Early-morning sunlight jarred the doctor awake. He had thought that he would not be able to sleep at all, so giddy was he to finally reach the city of God — Jerusalem — about which he’d only heard wistfully since the day he dedicated his life to Christ.
The evangelistic team had arrived after dark. With the team’s approach the massive, stone city walls and the Ephraim Gate stood silent and foreboding on a moonless night. Surely, such a wonderful place would shine a warm and heavenly glow come morning, so thought the doctor.
But come morning Dr. Luke from Troy, in faraway Asia, overslept. He startled awake to find the others already donning cloaks for a morning appointment with the elders. The travelers were about to see men who had actually walked with Jesus and had spent years absorbing, or trying to understand, his divine teaching.
The third-story guest room was smaller than expected, and Luke hung back against a wall as Paul the Apostle stepped up to a row of seated, solemn, bearded men backed by another row standing behind. The Greek-speaking doctor did not understand half of the Aramaic words that passed between Paul and the council.
But Luke picked up one word that electrified him — James. Paul, his leader, was answering a question posed by the actual half-brother of the Lord and lead elder of the Jerusalem church. Luke felt like he ought to kneel and prostrate or something.
“Paul, what can I do to assist?” Luke asked his mentor after the team had returned to Mnason’s apartment.
“I have some business in the Temple tomorrow, and you will not be needed,” said the balding apostle with the bent back who warmly placed a hand on the taller Trojan’s shoulder. “Why don’t you take some time to look around the Holy City? You can take your countrymen Tychicus and Trophimus with you.”
The next few days were a delightful sequence of walking tours by day and long gab sessions with the team by nighttime oil lamp light. Jerusalem seemed to goad Paul into eagerly gush with stories about the Teacher that he had heard during his prior visits.
The next night someone made a mention that the mother of James and of the Lord was actually living in the city with her nephew. Luke had heard much about Jesus the Christ teaching and preaching. But what about before? he wondered. Who better to teach about the early years than the one who was there from the beginning of the story?
So Luke the foreigner found himself at the door of John Ben-Zebedee from Galilee who looked the Gentile up and down before standing aside silently to let him in.
The Galilean pointed to a curtain that parted to show a cubbyhole with a simple bed with water pitcher and bowl on a stand at the far end.
And lifting her head while sitting on a three-legged, wooden stool on the other side of the pitcher was a face with penetrating brown eyes and puffy cheeks that pulled up an accepting grin.
“You are his mother?” Luke asked.
“And you are the Ephesian?” responded the mother of the Lord. Little did she know that her final years would be spent in exile in that distant, Asian metropolis.
“Troy, actually,” replied the doctor who stepped forward reverently. The ancient city of legend is translated in the Bible as Troas.
“To the north. Have you heard of it?” The aging widow gave a slight, silent shake of her head no.
“My lady, I’ve heard so much about your son and his ministry to the poor, the sick and the downtrodden. But I’ve come because no one seems to know about the times before. Tell me, please, what was he like? How did you know that he was the Anointed One?”
The mother of the Lord gazed up and past Luke to the ceiling beyond. And for an awkward moment Luke thought he’d said something wrong, that he’d cast Mary of Nazareth into some kind of trance.
“Son,” the Lady finally responded while bringing down her eyes to meet Luke’s. “I can tell you of things, fantastic things, things of God, that you will not believe. For the beginning was as miraculous as his final missions of mercy and redemption. I haven’t spoken about those times in a long time. Is your heart ready for my words?”
After a nod of affirmation, Luke stood in rapt amazement and listened without interruption to the Lady’s story, the Christmas story.
Years later, in Rome, Dr. Luke of fabled Troy of wooden-horse fame sat down with quill to begin a long letter to an acquaintance whose words continues to reverberate today, nearly 2,000 years later. On Sunday, many of you read or heard his immortal words from the Gospel of Luke:
“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree,” reads what we now call the Christmas story in the Bible.
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch.”
“So they … found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.”
So many but still not enough sermons have been preached, so many but still not enough hymns have been sung, so many but still not enough children in Christmas plays have recited the treasured lines.
And we have to thank an inquisitive, foreign traveler guided by the Holy Spirit and who sought out the Mother of the Lord and asked to hear the Christmas story. The greatest story ever told.
Stephen Harris sends this fictional short story to you and yours as a Christmas gift from State Road. Merry Christmas.