A Night To Remember: A grand story it was, and with the Galilean now preaching up and down the Jordan Valley, a story that was being re-told more often.
THE SUN WENT DOWN as it always did. Red and gold gave way to indigo and the white glitter of stars. Benjamin waited, as he always did, for the prosody of daylight to make way for the poetry of night – and memory.
Benjamin’s young companion, Joel, waited with him. Wondering if the older man would recite again his tale of magic and mystery.
A grand story it was, and with the Galilean now preaching up and down the Jordan Valley, a story that was being re-told more often – and not only by Benjamin.
It was about a king. A saviour born in a stable. The Messiah, no less: announced by angels; attended by Parthian wizards; hunted high and low by Herod; and welcomed into this world by shepherds. Shepherds like Benjamin – just a boy at the time.
It was a story that glowed with hope … and danger. Because the Romans crucified anyone they caught telling tales of saviours serving higher powers. The Jews already had a king, and he answered to just one higher power – the Emperor. The ruler of the universe lived in Rome – not Jerusalem.
And Rome’s yoke was a heavy one. Taxes – always more and more to pay. And woe betide the man who paid them late. Because when the Romans came collecting they always liked to leave something behind. Something to remember them by. A farmer’s body pierced by the points of their spears. A son’s face laid open by the studded soles of their sandals. A daughter’s belly swelling with the bastard child of some lecherous legionary.
Joel still carries the scars, and dreams of the day when he can repay the Romans for their kindnesses. It’s why he’s so fond of Benjamin’s tale. For when the Messiah comes and the prophecies are fulfilled Rome’s might will be as dust in the wind. The Saviour shall drive all before him. His sword will drip with the blood of the oppressor. And Israel will be free.
It’s why he still has such doubts of the Galilean: this carpenter’s son from Nazareth; this Jesus. It’s all very well to tell people that the Kingdom of God is at hand. But David’s kingdom is not about to be restored by a handful of farmers and fishermen. Rome’s legions will not be defeated by turning the other cheek.
“Describe it to me again, Benjamin. Tell me again of the Messiah’s birth.”
The old shepherd smiles into the darkness.
“Light and dark, Joel. Grandeur and humility. For a moment the veil that separates the material from the immaterial was lifted. We, the mortal creatures of time, beheld immortality: caught a glimpse of the eternal.”
“But it was a king’s birth, Benjamin. There was gold and frankincense and myrrh. Wise men from the East. You were the first to greet the Messiah: the saviour; the redeemer of Israel. You saw him.”
“I saw a mewling child still smeared with his mother’s blood. I saw three tired men: travel-stained and weeping. The air was filled with the stench of mortality, Joel. Kings are the children of kings, my young friend. But this child, this Jesus, was the Son of Man.”
“But he shall be mighty, Benjamin. He shall lead armies. He shall destroy Rome!”
The old shepherd looked up into the night sky: recalling the star’s brilliance; the angels’ shout; the pain of knowing.
“There is a kingdom greater than Israel’s, Joel. An empire larger than Rome’s. And he, the Son of Man, the blood-smeared child wrapped not in purple silk, but in the rough swaddling-cloth of a peasant girl, will lead us there.
“You look for a warrior-king. A man of might upon a white horse. But all Death’s horses are pale, Joel, and the Devil rides them.
“‘Peace on Earth’, the angels said. ‘Good will toward men’. The Galilean says it still.”
“And the Romans will kill him for it, Benjamin.”
“Yes, Joel. But he will not die.”
This short story was first published in The Dominion Post, The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 21 December 2012.
Sigh, I guess this isn't your nod to the fact that over one third of NZer's identified themselves as no religion in 2006 census.
Of those that did admit to religious inclination, a growing percentage believe some other fairy story to the one you relate.
Thank you Chris, I always enjoy your Christmas story.
And a Merry Christmas to you, too, Richard.
Merry Christmas Chris, and thanks for another year of insightful columns.
Benjamin Easton and Joel Cosgrove together out and about outside Burger King.
All we need for Christmas, a joy forever, God bless you Chris.
Well done again Chris. Your Christmas columns are always something I share with my family. Thank you.
Whether one believes or not, there is another human concept to Christmas that we can take heart from; the passing of another year, and the hope the the next year will be a better one.
And for many, Christmas is one day of the year when (most) of us can set aside the demands of work; the pressures of commercialisation (all too briefly); and simply just... relax.
It's what we once had in the Great Kiwi Weekend, befotre we got "choice" to work and shop, work and shop, work and shop, ad infinitum, thrust upon us. But never mind, that's another issue altogether.
To you, Chris, and your family, I wish you a happy Christmas and a much better New Year.
Merry Christmas, Chris!
Hope you and family have an enjoyable one! And Happy New Year!
Beauty as always Chris. And funny, innit, how the inherent contradiction of toryana is often manifest at this time of year in comments such as that from the oh-so-aptly-named Dick Christie - just before he celebrates Christmas in his own way, like the other third he mentions. Hoist by their own grasping petards, they unwittingly perpetuate - almost enforce - applied Christianity, thus hastening the demise of their own discredited god, individual Greed.
The canniest and most cynical among them recognise this and emphasise the "New year" above Love; then simply desert to Hawaii - no loss at all, in fact a welcome respite, to the mass of fair-minded optimists that share these shores and celebrate today.
All power, peace and joy to you and your whanau Chris; take your richly-deserved reward and our enduring gratitude.
“There is a kingdom greater than Israel’s, Joel. An empire larger than Rome’s. And he, the Son of Man, the blood-smeared child wrapped not in purple silk, but in the rough swaddling-cloth of a peasant girl, will lead us there."
I don't think so.
Chris, fair dinkum, do you really sign up for this soppy sentimental shite?
Actually Christmas is more than Christmas.
To avowed Christians it has meaning over and above the gathering of family friends and whanau.
It is a communal cultural festival that matters as such.
Christmas allows those of certain cultural persuasion to enjoy communal enjoyment
Celebratory occasions ought to be enjoyed.
Neo Lib Governments do no not have any belief in it, beyond helping retail sales.
(No Merry Christmas to Key, English or Treasury. There is certainly a "downside" to this frivolity. What time off from wheeling, dealing. God help us what is the country coming to?)
In between your snide ad homs you at least make one novel claim: that atheism is somehow a Tory trait.
Chris, thanks but no thanks for the Christmas wishes, I would rather prefer you simply applied your own comment guidelines even-handedly, especially from those throwing ad homs from behind aliases.
I thoroughly enjoy the political analysis in here, but could do without the sky-daddy stuff, but I realise it's your blog and was just pointing out the obvious - that not everybody buys into the big fantasy.
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