TWO . GATES . ART . STUDIO

 Toni Ciantar Poole  


“They Knew, They Just Knew”
"Christmas is Near" Christmas holds many memories for me, as for all of us. School plays, church choirs, dazzling park displays, coloured lights around the tree, handmade gifts, and sitting down to that scrumptious turkey dinner with family.
Another of my memories is of Mamma Furbert, Yes, that’s what family called her and I was privileged to know her and call her Mamma Furbert as well. We were like family. She’s with our heavenly Father now, and she influenced my walk with the Lord in a very profound way. That's another story, but I can tell you it was life changing.
She shone. She seemed to have a light around her. I think it was her joy in the Lord. She knew hardship and trial, she looked tiny and frail but she was strong and worked hard.

After Vasily Dmitrievich Polenov 1877- 1930 - public domain
She was bold and didn’t hesitate to express her love for her Lord at every opportunity. She drew her strength from Him. In her sweet Bermudian way she would teach us about people in the Bible and God's wonderful truths and it all came to life for us. It was as though she had been there and lived and worked with the people she introduced us to. Mamma always said she knew one or two of the characters in her stories. To we children, Mamma Furbert was really, really old and it seemed very possible to us that she did know the people she told us about. How else would she know the colour of Mary’s donkey? Mamma is with her Lord now and I'll guess she's working side by side with the very people she loved teaching us about. For real.  One story she told was of the Birth of Baby Jesus; and no matter how many times she told the story; awe and amazement would always be on her face as she told how God’s only Son left heaven’s glory to live with sinful man. We heard the angel choir in her lilting voice. We smelled the hay and barn animals. We felt the night air, and saw the stars. Mamma settled in her old kitchen chair and this is what she told us…

..."It was in the days of Caesar Augustus, that a census should be taken. That mean that everybody had to go back where Great-great grandpa was born to be counted. Rome wanted to know how many people lived in the country.  Kefira and I were young women at the time"; Mamma would say. "Kefira, was just like her name, young lioness. She was already married to a man named Adiv. His name meant gentle and that described Adiv perfectly. They were waiting for their first-born. Kefira knew that the Inn would be passed to Adiv someday and she worked very hard by his side. I was still waiting for the husband promised to me". And we giggled thinking about Mamma Furbert waiting for Papa and she would wave her hankie to hush us up.  Mamma would cross her arms and continue. "Kefira begged me to come help at the Inn that day. There was so much work to be done. We had people coming to our family home too, family we hadn’t seen for a long, long time, but something told me I just had to go and help. I couldn’t say no. People were pouring into Bethlehem, all kinds of people, from all over the land. Some were polite, some were rude, but Adiv said they were only rude because they were so tired from traveling. We should never be rude back. “No need to treat a weary traveler in that way” he’d say “we must always be polite no matter how badly we’re treated, otherwise, we’d be just like them”.  Mamma told us Adiv always spoke in a kind gentle tone no matter how angry or tired he was. Kefira had had a very trying day with so many travelers demanding a place to stay. The little inn was bursting. Every possible space was filled. No room. No room for even one more. By now not even the feeding trough was empty. We had just added more hay.

A man named Joseph was promised to a young woman named Mary and because Joseph’s great-great grandpa was from Bethlehem he took Mary on a donkey and began their journey. God knew they would be coming to Adiv and Kefira’ s little Inn. Joseph led the donkey bearing Mary to their front gate and introduced himself. "I am Joseph and this is my Mary. I have only a little money; I'm just a lowly builder, a simple carpenter, but any small resting place would be welcome". His voice was gentle, he talked just like Adiv and he looked so weary. Anyone could see her baby was coming; soon, but Mary sat silently on that little donkey. She looked much younger than Kefira or me and looked so bewildered every time she bent over and held tight on the donkey’s neck. What were they to do? Where could they go? What could we do, we had no room, there was just no room.  Adiv looked first at Kefira, Mary, then Joseph and hung his head. In his quiet gentle way he said “no room; I'm afraid we have no room”. I’m sure I saw a little tear in Adiv's eye.  Something had touched Adiv very deeply. Maybe he saw himself and Kefira in their eyes. Both with a little one coming and weary after a long tiring day. Adiv took Kefira’s hand as the gentle stranger turned to leave. “Yes, yes, thank you, God speed" Joseph said. 
 
 So many travelers had come to Bethlehem and stopped by our little Inn.  I know Kefira would have found them a sleeping place if only they had arrived sooner.  Any place.   Kefira  couldn't stand still her hands were fluttering in the air and she was balancing on one foot then the other and it looked like she was going to run after them.  Adiv saw this and he asked Kefira  "What do you think, we just put fresh hay in the animal shelter. It’s not..." But Kefira didn’t wait for Adiv to finish, she was calling after the stranger, "Joseph, Joseph!"   Joseph stopped his head hung low but did not turn. With Adiv by her side Kefira said "Our animals are sheltered from the night air, as you should be. It is only right. There is little space, but we welcome you traveler."  When Joseph turned bringing the donkey around he hugged Adiv like a brother saying thank you, thank you, his voice breaking.   He could hardly stand for weariness and relief. Two men with tears streaming down their faces. They didn’t know each other but somehow their hearts had touched.  We led them to the shelter where at last Mary could lie down tucked away in a far corner. Adiv and I settled the donkey with the other animals, then Kefira brought water and bread with a little honey and left them next to Mary. Mary nodded her thanks. Her face was somehow - alight. She made herself as comfortable as possible on the mound of hay Joseph had gathered for her; the sweet smell of clean, fresh hay wafting up around her; and then he covered her with his cloak. She looked so very small, so very young; perhaps a girl of 15 or 16, but I couldn't be sure. She hadn’t made a sound, not even a tiny whimper.  Kefira came into the kitchen rubbing her back and said they seemed settled so we went to finish locking up for the night and extinguishing the oil lamps. I was ready to go home but Kefira insisted I stay for some bread and cheese first. We hadn't stopped for food all day. It was good to rest and all was quiet.

We were shaken out of our rest quite suddenly when we heard voices and banging on the gate. Adiv lifted his weary body and went to the gate and asked “What is it so late in the evening? What is it you need?” Kefira and I went out to see who was there.   It was a crowd of Shepherds, a lot of shepherds and towns people. Why were these lowly, dirty, smelly shepherds at our Inn and not up on the hills where they lived? Where are the sheep? Had they left Bethlehem's Passover Lambs unprotected? What’s happening? We were all talking at the same time! Adiv raised his hands to quiet everyone and asked again “What is it you need; it is late.” One of the older shepherds said “Please forgive us, we were in the fields keeping watch over the flock when suddenly the sky grew so bright. It was as though the morning sun had risen high in the sky and we had to shield our eyes but it was the stars, shining a-a-as, never before. We didn’t know what was happening. We'd never seen anything like it, and we were really scared. Suddenly a very big, very bright figure, an angel, said:
do not be afraid; for behold I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people, for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord and this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”Luke 2:10   "And that’s not all…" the youngest shepherd said, “we, we, we, saw more a-a-angels than we could count and heard the most beautiful music. Their voices were soothing and we weren't afraid anymore.”  Another said “It was like nothing we’d heard before; like many choirs sounding as one voice." The Angels were praising God saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased” Luke 2:14  When the angels had gone away from us into heaven, we began saying to one another, "Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us." Luke 2:15  “The shepherds knew”, Mamma said “they just knew” and straight away they agreed to go and find what the angel had told them about, but where to start.

"There wasn’t a bright star over the stable to lead them to Jesus, like some Christmas stories say" Mamma said. "Not then any way." The Shepherds had to seek Jesus to find Him; just like we must seek Jesus and ask Him into our hearts and lives. The baby was waiting just where the Angels said He was. Jesus is always waiting for us and if we look for Him we'll find Him too. He's closer than you think. He loves us. He helps us, guides us and forgives our sins; like when we disobey, get angry or when we tell a lie or worse" 

The shepherds searched Bethlehem. "We looked everywhere another Shepherd said; "but didn't find a baby lying in anyone's manger. We woke the Ironmonger, he had no child. We banged on Josiah the Potter's door, no child." "The Weaver's wife just yelled and told us to go away". The tent maker, he checked his manger and then came with us. We went up and down the streets waking all of Bethlehem seeking this child in a manger."  The gruffest looking shepherd said "Some slammed their doors in our faces, angry we had roused them out of bed. What were we talking about? A few listened and followed when we told of what we had heard and seen. Now we are here. Is there a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in your manger?"

Our first thought was, a baby in a manger? Our manger? Ewe, the very thought. Why would anyone put a baby in a manger? Why, who would need...Kefira was standing beside me listening to everything the shepherds were saying. She'd been shielding her bulging form from the eyes of the shepherds and those who followed. She stepped forward, her eyes the size of bowls and she quietly called "Adiv" as she tugged on his sleeve, "Adiv, Adiv".  When he turned I saw his concern for Kefira on his face, but she signaled that all was well and she whispered to him “What of the couple we settled in the stable?” I'll never forget the look of amazement on Adiv’s face. Could this be? The SAVIOR promised - was, was here – in his stable?  His eyes were wide and bright as he told the gathered crowd about the couple who had come very, very late that evening. “He knew”, Mamma said “he just knew”. 

There was a sudden hush. All the jostling and murmurings had stopped and the shepherds and the towns people stepped through into the Inn's courtyard. We moved as one body to the animal shelter led by Adiv.  Adiv quietly stepped into the enclosure, and there - just as the angel had said “A baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger”.  "Oh". Adiv's voice was as quiet as a breath and we knew, we all just knew.
"The full stable was toasty warm with all the additional animals, not just our few. The air was - sweet; not the usual smell of goat, chickens and cow. It was part fresh hay and part - well - heavenly and indescribable. Light shone brightly; yet only one small lamp was lit.  Mamma wondered and asked, "Could it have been the same bright star that would lead the Magi from the East to Jesus two years later?"  We only heard the quiet murmurings from those gathered and the tiny stirrings of the animals. Even the animals rested in a quiet reverence".  “They knew too” Mamma said, “they just knew”.  You could hear the surprise in Mamma's voice as she told us "Mary and Joseph beckoned us, we were expected. Tenderness was on Mary’s face as we neared the Child.  She had prepared for the birth and had brought swaddling clothes. In the first quiet moments with their newborn baby surely Mary and Joseph heard the Angel Choir welcoming the Holy Child and announcing His birth just as she placed Him in the manger. The Lamb of God had come who would die to bear the sins of the world.   It was just as the Angels had said. The sweet little Child was wrapped and asleep in the fresh hay. Such glory! We came on bended knee, two by two; or three in turn. Our awe was unspeakable.  Joseph knelt next to Mary and watched as we bowed in adoration. He knew this was no ordinary birth. And she will bear a Son: and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins: Matt 1:21 And His name will be Jesus; the angel had told him. What was Joseph feeling in his heart? Fear? Wonder? Amazement? Awe? Could this quiet, gentle stranger already know what the future held for Mary, Jesus and indeed himself? Was he already feeling a heavy weight on his shoulders?

...Now a great crowd had gathered around our Inn. They all wanted to know what had brought the shepherds from their tents on the hills into the Village. When the shepherds had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child and all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. Luke 2:17-19  “She knew ”, Mamma, said “she just knew.” This was the Son of God, the Messiah. The SAVIOR. All that was promised. Here in a lowly manger. And His name will be Jesus. The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen... Luke 2:20

I remembered that about now in her storytelling Mamma would become very still. She would lean back, close her eyes and take a deep breath - as though she was smelling that fragrant hay; and we could too!   We'd wait. Mamma would hum softly then she would begin:

SWEET LITTLE JESUS BOY
They made you be born in a manger
Sweet little Holy Chil’, didn’t know who you was
Didn’t know You come to save us Lawd,
To take our sins away
Our eyes was bline, we couldn’t see
We didn’t know who You was
Long time ago, You was born
Born in a manger low
SWEET LITTLE JESUS BOY
De wrl’ treat You mean Lawd
Treat me mean too, but please Suh, fuhgive us Lawd
We didn’t know - twas You
SWEET LITTLE JESUS BOY
BORN Long time ago
Sweet little holy Chil’ We didn’t know who You was

We saw what Mamma was talking and singing about. We were mesmerized and would sit quietly, even the youngest, our 4 & 5 year old. Mamma was right there–at the manger; and she took us with her.  When Mamma opened her eyes, tears would tumble down her cheeks and as she dabbed them dry with her lace edged handkerchief she would sit up and cluck like a mother hen waving her hands “ Okay now, let's get on, let's get on. The end", she’d say. Of course, it was always one of the younger kids who would remember. “Mamma, Mamma what colour was Mary’s donkey, you forgot to tell us. You said you saw Mary's donkey". Then you'd hear an older child challenging Mamma, "You can't tell us the colour of Mary's donkey. They're all gray anyway". With all seriousness Mamma would cross her arms and reply “Mary’s donkey wasn’t gray; it was brown. His snout was black with a white star on his face. A black stripe crossed his shoulders to reminder us of the precious Child and mother he carried. Old Jackson down the way; his donkey Horace has the same black stripe. This one had white patches on his haunches; and on one side there was a black mark in the shape of a heart to remind us of the love God has for us all. His ears were very long and stood tall and proud with bands of brown and black but the tips were as white as wool." "That's cool" the five year old would say.
The innkeeper Mamma called Adiv, his wife Kefira, the shepherds and the crowd that gathered, Mary and Joseph and Jesus, the Christ Child – were all real; really real. As young as we were, we knew, we just knew. It was as though they were all standing and talking; right there in front of us.
One by one, on different occasions Mamma would take us on an errand with her or ask for our help in the kitchen or around the house and yard just so she could talk to us and ask "Honey chil', you know why Jesus come to the manger? You know what He did here on the earth? Jesus come for you chil' and died on that big ugly cross for you" What that mean to you honey?" Personal, heart piercing questions. Probing yet gentle. I knew she asked out of her love for me. What did it mean to me?
Mamma would quote, John 3:16, For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting Life.   ...Believe Him? If that's true and I choose not to believe, then the opposite is true...I perish. Believing will make a difference in my life?
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Rom. 6:23   Sin is death.   For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Rom 3:23  We're all sinners.

How do I, - fix that; make up the shortage; reduce the distance between me and God - and I tenderly ask, how can we, individually, fix that shortfall?... How? By accepting a gift. YES, a gift, it's a gift! ...the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Rom. 6:23
The greatest gift, eternal life in Jesus. Accept it, believe it and cherish it. Hold it close. It changes our path not only in this life, but for eternity. Jesus Himself said "I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but through Me." John 14:6.   For He (God) delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Col. 1:13,14(hallelujah) 
This is the only offer that's on the table for making peace with God. Come to the Manger. It leads to Jesus - and the cross - and life.  You know. You just know it's the most amazing gift you'll ever receive. 
Based on the Scriptures, Luke 2: 1-20
Toni Ciantar-Poole, November 26, 2007 revised: Oct 2015
The characters are real, very real. They lived, laughed, loved. They cared, hurt, cried, and hungered. The reactions, comments and responses of the characters in this reading are the imaginings of the author. Scripture quoted is from New American Standard Bible .  Illustrations, Toni Ciantar-Poole
 

CHRISTMAS IS NEAR

Christmas & memories all wrapped in one,
Angels and mankind sing of God’s Son,
Praise to the newborn King “Hark the herald angels sing”
Loved ones have gathered with wishes and dreams.
Bearing their gifts of love, children so dear,
Wide eyed with great surprise, Christmas is Near.
Lights all around the tree, star shining bright,
Snow glistens everywhere, wonderland sight.
Turkey and mistletoe, “off to Grandma’s house we go”,
Warmed by the welcome and love that you share.
Songs by the fireside, laughter you hear
Hearts are rejoicing, Christmas is Near.
(Music interlude)
Tinsel and holly, ribbons and bows,
Sounds of sweet music everyone knows.
Carolers and church bells, ringing out “the First Noel”,
O, may the manger’s light shine in your heart.
Wise men will seek Him, all through the year,
O come and adore Him, Christmas is Near.
Angels and mankind sing..
Praise to the newborn King
(the First Noel)
Christmas is Near, Christmas is here
Lyrics and Music
Toni Ciantar-Poole,©TakeHeartMusic’95


WHAT WOULD IT MEAN?
What would it mean if the Christ child had been
Only a story the shepherds had dreamed?
How would we live, or how would we love
If heaven's own darling had stayed up above?
All of our souls would in turmoil still be
Not knowing the love of a Savior that's free.
He brings us the peace we so desperately search for
He paid with His life, He's our beautiful Savior.
On Jesus our guilt and our shame had been set
His blood on a cross means our sin debt is met.
Transformed by His grace, now our life lived for Him
The things of this world grow so weary and grim.
So, what would it mean if the Christ child had been
Only a story the shepherds had dreamed?
Our striving would mean ought; no purpose, no gain.
Our souls to damnation, our bones dust remain.
Toni Ciantar-Poole, ©TakeHeartMusic 2015