Yuletide in the Highwoods: A Spoken Celebration of the Birth of the Messiah

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All selections written by Dan Holland (copyright 1997-2002)
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First, let me apologize for the dreadful state of this site. I am a bit of a cheapskate, so I am utilizing the free site that comes with my e-mail service. As a result, there is a fair amount of inflexibility in terms of how the text is presented. At the end of the site there is a spot where you can e-mail me to register your complaints. I have also provided a couple of links. One is to Eagle Canyon Music, the company that recorded my CD, and the other is to Trabuco Presbyterian, the church my family has worshipped at for the past twelve years. I will endeavor to make the site more suitable as time progresses, but in addition to being cheap, I am also lazy and old-school. At present I am having a hard time even changing the picture of the wind-surfer that appears on this page!
Raspberry Jam
Winter came early along Little Dry Creek;
it was October of nineteen and fifteen.
I must have been about eleven then,
and we was the unlikeliest bunch you ever seen.
We left our eighty acres down in Missouri
for the promise of something eight times as large.
It was just me, little Ed and big brother Hubert,
with my Dad and Momma both in charge.
We'd homesteaded the place just that spring;
we only had one milk cow and three steady mares.
Life was harsh out on the Montana prairie,
and it was about to catch us unawares.
The ominous wisp of snowflakes,
that swirled around that afternoon,
were a portend of the wrath of nature
that was on its way and all too soon.
Dad knew we'd never make it through the winter
with just the provisions we had on hand.
We hadn't been there long enough
to rely on we produced from the land.
One meager stack of the native grass
was about all we’d been able to save.
And the dugout house we had hurriedly built,
wasn't much more than a glorified cave.
So Dad decided he and Hubert would go to Miles City
which was at least a three day ride.
They'd earn some money in the railroad yards,
buy supplies and swallow some pride.
They hitched the two best horses to the wagon
and Dad kissed Momma as he held her face.
He told her they'd be back for Christmas,
and he calmly told me I was the man of the place.
A week after they left the first blizzard hit,
and then the next, and the next, and the next.
And I swear to you that in nothin' flat
the snow was piled up to our necks.
And then it got cold, and it snowed some more;
we was in a miserable plight.
We used all our strength to get through the day,
and hoped we'd make it through the next night.
We ran out of food right after that,
and we was left with just a barrel of flour.
Now I like biscuits and milk as much as anyone,
but they can make your stomach go sour.
We didn't know too many of our neighbors-
the closest one was five miles away.
But Momma had me ride over there,
and in that deep snow it took most of the day.
They didn't have much either,
but said we was welcome to what they did.
I rode away with a five gallon jug of raspberry jam
sealed with a parafin lid.
I also rode away with some news:
the road to Miles City was closed for good.
But when I told Momma we might be alone for Christmas
I think it was something she already understood.
Oh, we lived high on the hog after that,
what with raspberry cobbler and such.
But with raspberry jam morning, noon and night,
it got to be a little too much.
That's when Momma broke out Dad's old rifle,
and the handful of shells that he'd left behind.
She figured if we was judicious we could supplement
with what game we might be able to find.
Momma knew I was an okay shot,
but not nearly as good as I claimed to be.
So every day she gave me just one bullet,
and I would endeavor to make her proud of me.
As you can imagine, some days was better than others,
especially when I'd miss with my only shot.
Momma would try to hide her disappointment,
and say let's be thankful for what we got.
I do remember one day I spied a sizable Jackrabbit,
and dreams of rabbit stew began to take shape.
The jack was drawn up on his haunches,
just waitin’ to make his escape.
I took steady aim from a hundred yards,
and I carefully held my steamy breath.
Then I calmly nailed him, only to find
he had previously frozen to death.
Unfortunately, nature wasn't done with us
and soon enough the wood pile was bare.
So we had to start burning cow chips,
and that unpleasant smell filled the air.
We had to burn something to stave off the cold
and to try and dry our wool clothes,
just listening to the eerie sound of muffled wind
that blew against the drifting snows.
Yeah, them drifts was actually our friend;
see they insulated us from the worst of the storm.
As we sat night after night,
with nothin’ to do but try and get warm.
Well, Christmas morning finally came,
and it was just as bleak as any other day.
Still I knelt beside my straw bed,
and with all my heart began to pray.
I guess I knew they wouldn't make it back,
but I was lookin' for any little sign.
It was shapin' up to be the worst Christmas ever;
so a glimmer of hope would do just fine.
Then I felt Momma kneel beside the bed,
and she wrapped her shawl around me and hugged me in.
Then she began to read the ninth chapter of Isaiah
to the accompaniment of the cold north wind.
I didn't know that she was churched,
but she just kept goin' into the hundredth Psalm.
Then she started on the gospel's account of the nativity,
And I was amazed by her peaceful calm.
So I just sat there mesmerized,
and I heard an old, old story that seemed brand new.
Then she handed me the daily bullet and said,
“Make today special, we're countin' on you.”
Well, on the branch of a wind-swept scrub pine,
I found the fattest sage hen I'd ever seen.
So I circled down wind and snuck up behind her,
through the bottom of a deep ravine.
I remember thinkin' as I pulled the trigger,
about how great God truly was.
And even in the midst of hardship,
about all of the wonderful things that he does.
That night we had a marvelous supper;
even the raspberry jam didn't seem too bad.
And at the table between me, Ma and Ed,
we set an empty place for Hubert and Dad.
Later, when Momma blew out the candle,
I said we should've set a place for Jesus, too.
She just kissed me on the forehead and whispered,
“He was there - sittin' right next to you.”
I remember it was the middle of February
when I woke up to a howlin’ wind.
It was warmer than the others before it,
and it didn't make my blankets seem quite so thin.
It was what the Indians call a Chinook,
and it had come to melt the snow.
I let out a whoop and a holler,
and then I screamed, “Blow wind, blow!”
Dad and Hubert made it through five days later;
their wagon carried a mighty full load.
Me and little Ed couldn't wait to meet them,
so we sloshed two miles down the road.
Then we had our second Christmas,
and it was a feast I won't soon forget.
Beans and bacon, squash and apples,
and when I asked for seconds Momma said, “You bet!”
After Dad had hugged us for the hundredth time,
he said he never should have left us alone.
Momma just gave me a knowing look,
and the radiance of her love was clearly shone.
I have to tell you, it was Momma's tenderness and mercy
and the love of God that has made me what I am.
But to this very day I still cannot stomach
the smell of raspberry jam.
Yuletide in the Highwoods
Gentle Highwood
sleeping so,
your rugged face
is caped in snow
And a warming light
is shining still
that signals peace
and man's goodwill
For in this town
so closely knit
your humble street
spruced up a bit
tradition passed
from year to year
proclaims arrival
of Yuletide cheer
Bells ring from a
harnessed horse
that pulls a sleigh
along its course
the merry riders
ring with psalms
atop a load of
tannenbaums
The trees were cut
as cider flowed
tops were trimmed
and branches bowed
now to each house
they will be brought
the last one for
the Widow Slaught
And at each place
a wish of cheer
a warm egg-nog
or homemade beer
each stop a treat
that can't be missed
like Gunnar Larson's
lutefisk
There's Mrs. Swan's
warm round bread
and apple butter
to be spread
Zucchini relish
from summer's store
just help yourself
there's plenty more
Each festive table
is set to eat
as lingonberries
dress the meat
here a pheasant
that was too slow
or perhaps a goose
that flew too low
After that a
rhubarb pie
or fruited cake
that's not too dry
huckleberries
tart and moist
more health to toast
and cups to hoist
With merry voices
are carols sung
and ever more
bells be rung
Then hugs and gifts
and joyful tear
and down the road
to spread more cheer
Now the final house
on this special day
and the merry carolers
go their own way
The last good wishes
finally said
for seasons past
and years ahead
And from each window
shrunk by frost
a candle's flicker
is gently tossed
it signals here
that Christ this day
was born to us
and passed this way
Unto the Cold
The virgin mother in the chosen place
the mark of God upon her face
she came this way to be enrolled
and bear Messiah unto the cold
This humble woman put through the test
in a drafty barn she lays to rest
but her blessings grow a thousand fold
with the Messiah born unto the cold
The hay is damp with the smell of sheep
and lines the bed where the babe will sleep
in the only room that was not sold
for the Messiah born unto the cold
A desert chill bites through the skin
as braying cattle usher in
fulfillment for the story told
of the Messiah born unto the cold
Hosts from heaven sent to proclaim
announce to all that sacred name
Their glory trumpets loud and bold
that Messiah is born unto the cold
Shepherds through the country side
lay down the tasks that they abide
These simple peasants in awe behold
The Messiah born unto the cold
High above the clear black night
a sentinel is shining bright
it points to wonders yet untold
and a Messiah born unto the cold
Strangers beckoned from distant lands
regard the child, the son of man
They empty sacks of precious gold
for the Messiah born unto the cold
The Prince of Peace has come at last
the prophets now may end their fast
fruition to their truth foretold
of a Messiah born unto the cold
God, the father of all the earth,
creator of this miraculous birth
his flesh incarnate does he behold
This Messiah born unto the cold
And man is now redeemed this day
their saviour sent to show the way
a simple child with arms to hold
The Messiah born unto the cold
The Innkeeper's Son
Back when I was a boy, my folks had a little place
out on the edge of town
they ran a hotel, had some livestock,
and there was always enough work to go around
The name of that town was Bethlehem
and it was small, too, more sheep than folks
I reckon that we was the object
of all them big city jokes
But what we lacked in culture
we made up for with a famous name
way back when, King David hailed from there
and he was our royal claim
That was back before Israel had been exiled
and things wasn’t such a mess.
What God had in store for us these days
was more’n I could guess
The Romans was in charge now
and they didn’t make it easy to be a Jew.
But we had our scriptures, and our prophets,
and a sense that God would tell us what to do.
Now, ever so often, the governor
would make people register where they was born
and this one time the town was full of folks
who had come to file their form
I remember one couple in particular
They had come down from Galilee as I recall
the woman looked awful young to be so great with child
and the man was plain and tall
It was late in the day and all the other inns
had already been spoken for
We was the last place around
and that was how they ended up at our door
My dad told them that all our rooms were taken
but they could bed down with the stock
they said, "Thanks, we'll take it."
I doubt there was too much farther that they could walk
By the time momma brought out their supper
the night was cold and clear
she was to find that the child had decided
his birthplace would be right here
I was layin' in bed and later on I could hear my uncle
out in the barn with his hired hands
They was all sheepherders, so I figured
there might be a problem with the lambs
So I snuck out of the main house
and slid in unnoticed through the loft
I shimmied down into the sheep's pen
and watched from where it was warm and soft
Everyone's attention was directed to the manger
where the stock normally eat their hay
and they was all bowin' down
and sayin' Hosannah to this baby where he lay
After a spell everybody left
and the woman saw me hidin', saw I was afraid
so she said to me in a quiet voice
"My name is Mary, and I am God's blessed maid"
As I crept from the shadows, she beckoned,
"I bring you Jesus; he shall lead us from our graves."
Well, I had enough schooling to know
that this name meant "the Lord saves"
This was the Messiah, the anointed one
David's promise of an everlasting king
Mary gently rocked this newborn Christ
and ever so sweetly began to sing:
"Tonight, I glorify my Lord,
and I rejoice in His holy name
He reached down His tender arm of mercy
and unto this world He came."
Then she said, "God has remembered his servants,
those who humbly believe"
Well I bowed down, too, cried my tears
and then I politely took my leave
In the morning Dad asked if I'd heard the commotion
and I said no, I was asleep
I figured my encounter
would be a secret I should keep
Over the next few days lots of people
came to see this special child
They was mostly locals, but three men from back east
showed up looking exotic and wild
They gave the baby treasures and then whispered something
that brought terror to Mary's face
and without sayin' goodbye
the family headed south at quite a lively pace
A few days later some government men showed up
lookin' for this newborn king of the Jews
but their attitude betrayed their purpose
they wasn't nothin' but real bad news
So My father said, "they was headed back up north
towards Nazareth, I think"
And after the men rode off
he gave me a smile and a knowing wink
I decided right then and there
that this precious secret should not be kept.
And when I embraced my father,
it was tears of joy we both wept.
And as for little old Bethlehem -
by golly, we was famous again!
Yes sir, had one king that slew Goliath,
and the other one conquered sin.
Up on Newcastle Creek
As I recall, it was rather late in the year.
Now it's been quite some time and my memory's not that clear.
But I recollect there was still a trace of green in the grass,
and that's why we still had the sheep up so high in the pass.
I'm sorry; where are my manners? Introductions are in store.
Name's Marias Jake. I'm a sheepherder, and what's more:
I feel it's my duty to tell you about one marvelous night,
and how I happened to see a truly glorious sight.
As I was sayin', it had been mild - only snowed once or twice.
We'd only lost two lambs (that wolf paid quite a price.)
Yes sir, it was Indian summer in the high country that year,
and old man winter had been rather slow to appear.
Now, you need to know about my existence up there by myself,
sittin' high on the Montana Rockies' eastern most shelf.
From this perch, the expanse of the Great Plains was my view.
So contemplation came natural; there wasn't nothin' else to do.
Oh sure, I got my flock, and that occupies some hours,
but the job don't require any great taxing powers.
Mostly, I sit in my sheepherder's wagon, eating shepherd's pie.
Just a bidin' my time as time passed me by.
I'd get twice-a-month company when the camptender brought grub,
but that poor feller mostly just complained about his stub.
He'd bring me a newspaper and some gossip from town,
but that just made me less anxious to ever go down.
There'd be an occasional forest ranger - up sneekin a peek:
checkin' for fires and keepin' the flock out of the creek.
But other than that, it was just me and the sheep,
and our conversation never did delve very deep.
So to stay on an even keel and alleviate my qualms,
I took to readin' my mother's copy of the Old Testament Psalms.
It was usually at sun rise that I'd have my Godly talk;
it was reassuring to read that David was a kin of the flock.
Well, now that I've set the stage for my secluded job site,
let's get back to that one particular night.
It started out peaceful - a slight chill in the air,
a gentle reminder that winter soon would be there.
It was right after sundown that I noticed a curious glow;
it wasn't like the regular Northern Light show.
In fact it was sharper and brighter than any full moon.
and it warmed up the air, made it feel more like June.
I can't really explain it, but I knew I had to find
the source of this power that had captured my mind.
Yeah I was captivated all right, like to hypnotized,
and that thing it seemed so close - just over the next rise.
So I abandoned my duties and went up past the next ridge,
where I ran into Spud Jackson and Mussellshell Midge.
They was two fellow sheepherders who'd seen the same light,
and were on the same journey that glorious night.
We looked at each other and, without sayin' a word,
knew we had to find what it was that had us so lured.
So, in silence, we kept hikin' up through the timber until
we heard a melodious sonnet that pierced the night's still.
We quickened our pace towards that fair sound
and came to a meadow - you won't believe what we found.
There in this clearing was a choir of ghosts,
which I knew from my reading must be the heavenly host.
I ain't never been to no opera house or any such thing.
I can't play the fiddle and the sheep laugh when I sing.
But the music they was playin' was sweeter than cream,
and it all seemed so perfect, like we was livin' a dream.
Then we noticed an impish creature in the midst of the throng
from whom was emanating the words to the song.
She used the same language as the Psalms that I'd read,
and near as I remember this is what it was that she said:
"Behold, I bring you great news for all of the earth,
for tonight a heavenly saviour has been given birth.
You will find a baby in a cabin high up this creek,
who was born tonight in a setting so humble and meek.
"Now let there be peace on earth and goodwill towards men.
Glory be to God who has blessed you forever, Amen."
And just like that they was gone, vanished into the night.
Up the creek still beckoned that warm glowing light.
Old Midge had been up Newcastle Creek, just the week before last,
and the only cabin he knew of - we'd already passed.
But sure enough we found that place just like she had said;
it looked like some old trapper's abandoned homestead.
We went inside and found a lanky young man pacing across the floor;
it didn't occur to ask him if he was up here before.
He was tending a fire that seemed to be the source of our call;
it illuminated a woman who was expecting us all.
I'm liable to start bawlin', like a lamb at first shear;
so forgive this old cuss if I do shed a tear.
But there in the corner was a moment so great:
a child layin in a cradle on an old wooden crate.
I'm usually squeamish around youngsters - I'm a loner by trade,
but this momma handed me her baby from the box where he laid.
I fell on my knees overcome by the joy of this birth.
I knew I was holding a power greater than any on earth.
In time, we left them folks alone; we'd found what we'd sought.
We moseyed back to our camps absorbed in our thoughts.
After a few days, we got the word to head down,
bring the sheep back for the winter and ourselves back to town.
You know, I told all the folks I knew about what had occurred.
They was highly unimpressed; they didn't fathom a word.
But I was there, I had seen him - this Prince in his bed.
The miracle of life had sprung from the Psalms that I'd read.
Maybe it's just me, but ever year right after first snow,
I harken back to that moment, that time long ago.
So if'n you're inclined to think that them scriptures is fake,
then I don't expect you'll get any comfort from old Marias Jake.
The Blizzard
I know that the passage of time can erode one's memory and ease the path towards exaggeration, but I swear to you that my Grandmother used to make thirty different kinds of cookies at Christmas. I can close my eyes and taste them all right now, even those with the Swedish names that I could never remember. She kept them all in a back closet that didn't have any heat, and we'd be shivering as we'd sneak back there to pry open those old, frozen tin boxes she kept them in (my Mother had not yet convinced her that tubberwear was a viable alternative.) I can remember seeing our breath, and wishing we had gloves on, as we raced to see how many we could eat at one time. I mention these cookies, because one particular year (I was ten or twelve) our family planned to spend Christmas at Grandmother's in the remote corner of Montana where she and my Grandad had their little country store up in the mountains. This was not an unusual event, but I still was looking forward to it with anticipation. I was anxious not only because of the cookies (and you have to realize just how many of those things I could eat) but also because there was so much winter fun to be had - great cross country skiing, snow-mobiling, or just snow shoeing along the river. We were planning to leave on Christmas Eve day just as soon as my Dad could sneak home from work...
My mother, though, was somewhat anxious,
because an Arctic front was moving in.
It had started snowing the night before,
and daybreak brought a frostbit wind.
The snowplows were already out in force
when Dad got home right after noon.
He said, "we'd better get while the gettin's good
and better do it soon."
So he got on the telephone
to inquire about the roads.
They told him things couldn't get much worse
and Wolf Creek Pass was closed.
Dad hung up and looked at Mom
and slowly shook his head.
Our spirits sank right through the floor
before he'd even said:
"I know it's just a three hour drive
but it might as well be three days.
I hope Santa remembers where we are,
because this is where we'll stay."
Louder and louder the wind did blow.
Higher and higher was the drifting snow,
and our disappointment did clearly show:
Christmas was at Grandma's and we could not go.
Well, my mother, she was undeterred;
her frontier spirit shone.
She was convinced we could make do
with Christmas in our own home.
But she knew that she had to act quick:
our spirits needed a lift.
Our front-yard nativity scene
was buried under a six foot drift.
She went to the front door to bring in
her handmade holly wreath,
but it was jammed against an eight foot drift
and the garland was underneath.
Then, right after dark, the power went out,
and it seemed to sap her strength.
Something was out to steal our Christmas.
and it would go to any length.
Louder and louder the wind did blow.
Higher and higher was the drifting snow.
The spirit of Christmas was sinking low,
as the worry on my mother's face did clearly show.
All of us kids used the advent candles
and got bundled up as we were told.
Mom started making sandwiches
when the Christmas soup got too cold.
Then my little brother had an idea,
and he grabbed a baby doll.
We young ones donned some goofy hats,
and went marching down the hall.
This candle light procession
stopped by Mom so we could sing
some carols to lift her spirits.
Our best rendition was We Three Kings.
Then my brother gave her the baby Jesus
and said, "Merry Christmas, peace on earth."
and Mom said, "Thank you for reminding me
Christmas is about our saviour's birth."
So we gathered around the tree
and sang more songs by candlelight.
We opened up some presents;
then Mom and Dad wished us a real good night.
And as we were getting ready,
Mom came in and softly said,
"Why don't you all sleep in the top bunk,
and I'll put Jesus in the lower bed."
Louder and louder the wind did blow.
Higher and higher was the drifting snow,
but all around us was the warm, warm glow
of the little baby Jesus in the bunk below.
Martha's Snowflake
Up along the Ruby River
lies the headstone of a grave
it marks the life of Martha Torske
she was a woman strong and brave
She was born in Nineteen Seven
not too far from where she lies
That she was rugged as this Montana homestead
should really come as no surprise
She had hair like a prairie meadow
and eyes like the skies in June
she ran like the winds in August
and her heart was like a harvest moon
Martha was a child of wonder
and she would read for hours on end
she loved the old stories in the bible
living their lives she would pretend
But she also read Joseph Conrad
and his tales of a dark, dark land
This Africa held her captive
in a way she could not understand
Time passed by for this prairie blossom
and in her eighteenth year at the county fair
she met the son of a traveling preacher
he had a gangly gait and bright red hair
He told her tales of a world beyond here
and the need to spread the word
there was conviction in this young man's voice
such as Martha had never heard
His name was Jonah Matthews
he wasn't like the local boys
who had courted her for years now
with their promise of local joys
Martha still loved this little valley
the ring of mountains and fields of grass
but she felt the Lord a callin'
with a chance she could not let pass
So soon enough they was married
and set out to find their call
they felt as one they were meant to follow
in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul
Then word came down of their assignment
East Africa would be the place
They bowed down and prayed to Jesus
for strength to spread his saving grace
With trepidation she bid farewell
to all her homefolks and her kin
her momma gave her a little present
and said, "don't open it till you settle in"
They arrived in their dusty village
and met the curious stares of the local tribe
the vast differences in color and culture
afforded them no place to hide
But Martha realized this was not unlike Montana
these were folks who tilled the soil
they lived their lives with honest purpose
and there was hope in their sweat and toil
And how she loved the majestic savannah
it was like the hay fields where she used to roam
That gave her a tiny bit of solace
in this place so far from home
At last she figured that she was settled
so she opened her momma's gift
it was a delicate linen snowflake
and gave her soul a mighty lift
It reminded her of the serenity
she would feel after a winter storm
walking along a snow covered creek bank
her feet could be cold, her heart was warm
In due time she learned their language
and built a trust with the native wives
they took comfort in each others sorrows
and shared the joys of each others lives
Martha showed the women her little snowflake
and tried to explain the peace it brought
then they each showed her their simple treasures
this was the connection Martha'd sought
Then she opened up her bible
and in their tongue she read from John
they were enthralled by these tales of Jesus
she sat and read from dusk till dawn
Each day Martha's confidence soared higher
and she convinced Jonah the men could be reached
so he convened the tribal elders
to hear this western woman preach
She spoke with passion and she spoke with purpose
to all those men beneath the village tree
They seemed subdued by Martha's message
of how Jesus could set them free
When she was done, the chief approached her
he held her bible in his hands with care
then he tore out every page with wild abandon
and cursed as he threw them in the air
Oh, Martha cried and cried, and prayed and prayed
and cried and prayed some more
and when she came out the next morning
she found fastened to her door
one single page from her bible
it was her favorite verse from John
"In the beginning was the Word,"
but the other pages, they was gone
Martha took this as a sign -
a modicum of hope
and used it as her source of strength
knowin' her saviour would help her cope
Before too long Martha came to be with child
and all those women made an awful fuss
they pampered this strong, brave woman
who had come to earn their trust
The baby boy came in late September
and like his mother he had blazing eyes
They gave him the biblical name of Joseph
and to remember his African ties
The next two months were full of wonder
as the village people embraced that boy
and each new movement or sound he uttered
was greeted by shouts of praise and joy
Martha and Jonah felt so fulfilled
things couldn't get much better was what they thought
then a fever swept through the country
Joseph was a victim of the plague they'd brought
It was two days before Christmas
when her baby breathed his final breath
Martha locked herself away from this foreboding country
so she could grieve her young son's death
The next night she awoke to singing
and asked Jonah to have them leave
but then she thought, "I just can't do that
these are my sisters and it's Christmas Eve"
So she leaned on Jonah's strong shoulders
and went outside on their little porch
and there in the middle of the village courtyard
the chief was holding a blazing torch
It shed its light on a thousand snowflakes
that hung from the tree in the pitch black night
each one was a page from Martha's bible
and each one shone so pure and white
As the women sang in the background
the chief approached with a solemn face
He held Martha's hand and then he told her,
"Your Joseph lives in Jesus' place."
Up along the Ruby River
lies the headstone on a grave
All it says: "My gate is Jesus;
I enter there, my soul to save" (John 10:9)
Precocious
singing: go tell it on the mountains
Well, I might as well sing
ain't much else to do in this prison cell
'cept, perhaps, to relate a story
a tale, my friends, I know quite well
You see there is a bit of a ruckus,
a scandal, spreading through the countryside
it is the fervor of a great storm coming
to which I, John the Baptist, have testified
And as I sit here in Herrod's prison
reflecting back on the last thirty years
I am filled with awe and wonderment
and am overcome by great Godly fears
You may think it just a coincidence,
but Jesus of Nazareth was once born on this very day
He is the reason for my incarceration
the one for whom I prepared the way
My story is about the Messiah -
and how we was intertwined from our birth
so I will start at the beginning,
our first days upon this earth
I was born in rural Judea
at the height of Caesar Augustus' reign
My pappy was Zechariah
and Elizabeth was my momma's name
some folks say I was precocious
and others say I was flat out odd
one thing's for certain about my birth, though
I was filled with the Spirit of God
Now, I suspect that since you've come to celebrate
you know all about the nativity and such
so I won't dwell on Bethlehem
and how the shepherds feared and trembled so much
But, I will tell you Jesus was born of the Spirit six months later
and our mommas were shirt-tail cousins of sorts
and since the angel Gabriel ushered in both our arrivals
it was only natural for us to be cohorts
Unfortunately, we didn't spend much time together as youngsters
they hightailed it to Egypt after he was born
even back then a Herrod was causin' problems
and he made sure their welcome was worn
My momma, though, told lots of stories
and at night she would sing me Mary's song
so at a tender age I magnified the Lord
and I'm here to tell you his Spirit is mighty strong
Well, soon enough we was adolescents
and they relocated up to Galilee
I would see him ever' so often at gatherings
much like a regular family
It's funny, this kid I used to whup at arm-wrestlin'
would be the one to free me from my sin
a course in hind sight now
he may of just been a lettin' me win
Our fathers were of different tribes
mine bein' a Levite meant preachin' would be my thing
Jesus was descended from David
I guess that made him destined to be a king
Destiny's a strange bird, though
See, I carried a particularly heavy brand
Scriptures said I would follow the legacy of Elijah
and prepare the Lord's way in this land
The prophets also spoke of my diet and appearance
so locusts and honey was all that ever touched my lips
and I walked all through this country
with just a camel hair robe on my hips
And so it was that my ministry became one of preparation
and my pulpit was the river's shore
and every day multitudes came to be baptized
some days a thousand or more
Of course, Jesus eventually came to the Jordan
and that is the climax of my life's story
I would be witness to the winnowing fork
of all God's power and glory
Yes sir, I dunked him in the river and then stood back
as out of the water his body eased
and a voice resounded from the heavens "This is my son
"with whom I am well pleased"
Now, I must confess that prior to this event
I had the tiniest seed of doubt
But boy let me tell you there ain't nothing
like the voice of God to wipe that notion out
But folks, as blessed as I have been
I am still the least among any one of you
that is the good news spread by our humble Messiah
his gate is open, you need only walk through
I hear tell he's back up in Galilee
workin wonders and teachin' love
But I now know I will never see him again
till we're reunited above
You see, tonight Herrod will sit down to dinner
with a woman he seeks to flatter
and against his better judgement
he will serve up my head on a Roman platter
of course this won't be the last time a magistrate
makes a decision in this vein
when it comes to Jesus they will wash their hands
and walk away from the pain
I hear the centurions approaching now
Father above, I am coming home
I shall drink of your sweet nectar
I will wear the cloak of your shalom
And as for you, go tell it on the mountains,
it's up to you now, my hour is near
yeah, you tell 'em Jesus Christ is coming
then you tell 'em he's already here
I Wish it was Still Christmas
Maybe it's my street
as I drive up and down at night.
It seems a little colder, now,
without those gaudy lights.
The ice box is almost empty,
not even a sliver left of pie.
Took the tree out with the garbage,
perhaps with that the spirit died.
Gone, too, are all the parties,
the concerts, pageants, and parades.
Back to school and work means
a not so subtle end to holidays.
And the innocence of children,
singing carols, exchanging gifts,
despite all of the hustle, bustle,
their wonder gave me a lift.
You know what I miss, though,
more than garland and mistletoe?
It was the expectation -
like standing up on outstretched toes.
Waiting and knowing
that the very blessed day
was right around the corner,
and Christ was on his way.
There's all the other stuff
and most of it I don't mind.
It just heightens the feeling
like that star that used to shine.
Now, I don't think I'm all that wise -
more like a shepherd in the field.
The angel told me what was coming,
and now my eyes are keenly peeled.
And it's not much, Lord,
but at least it will be a start.
For from now on, I'm going to make it
always be Christmas in my heart.
A Revelation
Lowell traced his calloused finger
over the rim of his coffee cup.
He looked out the kitchen window
at the snow that was piling up.
He sighed a sigh not of contentment,
but to acknowledge the task at hand.
He glanced at the boxes of decorations
and the slightly bent Christmas tree stand.
This would be Lowell’s first Christmas
since his wife, Evelyn, had passed away.
And he had managed to avoid the boxes
since he drug them in from the barn the previous day.
Decorating had always been Evelyn’s deal;
she was meticulous, perhaps to a fault.
Or at least that’s how Lowell saw it
when he would playfully level a verbal assault.
Oh, but Evelyn would just keep right on going;
she wouldn’t pay him the least little mind.
It had helped during fifty years of marriage
to occasionally play deaf and blind.
Lowell tried to recall how she arranged things,
how the strings of holly had been placed just so,
and where the legions of nutcrackers
had been placed in row upon row.
“Oh, that’s right,” he thought, “the nutcrackers.”
Those were things he never could figure out,
but every year it seemed she’d get a new one.
She was a serious collector – wasn’t much doubt.
Evelyn’s friends in the Women’s Guild
had offered to come over and help.
But a task like this was best done on his own,
at least that’s how Lowell strongly felt.
“I wonder where them Nutcrackers are,” he said out loud,
in a bit of a grumpy, condescending voice.
It was the same tone he would use on Evelyn
that caused her to sing a hymn of her choice.
That memory made him chuckle as he opened a box.
“No, not in this one,” he saw.
“Ah, here they are,” as he opened the next,
and noticed all those split level jaws.
He picked up one of the ornate figurines
and slowly turned it over in his hand.
It reminded him a bit of their oldest grandson,
who played trombone in the high school band.
You see, this particular Nutcracker
happened to be holding a horn.
And then Lowell noticed underneath the base
a tiny inscription that was fairly well worn.
All that was written was:
“DP One-Zero-Zero-Two.”
What that curious code meant,
Lowell did not even have a clue.
He picked up some of the others,
and they had similar scratchings as well.
The numbers and letters was all different;
there was no particular pattern that he could tell.
He looked at the horn player again;
the D could be Donny – that’s his oldest grandson’s name.
Lowell thought “I already fed the cows.
So I got time to play this little game.”
He sat there and thought about Evelyn,
and envisioned her during the holidays.
He remembered how he’d tell folks,
“She just sits and reads her bible and prays.”
“Oh no, that’s it,” he cried,
and covered his mouth with his meaty right hand.
He ran and got her favorite bible,
he still dutifully left on her night stand.
He turned to the index.
and looked at all the books that began with “P.”
He wasn’t all that familiar with the bible,
but he thought “How hard can it be?”
“I wonder if there is a connection
to the oldest of her precious boys.”
Then he found the passage in Psalms,
And read out loud, “Make a joyful noise.”
“I’ll be darned,” he exclaimed;
he quickly grabbed another one.
He could feel the goose bumps rise,
as he recognized his youngest son.
This nutcracker wore a knapsack
to represent a wandering soul.
Young Jerry had always been like that;
he left home when he was seventeen years old.
The inscription read “JL one-five-one-one.”
Lowell found Luke on the very first try.
And as he read the story of the prodigal son,
he felt the mist well up in his eye.
Lowell grabbed another statuette
from where it lay on the floor.
This one was just a regular soldier,
and it said “ME six-one-four.”
He figured it was their nephew Mark,
who was stationed overseas as a Marine.
Then he read, “Put on the full armor of God,”
from Ephesians 6:14.
The next nutcracker was a female,
she held a baby in her arms.
Her face was painted in such a manner
as to reflect her motherly charms.
This was Julia, Lowell guessed,
and the “JL one-four-six” proved he wasn’t wrong.
Evelyn had selected for their only daughter
Luke’s recording of Mary’s Song.
The next nutcracker held a crutch;
Lowell thought it might be Evelyn’s Uncle Fred.
He hadn’t seen Fred in quite a while;
he was confined to a nursing home bed.
Yet Evelyn had left this prayer for him,
found in Acts 3, six through eight.
It’s where Peter commands the crippled beggar to walk
outside of the Beautiful gate.
There was a Nutcracker for their first hired hand;
Lowell had forgot about old Sean.
His passage was Psalm 139:9:
“If I rise on the wings of the dawn.”
Evelyn’s brother Stuart was a worrywart;
he worried more than anyone alive.
So the prayer she recorded to help him
was Christ’s words of comfort from Matthew six, twenty-five.
Lowell recognized Evelyn’s braggart friend Judith
with a passage on humility from Philippians 2:3.
And for her sister Jessie with cataracts,
it was John 9:25, “I was blind but now I see.”
On it went, nutcracker after nutcracker,
with scripture that fit each on to a “T.”
Lowell was humbled to think he had married
someone who prayed so perfectly.
Finally, he picked up the last one;
it had on overalls just like Lowell wore.
The passage he read next
shook him to his very core.
“LE five-two-two” was the legacy left by the woman
Lowell had so long adored.
The passage from Ephesians read,
“Wives submit to your husbands as to the Lord.”
Tears streamed down Lowell’s ruddy cheeks,
but they was tears of a glorious kind.
Of all the women in the world,
God had picked this one for him to find.
He gently held the small figure and smiled;
his wife was in heaven – he knew that much for sure.
Yeah, she was with Jesus right now,
but for a while Jesus had been here through her.
There wasn’t a nutcracker with Evelyn’s name;
she wasn’t the type to pray for herself.
But then Lowell remembered the needlepoint
she hung each year from the kitchen shelf.
So on his nutcracker where his name was etched,
“Evelyn Isaiah 9,” is what he wrote.
Then he opened up Evelyn’s bible,
and began to read her very own quote:
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light.
On those living in the land
of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.
For to us a child is born;
to us a child is given.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.

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Eagle Canyon Music

Trabuco Presbyterian

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djhollandcpa@mindspring.com