Thursday, December 31, 2020

A Father's Tale (Fiction)


On the night our son was born, it was odd. We thought we heard singing wafting in from the fields where the shepherds bedded. And there seemed to be lightning in the distance, unusual for the time of year.
 
From time to time, clumps of people, buzzing in excited murmurs, passed our home on the dark streets. We were curious but preoccupied with him, our son, our only child, born healthy and whole, who had come to us unexpected and late in our lives.
 
I held him, barely able to fend off the weakness of awe, cooing to him, telling him one day he and I would work together, that I would teach him all about my trade. That night I vowed I would protect him with my life. 
 
Then, mere months later, coming home after making a delivery from my shop, I found my wife sobbing, hysterical, sitting on the floor just inside the front door, holding his lifeless sword-hacked body. His throat was cut. Blood was everywhere. He was only two years old.
 
I tore my hair, threw dust in the air, and vowed revenge upon whoever was behind this. Then, realizing sounds of grieving were coming from other homes, I went out and discovered the devastating truth. We were not alone in our loss. Death drenched the village. When I learned it was Herod’s men carrying out his orders, hope drained from my body. I went back inside, held my lifeless son in my hands, and tried to comfort my wife.
 
We swaddled our son’s body and placed him in a straw-filled manger for the night and then cleaned his blood from the floor, from our hands, burned our blood-stained clothes. The next days were filled with burials and tears. For years sorrow gnawed our hearts. Everything changed.
 
Now, here I am, growing old, alone, more than thirty years later. My wife gave birth to sorrow that day and nurtured it until it killed her. She’s been gone some years now. We never had another child. She feared having to relive loss, cringing every time she heard a child’s cry.
 
I went to Jerusalem for Passover one year. There I heard rumors that taunted me. That a man some cite a savior had been passing through, doing amazing magical things. He was apparently born the same night as my son, and in Bethlehem, too. I was curious.
 
As I gathered bits and pieces about him, the oddness of that night seemed somehow connected with him. Questions nagged me. Mostly, how is it that he was alive and my son is dead? Making inquiries, what I learned disquieted me.
 
I’d been walking the streets of Jerusalem, following the news and the gossip. I heard he’d been arrested, but the charges weren’t clear. Sharing my story of loss with a local Rabbi, I was told this man is the reason for Herod’s murderous rampage so many years ago. He was suspected of being a would-be king and challenger based on stories some wandering, stargazing magi were spreading. He was the one who was supposed to die the day my son was murdered.
 
More than that, they said he was the son of a carpenter. I am a carpenter. He was as my son should be now. Alive, by my side, carrying on the trade. How is it this man lived and not my innocent son?
 
Later there was tumult in the street that leads to the hill of crucifixion, the mount of the death skull. I wasn’t sure what was going on so went to see for myself. Behold, there he was! Beaten. Bloody. Being prodded along like a sheep to slaughter, dragging a beam, the wood upon which he would be crucified.
So, he was a criminal. Herod wanted him dead decades ago and now his crimes have caught up with him, reaping what he has sown. I followed and watched with satisfaction as he winced in pain when he was raised to his death. Finally, justice for my son.
 
But then a sign was posted above his head saying he was King of the Jews. I was confused, conflicted. What is this? I asked questions of others and slowly was able to piece together a clearer picture of what was happening.
 
They said this man was a living prophecy. He was born of a virgin. He healed those who were sick, brought sight to the blind, called the dead from their tombs. From only a few fish and a loaf of bread fed thousands. Even walked on water! He has been called the Son of David, the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, son of God. Emmanuel!
 
He was not a criminal after all. He was a madman! And, so it turned out, even his followers, his so-called disciples, abandoned him. What a joke. My son and the sons of my friends died so this yokel could live? Could spread lies? Could deceive with tricks and magic and fancy words?
 
Dead! I wanted him dead! Death to the sorcerer!
 
I think of my son. See his face, fading in my memory, and know that he would not approve of my fury, my anger, my wish of death on another. What is there to gain? His mother, in the end, ravaged by grief, despair, anger, became bitterness personified. I loved her but was a little relieved when she died, finally free of the life-voiding sorrow.
 
Suddenly the sky darkened. The man cried out that it was finished. The earth quaked! A centurion standing by exclaimed that this must truly be the Son of God. Sometime later word came that the temple curtain ripped on its own. This was not normal, not any sorcery known. Everyone was gripped with fear and awe. Could it be?
 
I watched at a distance until they took him down and carried him to a tomb. Finally, he was as dead as my son. Certainly he was just a man, not anyone’s savior, right?
 
Three days later, in the morning, clumps of people buzzing in excited murmurs passed the inn where I was staying. Something was happening, had happened. I went out to the street and immediately was accosted by an excited man who shouted in my face -- “He’s alive! He’s alive!” -- and then ran off. From others passing I gathered this was about the man I had watched die on the cross. His madness apparently didn’t die with him!
 
Throughout the day and beyond, the stories came, the evidence mounted, witnesses stepped forward. Somehow a dead man came back from the grave, a tomb now empty. Others long buried also were seen around the city. If they could come back, I thought, why not my son? My wife?
 
Through more inquiries, I eventually made contact with the crucified man’s disciples. They had been in hiding, but as the resurrection news spread, they became more visible. I latched onto the group and followed them as much as I could. In the next several days, I saw and heard things that were inconceivable. I listened to all they taught and questioned them at length, trying to understand what had happened. What was happening.
 
After months of following, listening, wondering, questioning, pondering, the truth reached my heart. Not a criminal. Not a madman. Not a sorcerer. He had arisen from the dead. The evidence was undeniable, even though reality shaking. He brought a message of redemption from sins, a promise of new life, the renewal of joy, a reason for hope. The man was not just a man, but truly the Son of God.
It was a hard message to hear but it was what I needed. Finally, months later, I assented to being baptized. The brokenness inside me is shifting toward something new. Yet, I miss my son. I still don’t understand why he had to die so that this man-God could live.
 
But, in my heart, I know, I hope, one day I’ll see my son again. Maybe even my wife. Until then, I’ll share the good news I’ve received, continue being a carpenter making tables and chairs, and look forward to the return of the King.
Yet, there are days when doubts crowd faith, a faith that fights hard to keep the Truth and the promises in sight. On those days I miss my son and my wife very much. So very much.
 
And every year on his birthday, at night, I look toward the shepherd’s hill and listen, wondering if the singing will return.
 
 
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See Matthew 2:16.
Copyright © by Stephen R. Clark. All rights reserved.

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