“A Night of Death”
“My nursemaid, who I saw regularly, became a good friend of mine growing up. At each visit, she taught me how to cook, clean, and sew. She was very kind to me and possessed a hidden beauty unseen on the outside. She was tender and loving as if I was one of her children. My nursemaid arrived the night after Mary and Joseph departed the following day. After trading a horse of ours, belonging to my mother with their donkey, they left to find suitable lodgings. Joseph had said his donkey was a bit on the stubborn side.
“One particular night, when my nurse maid had come, there was a loud bang on the door. One my father would never forget. One night would shake him for many years.”
*Knock, knock, knock.*
“Sir, shall I get the door? Your baby is almost finished eating,” The nursemaid calls out from the bedroom.
“No thank you, Deborah. I shall get it. Let Angelica finish.”
Phillip opens the door to three heavily armed soldiers standing on his doorstep in battle array. Their eyes darken with hatred, which bleeds through their metal helmets.
“In the name of King Herod, we are instructed to find any baby boys in this house!” A soldier proclaims authoritatively. Phillip pauses and noticeably trembles, his body freezes with fear.
“Do you have a baby in the house?”
“Uh, yes I do but…but, it is a girl. Sir, she is nursing,” Phillip hesitates.
The soldiers parade themselves through the front door, and violently shove Phillip aside demanding to see the baby. They march in perfect order through the bedroom door. Deborah sits nursing the baby, and suddenly startles by the unwelcome guests.
“In the name of King Herod, we are ordered to find any baby boys in Bethlehem! Now, give me the child!”
Deborah protectively places her hand over the baby; as the other two soldiers stand behind with hands on their swords preparing to draw them out.
“But, sir, it is a girl! And she is nursing!” Deborah covers herself with a blanket.
“Give me the baby!” The soldier demands a second time growing impatient.
He seizes the infant, and carelessly unravels the blanket wrapped around her. Ripping off the cloth, which covers her bosom, he then cruelly hands the screaming baby back to Deborah.
“Let us go! It is as they have said!”
The three soldiers stomp out the front door, mount their horses, and ride off. They leave a trail of dust blowing down the streets of Bethlehem as they hasten to do evil in the name of the king.
“What do you suppose is happening, sir?” Deborah asks quieting the baby.
“I do not know, but I have a feeling it has to do with the people who were here before. They had a Babe…a Son…and now they are gone. I packed food and water for them as they went on their way. I traded Beth’s horse for their donkey, and they blessed me for showing them kindness as they departed. I cannot imagine how a stable is showing kindness to them? I wish I could have done more.”
“But, sir, you did. You provided them a place to have their Babe, in safety, and you gave them food and drink. You did more than I have seen many do here in Bethlehem,” Deborah says. “And Beth would have given them her horse as well.”
“I guess you are right,” Deborah hands Angelica to her father. She is fast asleep.
Screams of terror and the wailings of women and children in the distance shake Bethlehem’s peaceful night, and Phillip’s inn nearby. Babies scream as if being torn away from their mothers. Phillip embraces Angelica tightly in his arms and close to his face. He thanks God she is alive, but still fears the possible return of the soldiers. Just what would they intend to do upon finding a male child?
“It sounds as if death is in the air, sir. What if they come back?” Deborah places her hand to her chest.
“Well, they are not looking for girls, only boys. But, rest assured, you will not be here. Please, take Angelica home with you and bring her back when she is weaned. I shall visit daily and bring you your wages.”
Feeling her heart beat faster, Deborah adheres to the observation of Phillip. “Of course, sir, I would be glad to care for her…did you say they are only in search for boys? Oh my Lord! What about Benjamin? My husband Zebedee is watching him now! Phillip, I must run home! He is only six months old!” Deborah cries.
“Then go, Deborah! Go!”
Phillip’s heart hammers in terror and alarm as he opens his front door. Deborah bolts in a state of panic into the darkness of the night. Dreading…
Soldiers swiftly parade through the streets of Bethlehem on their horses. They carry torches to light their deadly mission: A mission for one purpose and one purpose alone.
One particular soldier rides upon the King’s chariot. He oversees the soldiers as they fulfill their duty. Head of the Praetorian, he is crude and lifeless as if looking into dead, black eyes. His name is Judasis, but the soldiers who know him call him Death due to his talent for killing. Fearlessly, he stands twice the size of a normal man. His full dressed armor is the best of all the soldiers. Judasis is infamous throughout the region where prisoners also know, and fear his name.
Just as Phillip closes the door, horror strikes seeing Death leap from his chariot excitedly. Storming into a nearby home across the street, he snatches a baby boy from his mother’s grasp. Drawing his sword from his sheath, he swings slicing the screaming infant across the neck, killing him instantly. The mother screams in wretched agony.
Phillip’s knees shake dreadfully buckling beneath him. He swiftly kicks the door closed. Blowing out the lantern, he jumps up and scurries to his bedroom hiding himself and Angelica under the bed. I know who that man is. I have heard rumors, all the way from Jerusalem, of his evil. What if he comes for my Angelica? Phillip scrutinizes. We must stay hidden!
Phillip remains awake all night listening to the continuous, agonizing cries, wailings, and shrieks throughout Bethlehem.
Finally, daybreak, and the sound of horse hooves fade into the distance. Taking with them, are the lives of dozens of baby boys including Deborah’s precious, infant son, Benjamin.
After the burial of Benjamin, Phillip hands his only daughter, his most precious gift over to Deborah. She will care for Angelica until the age of two when she is fully weaned.
“I grew up knowing that the Son of God, Jesus, was born in our stable. Father did the best he could raising me without a mother. I could not have asked for a better father. He taught me many things like; the care of our animals, and counting, and collecting the money from the inn. I was very happy with my father. But, when I turned the age of twenty-nine, I began to feel as if something was missing from my life. I was not married nor did I have that desire. Instead, I took care of father and enjoyed working in the inn, which is unusual for a woman unless she has a husband.
“At that time, rumors spread throughout Jerusalem of a man who I desperately wanted to meet. A man I thought, for a brief moment, could be Jesus. But as it turned out, he pointed the way to Him instead.
“Father wished for me to settle down and marry, which is customary for a woman to do. But, I desired something more for my life. I longed to make a difference yearning more than anything in this world to see Jesus. I had only heard stories about Him since I was a child from my father. I did not want to leave Bethlehem, but the more I heard of Jesus, and the man called John the Baptist, the more my heart longed to find them and hear the things taught. Jesus was to arrive according to the teachings of John the Baptist. This was the same Jesus born in Bethlehem on the same night I was born. I knew I had to find Him.”
“Angelica, there is a handsome, young man who lives in the city. He has asked for your hand in marriage. I told him I would ponder his request as is customary. However, I still wanted to ask my beloved daughter,” Phillip says folding a pile of clean, white linens in hopes Angelica may have a change of heart.
Resting her chin on the handle of the broom, Angelica ceases from the day’s chores. Far from the thoughts of marriage, she daydreams of her heart’s aspirations.
“Father, you know I would do anything to please you,” She gently answers.
“And I would do anything for you as well, Angelica. But, I do not want to force you into something you do not want to do. Although…I would love to have grandchildren, I see in your eyes it is not something your heart desires.” Philip chuckles. “I believe I have always known you had no desire to marry. Even as a child, while girls pretended to marry, you were still playing in mud holes and kicking the boys in their legs. I see that you love to be here in Bethlehem, and yet your heart seems so far from this place, is it not?” Angelica smirks. “So, what is it you want my daughter? I will get it for you,” Phillip sincerely asks pausing just a moment as Angelica bites the side of her lip.
“Father, I have heard some people in the city speaking of a man called John the Baptist. He is down at the River Jordan baptizing and preaching repentance from sin and the coming of the Lord. Each time I hear the story of the night Jesus and I were born, I remember what you said the physician had told you. He said, that the shepherd had declared, ‘It is Christ the Lord!’ No one has ever called anyone Lord, until now! I want to wait for Jesus. And I want to go and wait with John the Baptist, and hear all he has to teach!” Angelica passionately exclaims.
Sad by his daughter’s words, Phillip stands to his feet, and places the folded linen on the table. He would give his own life to please her.
“Then daughter, Angelica, that is what you shall have! Now, we must not delay. I will pack some clothes for you, with a moneybag. I want you to make haste and go to the River Jordan. But, one thing I ask that you must promise me,” He wiggles his index finger at her. She lifts her head in unexpected amazement her father’s sudden agreement and his change of heart excite her.
“What, Father? Anything!” She flings her arms to her side and spins around a single time.
“I want you to promise me, that you will write often. Tell me all that happens and what John the Baptist says about this Jesus.”
Dropping the broom onto the floor, she runs over to her father. She falls lovingly into Phillip’s outstretched arms. Resting his head upon her shoulder, he caresses her long, curly hair and cries already missing her.
“Angelica, your mother would be proud of you this day, just as I am proud of you. You are following your dreams. She did just that. Her dream of course, was to have a family. Not just me, Angelica, but you.”
“Oh, Father,” Angelica weeps on his neck as they tenderly hold onto one another.
“Now, you shall leave in the morning,” He grabs her shoulders. “Tonight, I will make preparations, but for today, let us finish our work.”
“Yes, sir, Father!”
Angelica picks up the broom and continues sweeping cheerfully like never before. Her heart suddenly misses Bethlehem knowing tomorrow she will be gone.
“The next day was sunny and hot, for that time of year. Father packed a few garments of clothing, along with a new pair of brown sandals, a head covering, and a moneybag for me. He taught me to tie the bag on the inside of my sash, to keep from robbers. Father put a lot of money in my moneybag and instructed me to write to him if I needed more. He would send the stable boy, who was now grown to my aide. Kissing my head and holding me tightly, he cried as if he did not want to let go. I left that morning. I looked back at my father standing in front of the inn. He was waving his hand through the air. With tears in his eyes calling out, “I love you, Angelica! I love you angel! Don’t forget to write, my daughter!”
“I left on foot, even though Father wished I took his old and unbridled donkey. The River Jordan was a day or mores journey away. On the roadside, I met several people who surprisingly were also traveling to the River Jordan. So we decided to travel side by side in one accord.
“I stopped and ate when I needed to eat, and stopped when the sun went down and slept. The friends I made on the road were some of the best I have ever known.
“I chose to make my bed a good distance from the road side, in case of robbers by night while I slept. I trusted God to keep me safe. I often fell asleep staring at the many stars in the sky. How beautiful they all were. It was at those times I would think of my father, and miss him dearly.
“Since I traveled with only a few people, we would talk about the rumors heard at the River Jordan. All of us could not wait until we arrived; it was like a new season. People left their homes from afar bringing their wives and children to see and hear John the Baptist.”
Finally, the day comes when Angelica arrives at the River Jordan in Nazareth. The fragrance of burnt wood and fish fill the air following the sound of rushing water. A man’s voice echoes off the water up into the many hundreds standing and sitting around as she steps through the thickets of grass.
There is much shade along the River Jordan, many flowers and round rocks which some choose to sit upon. Along the edge of the water, there is a wide river bend where many gather together eating and breaking bread in peace and harmony. Their laughter is without a shred of falsity. Others anxiously stand in the water, with a very pleasant man whose face has a distinctive glow. Up to his waist in the water, he has a brown beard, which is a bit straggly: his body is thin yet something about him seems strong and powerful. He wears garments made of camel hair with a leather belt strapping around his waist. Lovingly, he smiles at everyone by the river. One woman is in the water beside him. The man holds onto the woman’s hand while his other supports the back of her neck. He dips her backwards into the water. His voice carries across the ripples of rushing water to all who gather. They also have that same joyous glow upon their faces.
“In the name of the Father, I baptize you!”
Immersing the woman in water, she emerges. The crowd rejoices praising God and clapping their hands. The sight brings tears to Angelica’s eyes.
Setting the bag down by her traveling companions, Angelica makes her way through the thick, green grass towards the edge of the river. She sits down and listens to him speak while warming her hands on a nearby fire.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
“I listened to him and for a brief moment I thought, Could this be Jesus? Until he spoke again, “I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loosen. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
Through the afternoon, Angelica hears his message and believes in the Messiah even more than the stories she heard from her father in Bethlehem. It is then she decides, and purposes in her heart with all that she is, to follow the Lord for the rest of her life and continue with Him as long as she is physically able. She knows she must wait with John, for Jesus will come. In the meantime, she abides by the river alongside hundreds camping in the beds of the grass.
The next day, people from around the river begin lining up near the water with a deep desire of baptism. Angelica’s desire rises within her heart as was the decision to come to the Jordan, and she eagerly waits for her turn to come.
Finally, John the Baptist reaches his hand for her from the water’s edge. The cool breeze of the day blows passed the trees. Angelica reaches her hand out to his, and as she touches his hand, she feels a strange sensation warming her. Then, she steps into the cool River Jordan. Carefully, she steps across the smooth stones at the river’s bottom a few paces. She trembles with joy. This is the most important decision she has made thus far.
“Do you give your life to the Lord? Do you want to serve Him all the days of your life, and do you repent from your sins?”
Tenderly she cries out. “I do!” Tears flow off her eyelashes.
Kindheartedly, he grips her hand tightly. She feels a strong pulling within her stomach, which she does not understand, but welcomes. Raising his voice to all the others nearby, she feels a power coming from him, a somewhat emanating power.
“I hereby baptize you in the name of the Lord! Praise to God in the Highest!”
He submerges her backwards into the water. For a brief moment, Angelica sees her life flash before her eyes. She emerges. Everything she knew she desired in Bethlehem has finally been found in the precious, pure words he has spoken. The water is cold, but inside her heart tingles like a warm embrace.
Angelica steps out of the River Jordan, dripping wet as others gather around applauding and glorifying God. The moment she steps onto dry land, dozens of men and women hug and welcome her to the Lord. Children hang onto her drenched garments and smile up into her blue eyes endearingly. One child, no older than two years hands her a dry tunic.
Continuing on with John the Baptist and the others a great length of days, the date of Angelica’s birth passes. She is now at the age of 30 as is Jesus who shares the same prophetic day.
During her time, at the River Jordan, she carefully notices many tax collectors and soldiers coming near the riverbank to hear the message John is teaching. She can see by the look in their eyes, they are out for blood and try to trick him by the questions they ask. Skeptically, she keeps her eye on them and prays for her friend John the Baptist whom she has come to know.
Rumors spread how John had rebuked King Herod for taking a bride that belongs to his brother. Her name is Herodias. Thereafter, she secretly despises him searching for a clever way to demolish the man of God.
Many ponder if perhaps John the Baptist is in fact Jesus the Christ. But, even in the middle of their idle chit chat, he keeps pointing them to One who is sure to arrive.
Loud, quick footsteps, trail down the stony, staircase, accompanied with the angry voices of evil men. Soldiers approach the cell stopping Angelica from her story.
“Pardon me, sir, but I just follow my instructions.”
The jailer begs forgiveness, from two heavily armed soldiers. One of them…is Death. As the soldiers walk passed the other prisoners waiting, they tremble at the sight of this ominous soldier. The soldiers stand angrily in front of Stephen’s cell.
“This one, Stephen, was not even supposed to be jailed! The counsel is furious he is not up in the synagogue speaking with them. An hour has past and your orders were to take the other man down to the jail. Not this man!” Death raises his gruff voice as he repulsively gazes around the bleak prison.
“It is just disgusting…the stench down here! It is almost unbearable! I should not have to come down here to correct your mistakes!” Death roars as he crosses his thick arms glaring at the puny, miniscule existence of the jailer.
“I am sorry, sir. If it pleases the counsel, Judasis, I-I could explain how it was my-”
“NO! No need to do that. Down here you call me DEATH! You are lucky you are escaping with your life, and the lives of your family with an error such as this! I should throw you in a cell of your own! Or should I just crucify you here?” Death draws his sword and presses it slightly against the jailer’s neck. The jailer feels the sharp, cold blade to his skin. Terror grows in the heart of the jailer as Death places the sword over his Adam’s apple, with sinister thoughts of gutting it out of him.
“No, Death, please, sir!” The jailer pleads looking up at the mammoth man staring down at him desiring to trample him under foot.
“Open the cell!” The wicked soldier interrupts.
The loud, locked chamber clicks as the quivering jailer opens the cell, and moves aside. The other soldier stomps inside, and stares at Stephen who glances up with the parchments in his hands.
Angelica shutters. She stares at the larger soldier in remembrance and familiarity. I remember stories my father told me of this man. She thinks. He is surely a wicked fiend.
“We must put these chains back on him!” The soldier bellows.
Stephen stands to his weary feet perceiving his time has now come, and he shall speak as the Holy Spirit gives him utterance.
Death ducks his head and stomps inside the cell. He places a set of chains around Stephen’s feet weighing him down, yet he remains strong standing upright. He is brave, but not without fear. Stephen slides the pages of the parchments through the metal bars back to Angelica.
“You see, all for God’s glory? Listen, when they prepare to destroy your life, pray to the Lord. Pray to Him for strength,” He sternly glares into Angelica’s blue eyes, as she discerns the urgency from Stephen.
Angelica reaches out, but the angry soldier grabs Stephen’s hands. Once again, the parchments fall to the grimy floor as the soldiers quickly chain Stephen’s hands together.
“Pray to the Lord, huh? Well, we shall see what will be done with you after the counsel hears you speak. If I were you, I would worry about your own life and not the life of this woman!” Death sternly states, with an evil undertone.
The soldiers stand on the left and right leading Stephen out of the cell. Locking the cell behind them, Angelica stands to her feet and walks toward the door of her cell. She watches Stephen as he slowly shuffles his feet an inch at a time yieldingly bound and chained. But, this will be the last time he is ever bound as he is. And it is a moment he welcomes with all his heart.
Glancing over at her, he speaks one final time. “Remember what I said. Your life has made a difference. Only do not lock it away…share it with anyone who will hear! Tell your father the same. I will see you soon, Angelica. I will see you soon!” He states while they hard-press and shove him passed the prisoner’s cells by Death’s strong arms. The weight upon Stephen is heavy, but he is ready.
The soldiers lead Stephen up the staircase as some in the jail clap and rejoice. Others weep with sadness of heart knowing his most certain fate. Death is only ending his life here on earth.
Angelica rests her forehead against the metal bars, wrapping a few of her dirt-embedded fingers around them. Closing her eyes, she begins to pray.
“O my Lord, whom I serve. Give me strength and my friend, Stephen. That You may show him a revelation where he will be with You if he is to be put to death today. Let his words pierce the hearts of all who hear him.”
Tears run off her face and ripple to the cell floor. John lay on his back staring over at Angelica. He presses his lips together. It disturbs him to see the young radical crying. Then, he glances at the cloth Stephen left for him.
“Angelica, please do not cry. At least you know where you will spend eternity: which is more than I can say about myself,” He crosses his bony arms.
Immediately, she dries the tears with the back of her filthy hand and takes a few steps toward the bars. She feels a tugging in her heart to speak.
“It is not that I know, but do you? John, do you really know where you will go when they sentence you to death? Where you will spend eternity?”
John slowly pulls himself up towards the interesting girl. He feels weak and sick; his illness clings to him like the skin on his frail frame.
“I am not a good man. I have been a thief my whole life. Now, you tell me how is it, that a God as you say, can possibly love someone like me? And how can He accept him into His heavenly home? Why will He, a person such as myself?”
“John, I want you to listen to me. I am going to tell you more about Him; now, just sit back and hear me. It may help you with the answers you seek.”
Just then, sounds from above boom like a stirring, which shakes the walls and very foundation of the prison. Dirt falls from the ceiling as some in the prison cough. People scream and yell troubling the prison. Finally, a man’s voice authoritative and wise with power quiets the angry mob. In her heart, Angelica knows Stephen is speaking that very moment to a violent and hateful crowd in the synagogue.
Minutes seem as hours passing when suddenly the crowd becomes irate and wrathful louder than before. Footsteps clatter from the ceiling rushing across from one side to the next then fade into the distance. Angelica shuts her eyes tightly as tears fall down her dirty cheeks once more.
“I will see you soon, dear brother. I will see you soon,” She softly vows.
The crowd seizes Stephen, tosses him outside the city, and mercilessly stones him. He looks up to the sky at the parting heavens, and sees Jesus. Then he lies down and falls asleep.
The jailer victoriously stomps down the steps and stands in front of a cell door, five cells from where they hold John. A soldier joins him. They yank a man out of his cell bound and chained for immediate execution.
“Ah the crowd is relentless today! More blood to shed!” One of the soldiers mocks with sarcasm.
“It seems there are four more people now, before I am to be taken,” John says putting his head down by his soon coming fate. “Can you honestly tell me this is all worth it? How old are you, Angelica?”
“I am thirty-four years old. And yes, I can say it is all worth it. Once you hear what I have seen, and how being near Jesus, and by His side has been worth everything, I can endure it now. I would never trade one moment spent with Him.”
“Okay then, Angelica. Go on with your story. I am listening.”
Leaning his back against the wall, John gazes at the cloth Stephen had given him still sitting between the bars.
Angelica reaches for her parchments and pen, and places them on her lap. She begins vigilantly writing again. The words pour forth like sweet honey as she remembers every moment with Jesus.
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