Sermon for December 1st, 2019
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
The Friendly Beasts: A Donkey's Tale
"I, said the donkey, shaggy and brown, I carried His mother uphill and down, I carried His mother to Bethlehem town; I, said the donkey, shaggy and brown..."
What? Well I *used* to be shaggy and brown! What do you expect? That was 33 years ago. I'm not exactly a young donkey anymore. But I still carry my weight. And today...TODAY! I will carry HIM again today! I don't know how he found me, after 33 years. He couldn't possibly have remembered me...he was just a baby. And when his family left for Egypt, I did not carry him, or his mother then. I stayed here in Bethlehem. I had my own family, my own son--my own foal, the son of a donkey.
I heard that He eventually came back, but not to Bethlehem. To Nazareth, his parents' home. My parents' home, and the place where our journey began.
Our journey began...hmmmphh...you know, I'm telling you my life story here, so I should probably introduce myself first. I am a donkey, or as you might also say in your language, an ass. There are many donkeys in my country, Israel. And there are many names for my kind: פֶּ֫רֶא (pereh); חֲמוֹר (Chamor); עַ֫יִר (ayir); עִירָא (ira).
As I have said already, I am not עַ֫יִר (ayir). That is a young ass. My son, he is still עַ֫יִר (ayir), but I am old now. Neither am I פֶּ֫רֶא (pereh). That is a wild ass. I make my living carrying things, carrying people. I am not פֶּ֫רֶא (pereh). And I am certainly not חֲמוֹר (Chamor)--חֲמוֹר is a dumb ass. If I were חֲמוֹר, would I be here talking to you, in your language? No, I am עִירָא (ira)-- a smart ass. We עִירָא, we see much. We know much. We remember much. We...say much. Sometimes maybe too much.
I come from a long line of עִירָא. My great, great, great, great grandfather...he was עִירָא--and not just a smart ass, but a wise ass, too. He belonged to a great man, named Balaam. Balaam was a נָבִיא, a prophet. One day, Balaam was running away from God, and my grandfather was carrying him.
(You think I'm saying too much, that this is not part of the story, but it is!)
My grandfather was carrying Balaam when an agel of YHWH appeared in the path, carrying a sword. Balaam did not see the angel, but my grandfather--he was עִירָא, he could see things--he stopped and would not go forward. Balaam grew angry, and he beat my grandfather, no doubt thinking grandfather was just חֲמוֹר (Chamor), a dumb ass. A stubborn ass. But my grandfather was עִירָא (ira), he could say things, and so he turned to Balaam and said with his voice, "What have I ever done to you, that you would strike me this way?" And then the angel appeared to Balaam as well, and told Balaam that if his donkey, my grandfather, had not stopped in the path, the angel surely would have killed Balaam.
Balaam was nicer to my grandfather after that. And Balaam became a great נָבִיא, a mighty prophet who spoke of many things to come. One day, YHWH gave to Balaam a vision of a man who would come to save his people. Balaam said:
"I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near—a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel."
My grandfather--he was עִירָא, he could see things, and say things...but he could also listen, and remember...and know. He heard the words of Balaam, the words about a מָשִׁיחַ, a messiah, and a star. He spoke these words to his son, who spoke them to his son, who spoke them to his son, who spoke them to his son, who spoke them to me. A star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.
My father belonged to a man named Yoseph, a carpenter. My father carried Yoseph's tools, his lumber and his heavy stones for building. Yoseph and my father worked hard for many years, but Yoseph was good to him; he was kind to us. I think that is how I came to carry Miryam on our long journey.
One day, after a long day's work, Yoseph said to my father (my father was עִירָא, he could hear things) , "My friend, I must travel to Bethlehem, to the land of my fathers, to be registered. Miryam is great with child, and she cannot walk. We must prepare for the journey."
Now my father was עִירָא (ira), but he was not עַ֫יִר (ayir) anymore, not a young ass. In those days, he was tired, but he was proud. And so when the day came, my father was ready. Up before the sun, he said his goodbyes to me and my mother. Yoseph led him to Miryam, and placed her upon his back. They set out, but before they had gone five paces, it happened. We all saw it, though we all pretended not to. My father...stumbled. It was a small stumble. Miryam, even great with child, was not a heavy load. My father continued down the road a few more paces...and then he stumbled again.
Across the road, I saw the shame and embarassment in his face. My mother looked away, as my father came to a stop. I remembered the story of Balaam--maybe there was an angel in the road? But I am עִירָא (ira), too. I could see what my father could see. There was no angel. My father was tired. And sad. I wondered if Yoseph would beat my father, would drive him on, like a חֲמוֹר (Chamor)?
But Yoseph knelt down, and spoke to my father. עֲמִיתִ֔י (Amiti), "my friend," he said. Do not look so downcast. These last few months have been lean ones, and I have worked you too hard. I am sorry, עֲמִיתִ֔י. What can we do?" There on the ground, Yoseph put his face in his hands.
Something in that small act of kindness and desperation, stirred inside me. I was moved love for Yoseph, for Miryam, and for my proud father. And so I ran to him. I stood beside him, as tall and as proud as a young עַ֫יִר (ayir) could be. I said to my father, and to Yoseph, and to Miryam, "I will carry her, father. I will make the journey. Let your burdens become my burdens, father. I will make you proud."
And I could see through the surprise in his eyes, that he already was. Yoseph helped Miryam to the ground, and then onto my back. She was not heavy, and I stood tall, even though...I was scared. But my mother, she smiled. Yoseph laughed, and said, "Yes, I think this one will do."
My father nuzzled me, and said, "Go my son...and remember that you are עִירָא (ira). Listen. See. Remember. Know. Speak. And may YHWH himself walk alongside you."
I think that YHWH must have walked beside me. It was a long journey, and I grew tired many times, but I never stumbled. I never complained. Yoseph and Miryam were kind, even when Miryam's pains grew worse. After many days, we came at last to Bethlehem, and as we drew near the city so did many other people. Many other creatures, donkeys too! פֶּ֫רֶא (pereh); חֲמוֹר (Chamor); עַ֫יִר (ayir); עִירָא (ira), all of them, and more people than I could have imagined in the world, all coming to Bethlehem.
Yoseph sensed my fear, and comforted me with a strong hand on my side. He comforted Miryam, too. It was her time now, and the child was coming soon. I tried to be calm for her, and for the child.
That night we went from house to house, looking for somewhere to stay. Always the doors closed, and now it was Yoseph's turn to be frightened. At last we found a welcoming house, and Yoseph took me to the stable behind the house, with the other animals. I thought he would leave me there, but he stayed. Miryam stayed too. And there...in that stable...the child was born. They called him Yeshua. YHWH helps us. YHWH saves us.
That night a star appeared in the sky above the stable. I think it frightened the other animals. But it did not frighten Yoseph or Miryam. It did not frighten me. I am עִירָא (ira). I remember my father's words. Listen. See. Remember. Know. Speak.
I listened to the naming of the child, Yeshua. I saw his star in the sky. I remembered the prophecy of Balaam. And I knew...I knew that little Yeshua was מָשִׁיחַ, the promised messiah. I am עִירָא (ira). We know much. But for once in my life...as I watched Yoseph, Miryam, and Yeshua in the stable that night, in the peaceful light of Jacob's star...for once in my life, this עִירָא (ira) was...speechless.
Well, that was many years ago. I still listen, and often I hear stories about Yeshua--a great man now, who does great things. I have watched for him all these years, and today...TODAY! He remembered me. Somehow, he found me, and today I will carry him again, into the great city of Jerusalem. My son will come with me--Perhaps I will stumble a little bit, then let him carry Yeshua, too. I am certain that YHWH himself will walk alongside us.
May YHWH himself walk alongside you too, on all of your journeys. And may you, too, always listen. See. Remember. Know. Speak. And sometimes...in the beautiful light of the מָשִׁיחַ, may you be speechless, too.