Sunday, June 25, 2017

Second Place 2014 Christmas Contest: The Birth

December 29, 2014 by  
Filed under 2014 Christmas, Contests

by John Knox

KnoxSmall


J.S. Knox has taught Bible, history, and religion for over a decade at several Christian universities in the Pacific Northwest and the East Coast, utilizing his PhD in Theology & Religion, a MATS in Christian History & Thought, and a BA in History and English to help his students more fully understand what it meant to be a Christian in the past—and why it is still relevant in the present. He currently lives in Idaho with his family.

 

The Birth

The delivery was a bad one.  The man, kneeling beside the bed that had seen the birth of six of their children, looked across at his wife’s sweaty, exhausted face and saw anguish in her eyes.  How long had she been laboring? Fifteen? Twenty hours?  He hoped it wouldn’t be much longer.

The midwife, Kifah, lit the incense in front of the quartz idol on the wooden table.  She had insisted setting up a shrine to her god in the tent for good fortune.  “Tammuz,” she had called it, an ancient god of fertility from the east.

Naamah didn’t want it there, though.  “I only believe in Yahweh.  That thing won’t help.”  But the midwife was resolute and threatened to leave without it.  Being the only healer in the region, the desperate couple had little choice.

Labor pains swept over Naamah once again, and she screamed and writhed, waiting for the contractions to stop, hoping that they would signal the end of pain and the beginning of joy.  The pair thought themselves too old to sire children—she was nearly sixty, he almost seventy–but God had made it happen despite their agedness. Still, no birth before had taken this long, nor been this painful.

Naamah’s suffering overwhelmed Onmak and he stepped outside into the night. He felt guilty leaving his wife, and he promised to be right back, but he was emotionally exhausted, trying to be brave for so long when all he felt was uneasy and fearful.

A visitor had arrived earlier in the day—a priest and old friend of Naamah’s from Macedonia. Onmak listed to him speak to the Råjan, the chieftain, about his god, Yeshua.  The chief remained quiet as the priest delivered the message of the Son of God born to set all men free. The chieftain, like Onmak, had always been taught that divine spirits inhabited the mountains, rivers–the world around them. In fact, that very month, they celebrated the winter solstice—the Bumelia—and had already decorated Aerra Jéola tree, counting down the cold, dark days until the gods released the Sun, and life began again in the land.

The priest’s message was disconcerting, though. He said that no gods existed besides his own god–Yahweh, and his son, Yeshua, and somehow they were still just one god, together.  The priest pointed to the adorned tree and said, “Instead of worshipping the forces of nature, shouldn’t you worship the One who created them all and directs their ways to our benefit, year-after-year?  You should be celebrating the birth of the one who brings a true, eternal gift—not some imaginary, detached superstitious being.”

At the end of the priest’s homily, the chieftain rose and said, “You have given us all much to think about, priest. I will sleep now and listen to what the universe tells me in my dreams.”  The two shook hands, and they (along with the rest of the tribe) shuffled off to their tents for the night.

Onmak had listened to Naamah talk to him many times before about Yeshua, but he had never embraced the story.  He didn’t want to upset her or the gods (or the tribe), but Yahweh seemed so different than the tribe’s god–Narfi. Naamah and the priest’s deity actually seemed to care about human beings, but Onmak felt the gods just tolerated humanity on the earth.  It seemed pointless to pray to them sometimes, seeing how fickle and cruel they could be, in life and death. He wondered what the chieftain would say to the priest in the morning.

His pondering was interrupted by Kifah, who called to him from inside the tent.  “Onmak! Come now–Naamah needs you!” He spun around, and taking a deep breath, he darted inside. The stoic midwife sat beside his unconscious wife on the bed, wiping Naamah’s brow.  Naamah looked so pale; Onmak asked, “Is she alright?” Not looking at him, Kifah replied, “Yes, she will be fine.”

Onmak noticed a blanket wadded up on Naamah’s lap and asked, “Is that our child? Is it a boy or a girl?”

Kifah shook her head. “Tammuz chose to not breathe into his spirit. You should remove it before Naamah wakes up.”

His heart in shock, Onmak bent down and kissed his wife’s forehead before gently picking up the lifeless bundle. Walking outside, he moved the blanket to see the face of his baby boy, looking so sweet and innocent. Sorrow fell upon Onmak like a giant oak, and he dropped to his knees in front of the decorated tree. He pulled the child close to his chest and rocked him, weeping for his son and his wife. Until that moment, he never knew how much he loved the child for the promise of hope that it brought him.

Lifting his son up to the sky, Onmak cried, repeating again and again, “Yahweh!  Help us, Father! Help us, Father,” knowing the other gods were useless.  He stopped when he felt a hand on his shoulder; Naamah had come to his side.

“You shouldn’t be here,” he said, wiping the tears from his face.

“Where else would I be, my love?” she replied, hugging him and her lifeless son. The three stayed there, lost in embrace, engulfed by the night.

Their mourning was soon overtaken by a spirited wind coursing through the village and swirling around the tree and the family beside it. A zephyr picked up embers from the campfire and spun around them like fireflies in the summer night.  Louder and louder it grew. Naamah and Onmak stared at the magical scene, amazed-but-clinging tighter to each other, fearful of being taken up by the glowing winds.

Just when they thought all was lost, bit-by-bit, the howling of the storm abated, until all they could hear was the miraculous cry of the baby-boy in their arms–a divine gift for hoping against hope for life in the darkness of their world.

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