Thursday, December 20, 2007

A True Christmas Story

Illustration by Mary Englebreit

Emmaline answered the knock on her door, and found a young man standing there. "Could you help us?" he asked. "My wife's having a baby and there is no one else for me to ask."

It was 1900 in a small rural community. Emmaline recognized Jonathan as Sarah's husband; she had seen them recently and knew their story. The neighbors had been scandalized when they started keeping company last winter. After all, Sarah was only 16, from a decent family with high standards. Jonathan was different, just 18, and not at all what her parents had in mind. He was from somewhere else, without relations, religion, resources, or respectability. Sarah was forbidden to see him.

The young love affair continued in secret, and a baby was soon on the way. They married quickly, but Sarah's parents made it clear that she had ruined their family reputation, and the couple was not welcome in their home. People who saw them in town self-righteously crossed the street to demonstrate their disapproval. Emmaline was one of the few friendly faces they saw over the summer months. She smiled and asked about the upcoming arrival, without judgment or reproach.

Jonathan was frightened when Sarah went into labor. She was obviously in trouble, and so was the baby. It was a December afternoon, already dark and cold when he arrived on Emmaline's doorstep. She put her oldest daughter in charge of her own five children until their father came home, gathered some quilts, and hurried into the night with Jonathan.

Sarah's labor was extremely long and difficult; the baby boy was born breach and the new mother was weak and exhausted from a loss of blood. Emmaline stayed around the clock, until she was certain all was well. It was a couple of days later when she finally felt comfortable leaving Sarah. Wrapping the newborn warmly, she took him home with her so the young couple could rest for a few hours.

Illustration by Louis Emile Adan

After Emmaline had tended to her responsibilities, she sat down in the chair close to the fire, rocking the baby wearily, until she fell asleep.

She had a dream that a man came and pleaded with her to help his wife deliver her baby. The woman was alone, without the comfort of loved ones around her, and Emmaline soothed and encouraged her as she assisted with the birth. Suddenly she recognized the new mother as Mary. The baby she was swaddling and rocking was Jesus.

Emmaline woke up, and soothed Sarah's baby, while she reflected on her sweet dream. Wouldn't it have been wonderful to help in that way? To respond to Joseph's appeal for awesome to take care of the Baby Jesus and his mother, to offer support and love.

Illustration by Henninger

As Emmaline cuddled the baby in her arms, a scripture from Matthew came into her mind. "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

This is a true story. Although I've changed the names, and left out some details, it happened just as you've read it. But you'll recognize that it has happened many, many other times with a few variations.

Often I am overwhelmed by all that I'm trying to do. I get "weary in well-doing," knowing that I fall short of my own expectations. I sometimes wonder, "What's the point?"
This is the point.


kenju said...

Absolutely, it is!

Bev said...

Marty, thank you for reminding us that no matter how small or how large the act of kindness may be we are God's hands here on earth and we're all needed.

Merry Christmas

Rebecca said...

I have always really liked that particular passage.

"Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

And the hymm that adapted it.