Who is Christ the Lord?
Angels sang at his birth. Magi from the East brought gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They gave these gifts to him, and to his mother, Mary, and the man, Joseph, who claimed to be his father.
In the Temple, an old man gathered the babe in his arms. The old man said to the Lord, as he held the babe, “A light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.”
My mother told me those stories.
That was years and years ago.
Is it possible that Christ the Lord is a carpenter in the town of Nazareth, a man past thirty years of age, and one of a family of carpenters, a family of men and women and children that fill ten rooms of an ancient house, and, that in this winter of no rain, of endless dust, of talk of trouble in Judea, Christ the Lord sleeps in a worn woolen robe, in a room with other men, beside a smoking brazier? Is it possible that in that room, asleep, he dreams?
Yes. I know it’s possible. I am Christ the Lord. I know. What I must know, I know. And what I must learn, I learn.
And in this skin, I live and sweat and breathe and groan. My shoulders ache. My eyes are dry from these dreadful rainless days–from the long walks to Sepphoris through the gray fields in which the seeds burn under the dim winter sun because the rains don’t come.
I am Christ the Lord. I know. Others know, but what they know they often forget. My mother hasn’t spoken a word on it for years. My foster father, Joseph, is old now, white haired, and given to dreaming.
I never forget.
And as I fall asleep, sometimes I’m afraid–because my dreams are not my friends. My dreams are wild like bracken or sudden hot winds that sweep down into the parched valleys of Galilee.
But I do dream, as all men dream.
And so this night, beside the brazier, hands and feet cold, under my cloak, I dreamed.
I dreamed of a woman, close, a woman, mine, a woman who became a maiden who became in the easy tumult of dreams my Avigail.
I woke. I sat up in the dark. All the others lay sleeping still, with open mouths, and the coals in the brazier were ashes.
Go away, beloved girl. This is not for me to know, and Christ the Lord will not know what he does not want to know–or what he would know only by the shape of its absence.
She wouldn’t go–not this, the Avigail of dreams with hair tumbled down loose over my hands, as if the Lord had made her for me in the Garden of Eden.
No. Perhaps the Lord made dreams for such knowing– or so it seemed for Christ the Lord.
I climbed up off the mat, and quietly as I could, I put more coals into the brazier. My brothers and my nephews didn’t stir. James was off with his wife tonight in the room they shared. Little Judas and Little Joseph, fathers both, slept here tonight away from little ones huddled around their wives. And there lay the sons of James–Menachim, Isaac, and Shabi, tumbled together like puppies.
I stepped over one after another and took a clean robe from the chest, the wool smelling of the sunshine in which it had been dried. Everything in that chest was clean.
I took the robe and went out of the house. Blast of cold air in the empty courtyard. Crunch of broken leaves.
And for a moment in the hard pebbly street I stopped and looked up at the great sweep of glittering stars beyond the huddled rooftops.
Cloudless, this cold sky, and so filled with these infinitesimal lights, it seemed for a moment beautiful. My heart hurt. It seemed to be looking at me, enfolding me–a thing of kindness and witness–an immense web flung out by a single hand–rather than the vast inevitable hollow of the night above the tiny slumbering town that spilled like a hundred others down a slope between distant caves of bones and thirsting fields, and groves of olive trees.
I was alone.
Somewhere far down the hill, near the sometime marketplace, a man sang in a low drunken voice and a spark of light shone there, in the doorway of the sometime tavern. Echo of laughter.
But all the rest was quiet, without a torch to light the way.
The house of Avigail across from ours was shut up like any other. Inside, Avigail, my young kinswoman, slept with Silent Hannah, her sweet companion, and the two old women who served her and the bitter man, Shemayah, who was her father.
Nazareth did not always have a beauty. I’d seen generations of young maidens grow up, each fresh and lovely to behold as any flower in the wild. Fathers did not want their daughters to be beauties. But Nazareth had a beauty now, and it was Avigail. She’d refused two suitors of late, or so her father had done on her behalf, and there was a real question in the minds of the women of our house as to whether Avigail herself even knew the suitors had come calling.
It fell hard on me suddenly that I would sometime very soon be standing among the torchbearers at her wedding. Avigail was fifteen. She might have been married a year ago, but Shemayah kept her close. Shemayah was a rich man who had but one thing and one thing alone that made him happy, and that was his daughter, Avigail.
I walked up the hill and over the top. I knew every family behind every door. I knew the few strangers who came and went, one huddled in a courtyard outside the Rabbi’s house, and the other on the roof above where so many slept, even in winter. It was a town of day-to-day quiet, and seemingly not a single secret.
I walked down the other side of the slope until I came to the spring, the dust rising with every step I took, until I was coughing from it.
Dust and dust and dust.
Thank You, Father of the Universe, that this night is not so cold, no, not as cold as it might be, and send us the rain in Your own good time because You know that we need it.
Passing the synagogue, I could hear the spring before I saw it.
The spring was drying up, but for now it still ran, and it filled the two large rock-cut basins in the side of the hill, and spilled down in glistening streaks to the rocky bed it followed off and away into the distant forest.
The grass grew soft here and fragrant.
I knew that in less than an hour, the women would be coming, some to fill jugs, others, the poorer women, to wash their clothes here as best they could and beat them on the rocks.
But for now the spring was mine.
I stripped off the old robe and flung it down into the creek bed where the water soon filled it up and darkened it to where I couldn’t see it. I set the clean robe aside and approached the basin. With my cupped hands I bathed in the cold water, drenching my hair, my face, my chest, letting it run down my back and my legs. Yes, cast away the dreams like the old robe, and bathe them away. The dream woman has no name now and no voice, and what it was, that painful flicker when she laughed or reached out, well, that was gone, fading, like the night itself was fading, and gone too was the dust for this moment, the suffocating dust. There was only cold. There was only water.
I lay down on the far bank, opposite the synagogue. The birds had begun, and as always I’d missed the exact moment. It was a game I played, trying to hear the very first of the birds, the birds that knew the sun was coming when no one else did.
I could see the big thick palm trees around the synagogue emerging from the clump of shapeless shadows. Palms could grow in a drought. Palms didn’t care if the dust coated every branch. Palms went on as if made for all seasons.
The cold was outside me. I think my beating heart kept me warm. Then the first light seeped up over the distant bluff, and I picked up the fresh robe, and slipped it over my head. So good, this, this luxuriously clean cloth, this fresh-smelling cloth.
I lay back down again and my thoughts drifted. I felt the breeze before I heard the trees sigh with it.
Far up the hill was an old olive grove to which I loved to go at times to be alone. I thought of it now. How good it would be to lie in that soft bed of dead leaf and sleep the day away.
But there was no chance of it, not now with the tasks that had to be done, and with the village charged with new worries and new talk over a new Roman Governor come to Judea, who, until he settled in as every other Governor had done, would trouble the land from one end to the other.
The land. When I say the land, I mean Judea and Galilee as well. I mean the Holy Land, the Land of Israel, the Land of God. It was no matter that this man didn’t govern us. He governed Judea and the Holy City where the Temple stood, and so he might as well have been our King instead of Herod Antipas. They worked together, these two, Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, and this new man, Pontius Pilate, whom men feared, and beyond Jordan Herod Philip ruled and worked with them as well. And so the land had been carved up for a long, long time, and Antipas and Philip we knew, but Pontius Pilate we didn’t know and the reports were already evil.
What could a carpenter in Nazareth do about it? Nothing, but when there was no rain, when men were restive and angry and full of fear, when people spoke of the curse of Heaven on the withering grass, and Roman slights, and an anxious Emperor gone into exile in mourning for a son poisoned, when all the world seemed filled with the pressure to put one’s shoulder to it and push, well, in such a time, I didn’t go off to the grove of trees to sleep the day away.
It was getting light.
A figure broke from the dark shapes of the houses of the village, hurrying downhill towards me, one hand upraised.
My brother James. Older brother–son of Joseph and Joseph’s first wife who died before Joseph married my mother. No mistaking James, for his long hair, knotted at the back of his neck and streaming down his back, and his narrow anxious shoulders and the speed with which he came, James the Nazirite, James, the captain of our band of workers, James, who now in Joseph’s old age was head of the family.
He stopped at the far side of the little spring, mostly a broad swatch of dry stones now with the glittering ribbon of water gurgling through the center of it, and I could plainly make out his face as he stared at me.
He stepped on one big stone after another as he came across the creek to me. I had sat up and now I climbed to my feet, a common enough courtesy for my older brother.
“What are you doing out here?” he demanded. “What’s the matter with you? Why do you always worry me?”
I didn’t say anything.
He threw up his hands and looked to the trees and the fields for an explanation.
“When will you take a wife?” he asked. “No, don’t stop me, don’t put up your hand to me to silence me. I will not be silenced. When will you take a wife? Are you wed to this miserable creek, to this cold water? What will you do when it runs dry, and it will this year, you know.”
I laughed under my breath.
He went right on.
“There are two men as old as you in this town who’ve never married. One is crippled. The other’s an idiot, and everyone knows this.”
He was right. I was past thirty and not married.
“How many times have we talked about this, James?” I asked.
It was a beautiful thing to watch the growing light, to see the color coming to the palms clustered around the synagogue. I thought I heard shouting in the distance. But perhaps it was just the usual noises of a town tearing off its blankets.
“Tell me what’s really eating at you this morning?” I asked. I picked up the wet robe from the stream and spread it out on the grass where it would dry. “Every year you come to look more like your father,” I said, “but you never have your father’s face really. You never have his peace of mind.”
“I was born worried,” he confessed with a shrug. He was looking anxiously towards the village. “Do you hear that?”
“I hear something,” I said.
“This is the worst dry spell we’ve ever had,” he said, glancing up at the sky. “And cold as it is, it’s not cold enough. You know the cisterns are almost empty. The mikvah’s almost empty. And you, you are a constant worry to me, Yeshua, a constant worry. You come out here in the dark to the creek. You go off to that grove where no one dares to go...”