“Who is the Loner?
Jesus has already suffered the ultimate crucifixion. Rising again causes fear in the heart of the king, jealous of any arrival of a so-called new king.
Jerusalem is in utter mayhem, crowded with soldiers and stampeding horses, a complete panic. They arrest those who believe in Jesus, and imprison them under a death sentence by Saul of Tarsus. He zealously persecutes the church seizing men and women called the ‘followers’ or ‘Christians’ for causing an uproar. The uproar, telling people about Jesus Christ the One many speak of who was dead and His body stolen. The Christians however, faithful to Jesus, know better.
Early one dusky morning, a man saunters down a steep, stone staircase leading into a cold, underground prison where the walls seep of water. A retched lingering scent reeks of death throughout the dark, damp, and brisk prison. Its walls hold the memory of those dying having perished inside the grey and black encumbrance.
At the end of the stairs sits a wooden chair and a small, round table where a candle drips of wax and remains lit. The only light illuminates throughout the dark prison. The man passes by the cells to the right and left, holding men and women who will soon die for their crimes. Their only crime is preaching Jesus Christ. The prisoners sing songs to the Lord while many others pray and fearfully eye the man who passes their cell. Thoughts prick their mind, Am I next? His armor clinks and his sandals sweep across the hard, stone floor until he finally stops at the last cell of the prison. Disdainfully, he looks down on one prisoner.
“Woman, I have what you sent for.” Abruptly and callously speaking, there stands the prison guard dressed in red and gold armor. He leers at the young woman through the cell bars. She lies on a bed of hay; she tucks her legs tightly to her bosom. She crosses her arms in sleep. Struggling to keep warm, her eyes barely open from sheer exhaustion.
The woman of fair complexion snuggles with a head wrap. She wears an off-white gown with a color, stripe sash. In an unlit cell lying in a puddle of putrid water, her hair shines like the sun, in long ringlets. Her sky blue eyes distract from the visible dirt and grime staining her body and clothing.
Swiftly standing to her feet, she staggers toward the guard who holds, in his rough hands, a thick stack of parchments along with a pen.
“Well? Do not look as if you did not send for them, woman. Just take them!” The guard is irate at the woman’s hesitation.
“Given the charges, you are very fortunate to have been allowed these parchments!” He stomps a foot.
“I am sorry, sir. I just-”
“Well, take these parchments and your pen! I do not see what is so important to write about since you will be put to death in several days! Today you were arrested and brought here, along with every other Christian! And, you have a request to make? Well, what should I do about the requests of all the others in here? Just look around,” He points his thick, dirty finger around the prison.
Her eyes are barely able to make out the silhouettes of dozens of men and women in their cells. Some quietly cry, while others sit in chains and shackled to the wall. Their heads hang to their chests in agony unable to catch a breath. It is a cruel and drawn out punishment; they suffer gradually until their ultimate doom perhaps days, hours, or minutes later. Others cough profusely. Many huddle together and shiver desperate to stay warm. For everyone here, this is the only hell on earth they will ever know. As soon as they close their eyes exhaling their last breath, they will be with Jesus. That is the only joy that encourages them.
Tears fill the woman’s eyes as the guard bellows a triumphant chuckle mocking the woman, his arms cross vindictively.
“Keep quiet over there!” He scowls at the others. Some of them gasp and sniffle frightened by the jailer as they quiet their tears hastily.
“Sir, my body may be dead on this earth, but I will not be dead!” The woman boldly states. “I will be in heaven with the Messiah, Jesus Christ! He has risen! Soon, I will see Him again, face to face.”
“Yes…we will,” One of the prisoners courageously blurts.
“I will too,” another voice speaks up repeated by many others echoing throughout the prison walls. The voices resound with faith and conviction. Their lives full of encouragement, and service to Jesus.
“Yes, I will meet my Lord in heaven.” “I will be there too!” “And me! I saw Him and supped with Him, after He rose!” The prisoners bellow one at a time.
“Quiet! Or else I will come in there, and beat every last one of you!” He threatens.
Those in their cells silence their voices. However, one remains vigilant.
“You may beat this body and take my life, but you will never take my soul!” The young woman defiantly proclaims, as her blue eyes pierce into the jailer’s very soul.
The so-called Christians begin clapping their hands rejoicing while others cry out. The testimony of the followers resonates in the ears of the jailer. He grows irate by their uprising. His face is glossy, and a prickly beard fits his harsh demeanor. He reaches to his side and draws his sword from its sheath. The sword sends just the right reflection onto the walls from the lit candle; it frightens the prisoners. The claps swiftly fade as he purposely runs the sword over the bars of the woman’s cell, one at a time.
*Clink* clink* clink*
The sound rings through the gloomy prison.
Determined not to be afraid, she takes a deep breath. Her blue eyes innocently gaze into his with conviction. Pausing, from the outburst of anger, his face softens. He furrows his brow and purses his lips.
“You really are not crazy, are you? You truly do believe what you have just proclaimed, do you not?”
The woman readily smiles at him as if he is merely a friend. “Yes I do, sir. Jesus loves you! And you can come to heaven with me if you like. I can tell you all about-”
“Enough of this!” The jailer hisses, he presses his tongue against his front teeth snarling at the woman’s remark. Inconsiderately, he squeezes the parchments and pen between the thick metal bars and disdainfully tosses them onto the cell ground covering them with filth, and moisture. He quickly stomps off leaving the heart of the prison and slamming the door at his exit.
“OHhh, you are one of those followers of Jesus, are you not? Well, did you not know? He was crucified not long ago?” An old man asks from a cell next to hers.
Kneeling on one knee, the woman gathers the parchments into her hands and wipes the grime onto her clothes.
“Yes, He was, sir, but did your king also tell you the body is missing? It is because He is alive. Resurrected, just as He said. I saw Him, and ate with Him, and watched as He ascended into heaven. He instructed us all to look up and wait for His return!” The woman joyfully declares.
“With a story like that, it is no wonder you need the parchments. It was simply some crazy disciples stealing his body, nothing more, woman,” The man shrugs.
“I heard that rumor as well,” The woman gazes up through the murkiness of the prison catching a glimpse of the old, thin man lying on his side. Moving his fingers through his thick, white beard, he wheezes and coughs profusely. It appears the only thing holding him together is the skin on his frail, wrinkly body. Yet somehow, he has enough strength to speak.
“I believe you….I believe He was a great teacher,” His voice gentle yet raspy, and grows faint from apparent sickness setting into his brittle body.
Picking up the pen, she holds the parchments tightly to her bosom and nestles back onto the scattered hay. “He was much more than that, sir, oh, much more than that,” She exhales recalling His face.
The old man wraps his fingers around the bars of the cell and scoots himself forward with intrigue at the young woman who seems like a radical in his old eyes. It’s something he is not accustomed to seeing.
“My name is John of Samaria. I was arrested for stealing a loaf of bread when there was a mad panic in the city. I fled in fear when the narrow streets were suddenly filled with soldiers. I was certain they were coming for me. They were armed. When they encircled a group of men and women, I was mistaken as one of them. A Christian, like you appear to be. They proclaimed we were under arrest, by order of Saul of Tarsus. We were seized in chains, and brought down here. The others arrested are also as you, followers of the Man, Christ. So, I shall be put to death, with all of you, BUT I am not a follower of Jesus. I believe I will die in this cell before being stoned by Saul of Tarsus. Perhaps, death is better than the life of thievery I have led,” Resting his head on the cold, stone ground, the man tells his tale.
“I too was brought here by Saul of Tarsus. It is the way of the world now. A mad epidemic of sin, where they believe justice is being served by putting us to death for our beliefs when they know not the truth. Their hearts and souls refuse to accept what their eyes have seen, and yet it just happened. It was not so long ago that He came into this earth as a man, and was crucified. He…He was so much more than that, as I have said. He was more than I could be and it appears now…more than I will ever be.”
John shivers from the cold and drafty conditions of the prison but does not mind speaking with the young woman, who is delightful.
“And what is your name, woman?” His teeth chatter uncontrollably.
The woman sets the parchments onto the ground. “My name is Angelica, Angelica of Bethlehem,” She answers and takes the wrap from her head and gives it lovingly to the old man. “The jailer allowed me to keep this blue wrap out of kindness.”
“Kindness? That jailer does not have an ounce of kindness in his body,” He wheezes. Taking the garment through the bars, he drapes it around his body shaking his head.
“Well, he seemed kind at that moment. The wrap is special. It was given to me by a woman. This woman showed me love, in the midst of her pain: A woman with an issue of blood.”
“An issue of blood?” John, the thief, inquisitively questions his new found, cellmate. “Woman… I mean, Angelica. What are the parchments for?”
She solemnly glances down at the parchments and pen knowing their divine purpose. “This bed of hay, the smell is…oh so familiar. You see, I know I will die here very soon. They will take me out into the courtyard. And Saul of Tarsus will be there, along with a large, angry mob. He will ask me once more if I want to deny Jesus or die. I will answer, the only thing I can say. ‘I have lived every day for Jesus, and now I will die for Him. Saul of Tarsus, I have prayed for you since the day I was arrested and placed in chains. My prayer is this, that one day as you believe you are doing your service, the Lord Jesus will reveal Himself to you. I will die now on this earth, but I will not be dead. I will forever be with Jesus.’ Then I imagine the mob will grow more wrathful for innocent blood, and they will drag me outside the city gates and surround me. Then one by one, they will stone me until there is no life left in this body. The parchments, dear sir, are to tell the story of why the blue wrap is so very dear to my heart, and why this hay in my cell has a story of its own. A story that I pray will ring into the hearts and ears of all who hear it,” Angelica grips her pen firmly as she ponders.
“Angelica, as you write your story, will you read it to me? Every word while I am here. I want to know this passion you have that will surely end your life. The passion for this Man named Jesus.”
Angelica beams from ear to ear as she begins to write onto the first parchment. She begins to read aloud to John. With the expectation of falling fast asleep, it engrosses him instead. He listens to her sweet, pleasant voice. From the very first words she speaks, something begins drawing John in.
“An Angelic Night”
“It was 4 B.C. in Bethlehem of Judea where my father Phillip was a simple innkeeper. Stout, with a large belly and very strong, he has blue eyes like mine, which is extremely rare for a Jew in Bethlehem. He kept the inn to provide for my mother Beth who was with child, and unknowingly about to have an early birth. My mother was a petite woman with long, curly, brown hair, and the face of an angel. She and my father loved each other very much. The last time I spoke to him, he still expressed his undying love for her. Being together as a family was all they had hoped for.
“This night was different from other nights at the inn because, quite unexpectedly, it was full. Usually, at that time of year, my father said we had rooms available. But this night was very peculiar. People arrived all night in search for a place to stay but, there was no room left in the inn.
“The inn of my father was very large. There were five extra rooms beside mine, and my mother, and father’s, which adjoined to the inn. I can still see the large dining area and sitting room. It is where we spent countless hours together. All were built by my grandfather, who has since been laid to rest. It was a cozy inn, and the guests who stayed with my mother and father always expressed how much it felt like home, during their stay.
“The guests were served hot bread and cheese with wine and fruit. I can still smell the freshly baked bread and hear the sweet voice of my father calling me to the dinner table. Oh the laughs we had together. My father could make me laugh and laugh.
“My mother and father were very content when the guests were satisfied. But, their happiness ended that night as they continued to send others away, for lack of room. The only place left was a stable where the animals slept. And no one wanted to lodge in a stable.
“Sitting on a chair in our kitchen, my mother held her bulging belly knowing full well, something was wrong. She was in her seventh month and the physician said she was in good health, even after complaining of headaches.
“Father is a bit delirious trying to run the inn while keeping his eye on my mother. She slowly moves onto the bed for comfort placing her hands on her belly. Feeling the weight of the child pressing into her ribs, she quietly prays, ‘Lord if it be your will that I should live, please let me live. But, if I die, please watch over my child, with Your ever watchful eyes.’”
“Beth, it will be okay. I sent the stable boy to get the physician. He should be here soon,” The expectant, nervous father calls.
“Something is wrong, Phillip. I can feel it. Oh God help me!” Suddenly, a gush of water pours onto the bed as Phillip rushes to his wife’s side.
Beth begins breathing and gasping trying to cope with the pain of birth. She grips at her gown. There is a sudden knock at the door. Phillip wipes the sweat from his brow, with the cloth in his hand. He hurriedly places a bowl of water on a small table near the bed of his wife; it will surely cool her down.
“Good! That must be him, Beth. Now-now don’t you worry…it-it will be okay, my wife. You just lay there.”
With a worrying pain in his heart sinking deep into his chest, he runs toward the door expecting to see the face of the physician. Here he is!
It dismays and surprises him as he gazes upon a young man strong in stature, and standing at the door, also seemingly desperate. Who is this now? Phillip thinks as he peculiarly eyes the stranger up and down.
“Well? What is it, sir! My wife is with child, and I have no time for this! The inn is full!” He exclaims snapping at the young man.
The anxious young man seems to share Phillip’s feelings of worry while catching his breath. “Please, sir, are you the innkeeper?” Hesitantly, he speaks softly.
“Yes, yes, sir, that is me, and I am sorry if you are here for a room. I have run out tonight, as I said, and quite unexpectedly. It seems we are overcrowded as it is!” Phillip exclaims excitedly.
“Oh, so there is no place here? Well, I need a place to go, you see, I have a-”
“Sir, I am sorry. You appear like a nice young man. I would allow you to stay here, with my wife and myself, but she is about to give birth. We are waiting for the physician right now!”
“Your wife is about to give birth? Sir, please, is there not anything? My wife has been riding on the donkey all day, and she is about to give birth as well!” The young man is afraid and tries to keep his composure he wipes the sweat from his eyes with the end of his head wrap.
Phillip furrows his brow skeptical at the young man’s truthfulness. “Well, where is she?” Phillip asks testing the man.
“Over here, sir!”
The young man grabs onto Phillip’s shirt yanking him out of his house in a panic. There, an even younger woman sits upon a donkey. Phillip’s eyes widen gazing at her large belly. The agony on her face shows the young man is telling the truth. She is in labor, and the desperate young stranger will take anything the innkeeper can provide.
“Sir, is this your wife? Are you responsible for this young woman?” Phillip asks glaring and pointing his finger at the woman.
“She is my wife, sir. Please! Is there not a single place we can go, in Bethlehem? My wife, Mary, needs to lie down. For tonight, she will have our baby!”
Phillip pats the young man on the shoulder and smiles reassuringly. His heart fills with compassion. “I have only one place, and it will have to do. Wait here, I will return.”
With alarm, Phillip runs back into his house and rifles through his belongings. The only clothes he can find are white swaddling clothes, which he grasps quickly.
“I will be right back, Bethy!” Phillip hollers taking hold of a lantern and makes haste outside while some in the inn begin to fall asleep.
“This way! Please hurry, I must be with my wife!”
As they walk, a bright star unexpectedly settles in the sky over the stable. It is the most beautiful star Phillip has ever seen.
“It seems I do not even need the lantern. The strange star above is keeping our little town well-lit outside,” Phillip mentions.
Bringing them into the stable, Phillip guides the young man who carries his wife in his arms. “Now, this is all I have. I do apologize. But given the conditions, it will have to do. I laid out new hay, and the stable boy cleaned it today. If you need anything else I will try to help you. I can inform the physician when he arrives to check on you. Is that acceptable?” Phillip hurriedly questions thinking of his own wife.
The animals in the stable are very restless from the noise and laughter in the inn, but as the young man lays his wife on the bed of hay, the animals instantly and silently sleep in tranquility.
“That is odd. They have been noisy all night long. Not able to get to sleep because as I said, tonight is an unusual night, with all the extra guests at the inn.”
“Thank you, sir. This will be fine,” The young man says kneeling by his wife.
“Thank you, sir.” The young woman says. Her glowing face remains joyful in the midst of the pain of labor.
“I will leave this lantern with you, in case you may need it. My name is Phillip, and I will be next door in the house, by the inn. Now excuse me. My wife is in need of not only our physician but me by her side.”
“I am Joseph. Thank you, Phillip. May God bless you for your compassion.”
Phillip sets the lantern on the ground near a wooden manger, and sprints back to the inn. As he rushes to his house, he notices that the star maneuvers directly over the stable, shining brightly above where the couple lodges.
Phillip steps onto his porch and bumps into the physician holding his medical bag in hand.
“Ah, Phillip, Beth is in labor?” The physician scratches his chin, through his white beard, as Phillip nods his head. “Phillip, I must warn you, she is two months early, and we must be prepared. The child may not be born alive. And your wife well, she may not ma….” The physician pauses, noticing Phillip’s attention is toward the nearby hills.
“What do you make of that?”
The physician lifts his eyes and wrinkly brows toward the hills. The unusual, bright, flickering lights in the sky shines brilliantly up on the hillside. Suddenly, the lights flash like lightning across the heavens. A beautiful, angelic sound pierces through the night sky resounding radiantly.
“Glory to God in the highest!”
“Have you ever seen anything so…?” The incredible sight disappears as the declaration silences. “Bethy! Come, physician, come!” Phillip shouts.
Phillip calmly catches his breath and orders the young stable boy home. Phillip and the physician step into the house. A long night is ahead of them, perhaps.
“Phillip, let us see how Beth is doing.”
As the people in the inn settle down for the night, a great miracle emanates, and two births take place, one prophetic.
“Ugh!” Anguish fills her face, Beth grunts making one final push. Her gown soaks with blood, and she drips of perspiration. Her heart beats faint and weak.
The room is lit by a lantern that sits on the table near the bed. Phillip rubs her face using a cloth with pink stains and repeatedly dips it into a bowl of cold water. The cry of a newborn babe fills the room with relief and sudden joy.
“It is a girl, Phillip! Beth, it is a beautiful girl! It is a miracle! She made it!” The physician bellows to Phillip who lovingly strokes his wife’s exhausted head with the back of his hand.
The physician sits in a chair at the end of the bed as he pulls the crying baby out. Holding her up by the feet, he wraps her in swaddling clothes and hands her to Phillip. Tears of joy slide down Phillip’s chubby cheeks. The naked, precious baby continues to cry in Phillip’s arms.
“Oh, Beth, she has your nose and my eyes. Do you want to see her?” The proud new father cradles his daughter close.
“Ah Phillip and Beth, she is beautiful. Her face is so angelic, like an angel. She is a couple of pounds shy of what she should be, but nothing nursing could not cure,” The physician proudly states.
Beth smiles, she lifts her head gazing at her baby. But, her joy soon turns grim and sorrowful as she lies back onto the bed. Her legs stained with blood are in the birthing position. The blood suddenly seeps through the linen at an alarming rate catching the physician’s immediate attention; a great concern rises.
“Beth? Beth!” The physician horrifically screams at the new mother who unexpectedly loses consciousness.
“She is beginning to hemorrhage at a dreadful rate!” Beth’s body weakens and is unable to hold her legs up any longer. Phillip lingers. He is unable to look away from the sudden, fragile state of his wife. His smiles turn to concern and fear fills his eyes.
“Physician, what is wrong?” He hollers frantically over the screaming baby.
“Phillip, wait in the other room,” The physician beckons.
“Tell me what is wrong!”
“Not now, Phillip! In the other room…please!”
The physician tries to save Beth as Phillip steps out of the room and closes the door. Fear consumes him and fills Phillip’s eyes with tears. He paces around the room for minutes, which seem like hours. His heart pounds, and his mind races in a hundred different directions yet he tries to remain calm placing all of his trust in the physician, an old, trusted, family friend.
My Bethy will make it. I know she will. He thinks. But, what if she doesn’t? What is taking the physician so long? The tears drip from his lashes.
Finally, in the doorway stands the physician. He is wiping the blood off his hands and arms with a clean cloth. His face is grief-stricken, heartbroken for the new father and friend who looks back at him with anticipation.
“Phillip?” He says with a low and tender voice pushing his glasses up to his eyes. “Phillip, she was just too weak. There was nothing I could do…I could not stop the bleeding. I-I am so sorry, Phillip.”
“Oh Lord, no! Not my Bethy!” Handing the baby to the physician, he rushes into the room where his wife lay dead and covered, with a clean blanket.
“Oh, Bethy, you did not even get to hold our baby.” He caresses the side of her soft skin one last time, but it is no use…she is gone.
“My father lost my mother and gained a daughter all in one night. He did not know what to do. The night I was born, a nursemaid was not to be found at that hour; at least one my father did not think to ask.”
Phillip exits the bedroom. His face red, from the many tears shed. Taking the sleeping babe in his arms, he holds his new child and gazes at her face with gladness of heart. I will love this baby forever. Until the day I die.
“At least I have a piece of my wife. She would have been so proud of our child,” Phillip says cuddling his new baby as he touches her tiny fingers and hands.
“I am sure she would have, Phillip. Now, I know this is difficult, but would you like me to make the burial arrangements, and find a nursemaid for your daughter?”
Phillip kisses his daughter’s precious head of brown, curly hair. “I think that would be fine, sir, and…I thank you for all you have done.”
It dismays the physician who lowers his bald head.
“The Lord bless you, and your daughter. Now, Phillip, if there is nothing else, I will go and make the arrangements. I know it is customary for the family, but given the conditions…”
“I know this, physician, and I appreciate you taking care of them for me. You are more than family to me…and my wife. Also, physician, I have one more thing to ask. There was a young couple, with nowhere to go tonight. I allowed them to stay in my stable. His young wife is with child. I fear she might have given birth without help. Will you go look in on her? I told her husband, Joseph, that I would ask you to visit, to see if all is well. They may need your assistance.”
“Yes, of course, Phillip. I would be pleased to help. Goodnight, Phillip,” He pats his shoulder with a sullen sigh.
“Goodnight, physician…” His voice trails off as he glares at his precious child now peacefully sleeping.
The physician leaves the house of Phillip, tears dripping from his face. As he heads toward the stable down the dirt path, lit by that same star in the east, the physician observes a group of men surrounding its entrance. Shepherds, with staffs in their hands, kneel which naturally intrigues the skeptical physician. Scratching his chin through his white, straggly beard with his thin fingers, he ponders. Who are all of these men? Why are they here?
The smell of livestock grows stronger as he moves closer. Suddenly, he stumbles into what are many sheep outside the stable. Rubbing his eyes, from exhaustion, he views a large flock quietly sleeping. The physician makes his way through and approaches the first shepherd who is standing on the tip of his toes trying to peek over a taller shepherd directly in front of him. Patiently, he waits for a glimpse of what is inside the stable. But, what is it he is trying to see?
“Excuse me, sir? Why are they bowing their knees?” The physician touches one of the man’s shoulders.
As the shepherd faces the physician, his eyes are glassy and welling up with tears. He is peacefully rejoicing in his heart.
“I am…well, we are all here to see the Child whom the angel spoke of.”
“Angel? What is this madness you speak about? I have lived in Bethlehem my whole life and never in all my days have I heard of angels here?” The physician shrugs in denial. His white hair blows in the cool breeze of the evening.
“Sir, I tell you it is not madness. There we were, on a hillside keeping watch over our flocks by night. When suddenly, a bright light brighter than anything I have ever seen, shone down upon us from the night sky. Then an angel appeared and spoke to us saying, ‘Fear not. Do not be afraid. I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the City of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign to you: You will find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.’ Then a multitude joined the angel and began to say ‘Glory to God in the Highest and on earth, peace, good will toward men.’ So we departed to the City of David, Bethlehem. We saw a star and knew this must be the place. Assuredly, it is what the angel spoke. See how He sleeps?”
The shepherd points his forefinger as the physician squeezes through the many that gather around. He remembers the distraction Phillip was drawn to on this miraculous night. Could this be what Phillip had seen, the bright lights and sound?
There a young woman lay peacefully on a bed of hay. Her husband kneels gently touching the baby asleep in the manger.
The silence of every donkey, sheep, and goat fascinates the physician. “In all my years, I have never seen a baby such as this until today. It is a miracle,” The physician whispers as he kneels to one knee near Joseph.
“Is this your Son?” He whispers.
“He is the Son of the living God, and mine to nurture,” Joseph replies.
“Did your wife have a problem with the birth?”
“No, amazingly enough, once the labor pains came on she gave birth shortly thereafter. It was hard, but God was watching out for both of us.”
The physician gently reaches his hand and touches the Babe. He sleeps on the hay in a manger. White, swaddling clothes, Phillip left earlier, wraps around Him.
“He looks well,” The physician stares at Joseph then back at the Babe. “Do you mind if I check His health?”
“No, please,” Joseph picks up the new baby Boy, and carefully places Him in the arms of the physician who checks Him thoroughly.
“I see nothing wrong with Him. He is healthy and very peaceful. Hmm…” The physician sniffles. “I have this strange sense of joy as I hold Him,” The physician leans into the Babe and kisses Him on the forehead. Clearing his throat, he hands the Babe back to Joseph who carefully lays Him inside the manger.
“Most assuredly, He is the most beautiful baby Boy I have ever seen. This is a night for births. Earlier, the innkeeper and his wife had their first child. She is so angelic, quite beautiful in fact.”
“I am pleased everything went well. How is the innkeeper, Phillip?” Joseph whispers.
The physician sadly shakes his head. “Oh, Joseph, Phillip will be rejoicing over his new child, but mourning over his wife, in the same night.”
Joseph’s countenance sinks in deep concern. “How tragic…please send him our deepest regret…and congratulations. Please, his heartache must be so deep, yet he was the only one willing to give my wife and I solace and shelter. For that, I pray God bless him,” The young father says sincerely.
“That is very kind, and I will tell him word for word what you have said.” The physician replies.
The physician rises to his feet making certain that Mary is at rest, with no complications. He then leaves the stable in awe and belief at the happenings he has just witnessed.
The physician knocks on Phillip’s door hearing the baby cry. The door swings wide open to a very shaky, new father standing on the threshold trying to comfort his baby. Relief hits.
“Oh, physician, thank the Lord it is you!” Phillip catches his breath. “I thought I would have to send for you again! It is the baby! She is hungry, and I have nothing to feed her! What do I do?” Phillip panics.
“First thing, calm down. You do not want to alarm your new baby,” The physician comes in and places his arm around Phillip sitting him down. “Now, hold the baby like so. Rock her back and forth, Phillip. She needs comfort.”
As he listens to the wise physician, Phillip breathes a sigh of relief. Slowly, the baby quiets down. But, her tummy still rumbles from hunger.
“Oh, Phillip, you should have seen what just occurred. The Babe you have in the stable is the Son of the living God!” The physician softly speaks with enthusiasm and excitement.
The physician pulls out a wooden chair and sits down at the table. He tells Phillip all the events as they occurred. All the while, the baby girl falls to sleep.
“This is amazing. It is unbelievable, yet…I believe it,” Phillip states. “But, what can be done about my baby, physician? I do not know if I can get a nursemaid until tomorrow, for all are asleep. I know of no one who has had a child, or may be of help near my house,” Phillip explains the obvious situation.
The physician scratches beneath his beard moving his whiskers around, with his bony fingers. Contemplating, he quickly stands to his feet.
“I will be back, Phillip. Rest assured, I will return.”
An hour later, the physician returns to the house.
“Phillip, bring the baby. Come let us go to the stable.”
Phillip picks up the baby, who awakens and crying from hunger. He wraps her in a blanket and follows the physician to the stable. As they walk in, the baby stops crying.
“Now, the shepherds have already gone. The young woman named, Mary, agreed to help you with your baby tonight,” This thrills the physician.
“But…she must rest. She has a child of her own. I cannot intrude on them.”
“Phillip, all is well, come,” The physician welcomes his unsure friend.
Phillip is nervous, but notices the Babe asleep in the manger. The lantern he had left shines dimly on the beautiful sight. Mary is leaning against a mound of fresh hay.
“Sir, I understand you have lost your wife this night and for that, I am exceedingly sorrowful,” Mary speaks sweetly.
“Yes, thank you, but when the physician told me how you wanted to help, I did not want to intrude seeing you have a Babe of your own,” Phillip says a little apprehensive.
“Sir, for all the kindness you have shown us, and unto the Lord, I would be glad to help you this night,” Mary smiles.
“Oh thank you. And rest assured, I will have a nursemaid tomorrow for…well, I do not have a name for her it seems.”
Phillip leans over and carefully places his daughter into the loving arms of Mary. “Oh, she is beautiful. She seems angelic, like an angel.”
Mary holds the baby in her arms and rocks her sweetly back and forth. She caresses her face then touches her tiny hands.
“My wife too had the face of an angel. She was angelic,” Suddenly, the words inspire him. “Then that is what I shall call her, Angelica.”
“That is a lovely name, Phillip, just lovely,” Joseph says. “Our baby is to be called Jesus.”
“Yes, that is what the angel spoke to me. Jesus is His name,” Mary agrees.
“And one day perhaps, God will bless Joseph and I with a beautiful baby girl such as this. But, I cannot think about giving birth again at least for the moment,” Mary chuckles as she cradles Angelica.
Joseph places his hand lovingly on his wife’s shoulder. “Yes. Perhaps one day.” He says agreeing with his young wife.
The physician cannot be more pleased as he smiles at the small babes in the stable.
Phillip leaves Angelica with the couple and the physician for several hours. Mary kindly and gently places Angelica to her bosom and nurses her to sleep for the night.
“That night, I was nursed by the mother of Jesus, the Messiah. It was God who brought them to Bethlehem, and because of the kindness of my father, I am alive today. It was meant for me to live that night, but now I know my time here is almost finished. I shall be with Jesus in heaven and see Him once again.”
Angelica continues writing on her parchments and reading them to John. A loud noise rumbles from above rattling the prison bars. Shouts and screams from the multitude gather like low thunder. Throughout the prison, the hearts of those bound in chains rise in fear. The prison door opens and a loud ruckus of metal clanging down the staircase precedes several men’s footsteps.
The followers, in their cells, painfully cry as two soldiers drag a man by his arms down the staircase. His legs fall limp behind him. Angelica glances around realizing there is still one empty cell next to hers. The soldiers shove the man, his wrists and ankles bound with fetters, against the cold, stone ground. They throw him toward the empty cell. They trail passing Angelica and stop. One of the soldiers holding the set of keys unlocks the cell door. Unlocking the chains on the man’s feet and wrists, a soldier strikes the man’s back shoving him into the cell. The man stumbles headfirst, hits the wall, and falls to the floor. The soldiers mock the injured, defenseless man.
“So…this is the famous Stephen we have been hearing about?” One of the soldiers loudly and sarcastically proclaims. “You followers of Jesus are ridiculous! You will all pay for your crimes…every one of you! Saul of Tarsus is doing right by ridding us of you Christians!”
Spitting on Stephen and laughing, they both stammer out joyfully reviling on their way up the steep stairs.
“Sir, are you okay?” Angelica asks while Stephen sits and covers his face in the palms of his hands. After everything, there is still love in his eyes.
“Yes, I am fine, just a little sore in the head. I knew my time was coming, but nothing will keep me from telling people about Jesus,” He answers wiping the smelly salve onto his tunic.
“That is what happened to me. My name is, Angelica, and it would please me greatly if you would take half of my hay to lie upon. The ground is cold and hard.”
“Thank you. I am Stephen, as you may have guessed, and I will gladly accept your offering. May the Lord Jesus bless your kindness.”
“I have heard of you, from other followers. Is it true you are preaching about Jesus?” John asks.
“Yes, that is why I was arrested. The Lord has spoken to me, and I will speak to the council, which may be the end of my journey.”
Angelica stands to her feet; the sandals her father had given her are worn down, and filth covers her unrecognizable feet. She lovingly divides the hay on the floor and slides it toward the metal bars. Stephen draws the hay through the bars, and makes a small pile to sit upon.
“I remember you. You are Stephen. The man great with miracles, signs, and wonders. I stole a loaf of bread after you healed a man of blindness.” John states and crosses his arms under his tunic. He struggles to stay warm as he coughs and wheezes.
“Yes,” Stephen answers creasing his brow. “You look familiar,” He pauses. “Yes, I saw you there. You were coughing as you are now, only you seem much worse. Sir, it is all by the power of Jesus Christ that those healings took place. I did nothing.”
“You and Angelica seem to share the same faith. Can you show me Jesus is real? Can you prove it to me?” John inquires, with a pure heart.
“Sir, I cannot reach you and I have nothing to give, riches and gold. But what I have I will give to you.” Stephen rips a small piece of his sash and places it between Angelica’s cell bars.
“Please, hand this to him.”
Angelica reaches for the torn cloth, and places it between the bars of John’s cell, within his reach.
“Sir, if you want to know who Jesus is then reach for that cloth. By faith, you will be healed.”
Hesitantly, John reaches for the cloth and touches it with his fingertips. Suddenly, he resists and pulls away.
“I am not a good man. Perhaps, I deserve what I get. I am not worthy to be healed,” John states defiantly.
“John, I am going to pray that before your time comes, you will reach out for this cloth. When you are healed, you will know the power of Jesus Christ. You too will meet Him on that day.”
Angelica gently speaks. “Stephen, how is it that you came to be down here?”
Stephen glares at the candle on the table. “They gathered together when I was arrested…hoping for another stoning. I will die soon, but not until I speak to the council at the synagogue. I wonder why I am here instead of immediately speaking to them. I pray the Holy Spirit grant me the words when it comes time to speak. That it shakes the hearts, and pierces the ears of all those that gather.”
Angelica snuggles back into the hay and begins to inscribe again.
Stephen glances over. “If you do not mind, may I ask what you are writing?”
“Oh, I am writing about my life following Christ. You see, I have always been near Him one way or another. I want to give it to my father. I hope one day he will read it and share it with others.”
“You have been around Jesus? May I read your parchments? Please, it is all a man can do in a place like this. Either sleep or talk and since you are writing, I would love to see what you mean,” It fascinates Stephen.
Taking a few pages in her fingers, Angelica hands them to Stephen who is very curious by the statements made.
“I am reading it to John. As I write you are welcome to listen.”
“Thank you I will.” Stephen says.
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