Christmas: Between Two Worlds

Once In Israel, love came to us incarnate,
stood in the doorway between two worlds, and called...

Annie Dillard

Nothing in life is ever certain, right? I was settled as a cabinet maker in my home town, and one morning I was listening to the technology news when the radio related a census project. Using the latest software, it would be a state-of-the-art, quick and painless registration process for our entire State. The problem was that registration was based on ancestry, so it meant travel, and the old mule wasn't what she used to be.

advent Worse, my wife was pregnant and due very shortly. We'd been to all the classes together, and I was going to be acting as her labor coach. Some things won't wait, you know?

SO here we were, destined to travel to a small town that was likely to be severely overcrowded. And the reason for all this? According to the spin, the State government would be much more efficient if they knew who was who and who was where. But we knew the real reason: money. It was always about money.. or power. And the Governor had some expansion projects in mind. The rumor was that he had some friends in the construction industry who were short on contracts. Oh.. and he complained that he couldn't properly maintain the roads or the police force without more funds. So what else is new?

This was all two years ago, and looking back now, it feels like a dark dream. We got to Bethel OK, but Days Inn was packed to the nines. We finally found a spot near the town dump in one of those cardboard cities that spring up overnight when no one has any cash or credit, and jobs are in short supply. With the world price of oil nearly $70 a barrel, unemployment was higher than at any time since the 1930s.

You ask, what do I clearly remember? It was like this... We were giving up, heading for the edge of town, dog tired and even the mule starting to complain, when this drunk stumbles out of a dark doorway and comes up to me, six sheets to the wind..

Ragged and teetering like he's on the edge of a cliff, like he is staring the abyss in the face, he says to me, "Got any spare change mister?"

So there I am, starting to explain that I need to save my money for a room for me and my wife, when I realize that there aren't any rooms to be had, and I had to give what I had for taxes anyway. And suddenly I feel generous, like my pockets are lined with cash, like there is endless work and everyone paying me twice the going rate, and I dump a couple of shiny dollars into his hand. His eyes seem to clear and focus, as if they are reflecting the light of a star, and he looks at me like I'm an angel from heaven. The years and the shadows lift from his face, and he says, clear as a bell, as if he hasn't had a drink in years.. "I know where you and your wife can spend the night."

The next thing I know we are in a barn next to the dump and the cardboard city, warm and well kept, and David and his wife Rebecca fussing over Mary and I. David retired early, or headed back to the bar to watch the end of the game, but Rebecca was a passable midwife.. Good thing too, because when the labor really began in earnest, my brain took a holiday.

It was a strange night, though, with strange voices and strange stars and odd visitors. A couple of ranchers turned up, and one of them got cash from the ATM and brought us hot lunch and a new wool blanket. And three foreign dignitaries appeared, with gifts fit for a king. They had a lot to say, and something about quasars and quantum physics, but in their broken English it was all Greek to us. The ranchers said something about voices, but at this time of year it was probably the wine talking.

The rest is a bit of a blur. We signed up at the registry, were assessed our taxes, and we paid what we had to pay.

We returned to Nazareth with a new son. The relatives all dropped by, and we had the usual party. But a couple of weeks later we were fleeing for our lives, leaving the safety of our home, friends and family for a strange land. It's a good thing for the pocketbook the foreigners left us, or we wouldn't have had the money for the trip.

See, not long after Joshua was born, the Governor of the State issued an order for an ethnic purge. The children of entire villages disappeared from the face of the earth. We heard the story from a travelling merchant within a few days of the sickening event. What had been for us a season of rejoicing became for our province a season of pain.. like the birth pangs my wife had experienced shortly before. Everywhere was weeping and wailing and grief. One of my own cousins lost a son barely three days old, and his wife's arm was broken by the para-military men when they broke down the door.

It all seems so senseless. I mean... if the Lord can guide us by dreams, provide a place of safety for us to stay, then protect us and send us from danger by means of an angel in the night... surely he could have prevented all the bloodshed? Surely my cousin Rachel didn't have to lose her son.. for the sake of my son? Surely the Lord could have warned them too? Maybe it's wrong to ask the questions, a man of faith and all, but I just don't understand...

I'm writing this letter from a small city in the UAR. They like foreigners here, and the boost we give the economy. My wife is teaching English as a Second Language, and I'm installing cabinets. It isn't safe to return home just yet. Josh turns two years old tomorrow. But while we celebrate his birthday, I'll always remember the paradox of light and darkness that surrounded those days. Maybe someday the world will be different. Maybe someday, maybe when God's kingdom comes, there will be no more death or poverty or taxes. Maybe the Messiah will change everything.

Until then we wait.. like a woman in transition.. for the birth of a new world. We wait in hope and longing for a city of justice that we haven't seen. We wait for God to wipe away every tear. We wait, like a young man waits to find the girl of his dreams, we wait for our One true love...

Len Hjalmarson, Advent 2003

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Last Updated in May, 2008