogether lovely, altogether worthy, altogether wonderful to me.
Here I am to worship.

I promise you the beauty of that moment will surpass the Charlie Brown Christmas one hands down.

Each year as I watch the pastor’s single tiny flame multiply to fill the room, I’m always struck by the thought that what I am witnessing is very much like the spread of the gospel that began almost 2000 years ago.

It all started with Jesus, the light of the world, a light brighter than millions of candles. He spread His light to His apostles who, in turn, spread that light to…

…all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

And all these years later that light hasn’t died or stopped spreading.

The world was in desperate need of Jesus when He became “God with us” that night in Bethlehem. I understand that, because three-and-a-half years ago I was in desperate need. Although I was doing everything I could to hide that fact, even from myself, I still had a dark place in my life that nothing – or no one – could break through.

Well, someone could; someone did.

On June 17, 2010, Jesus shattered that darkness. He offered me a gift better than any Christmas present I’ve ever been given. It wasn’t money or fame or anything we usually count as valuable. Instead, He gave me the gift of His amazing grace, a gift I didn’t deserve, but one that changed my life – forever.

You see, Jesus purposely set aside His deity in order to become one of us. He ate, drank, and slept; worked, loved, and socialized; and faced temptation, pain, and, most significantly, death. He became the only acceptable atonement for our sin, freely providing salvation – that gift of grace – for anyone who calls on his name.

He wasn’t an unwitting martyr, a good man who accidentally got caught and punished. He unselfishly and willingly allowed himself to be put to death for me – for all of us. He was born knowing that was His role, knowing what His future held. In other words, His birth was only the beginning.

This Christmas season, don’t leave Jesus as a baby in the manger. That image is miraculous and beautiful and sweet and a key part of God’s plan, but it was just the beginning of the story of His grace and His gift of salvation through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of His son.

So tonight on a midnight clear, I will be sitting in church, singing “Silent Night” and quietly reflecting by candlelight on the baby who grew up, not only to teach me how to live, but to give me light and life – incredible, unimaginable, eternal life.

And if you know Him as your Savior then you, too, know that the best gift is yet to come.

Merry Christmas.

First-born Son

From the CLAY “Story” Series

Joseph

An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:20-21

“Young man, you wait out here.”

“But—”

“Have you ever seen a baby being born?”

“No, but—”

“No ‘buts’.” The woman scurried back through the wooden gate and disappeared into the depths of the torch-lit cave, muttering to herself as she went. “Cows everywhere—shoo!”

The young man stood helplessly outside the animal enclosure, straining to get a glimpse of what was going on inside. He reached to open the gate.

“I wouldn’t go in there if I were you.” The young man hesitated and turned toward the older man sitting on a rock next to a small fire.

And now for the rest of the story…