Hope in a Manger // a short story

This year has been one of hardship and suffering for so many of us. It’s easy to stumble and fall under the weight of despair and just give up. I haven’t undergone nearly the trials that many people have, and still, I often feel lost and anxious. So I wrote a story for my Papa, as a reminder that maybe, despite the tragedies and difficulties in life, there is hope.

Papa is very generous and wanted me to share it with you as well, so here it is. I hope it gives you a little nudge to lift your head so you can see that above the broiling clouds, thousands of stars shimmer.

Merry Christmas!

The hot sun pounded relentlessly upon the carpenter as he plodded heavily along, his cracked sandals crunching the dry grass which stuck out of the road. The bag of tools slung over his shoulder thumped against his sore back. Each step sent waves of pain up his bruised and swollen feet, but the soft clink of coins hitting each other in his pouch kept him going. It had been so long – weeks? months? – since he had been forced to leave home, where work was sparse, and travel from town to town, getting jobs where he could find them. Finally he had enough money to return to his family.

He lifted his gaze to scan the horizon. There! His town was visible! Despite his aches, an excited smile broke across his lips and he picked up his pace. His family, his beloved wife and children…oh, how happy they would be to see him! I’m coming home. I’ll take care of you.

Hooves pounded from behind him. The carpenter glanced back, seeing a rippling red cloak and a laughing face before the flat of a sword knocked him to the ground. Stones slashed across his face. Gritty dirt crawled between his teeth.

“Eh, what’s this?” Coins clinked loudly together.

The carpenter’s heart spasmed. He scrambled up and lunged for his money pouch which the Roman had picked up. But the soldier sneered and shoved him to the ground. He bounced it a few times, nodding appreciatively. “I’d wager there’s a few months work of wages in here!” 

“Please,” the carpenter gasped, raising himself up on his knees. “It’s all I have. My family is starving –“

“I’m sure you’re behind on your taxes.” The Roman tossed the pouch up and caught it. “All you rats are. This will make up for your debt to the Empire.” He flashed the carpenter a grin and mounted his horse.

“No!” The carpenter lurched to his feet and stumbled forward. “No, you can’t! My children will –“

The soldier kicked the horse and took off, a cloud of dust choking the carpenter as he ran in useless pursuit. Once the air had cleared, the carpenter sank to his knees, a lump growing in his throat. It was over. How could he return to his family, who were eagerly waiting for him, with nothing?

Nothing. It was all gone. All those hours, nailing, sawing, scraping. All those days gone by with nothing to eat and miles to walk. Blisters and splinters and torn skin. Separated from his loving wife and precious children.

For nothing.

Tears dripped down his face as he sank deeper, pressing his forehead against the rough road, clenching his fists, and groaning in anguish. Lord, how could you let this happen? Where are you?

Hours passed. A crisp, clear night replaced the heat of day. Still the carpenter heaved in breaths weighted by tearless sobs, oblivious to the twinkling stars above.

Shouts startled him out of his despair. He raised his head, shepherds racing towards him, whooping to each other in joy. Most of them hurried on towards the city, but one of them paused and eagerly beckoned at the carpenter. “Come! Come! The Savior is born today!”

The carpenter frowned, slowly rising to his feet. “W-what? How do you know?”

“The angels told us!” he exclaimed, gesturing wildly. “They appeared in the heavens and said we’ll find the baby lying in a manger! We are going now to see Him!”

With a final broad smile, the shepherd dashed off after the others. The carpenter watched him go, his heart pounding rapidly. The Savior…could it be true?

He murmured a prayer and took off, following the shepherds. They came to a stable and burst inside. A woman lay in the straw, her husband placing a blanket over her. Next to them, in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes, laid a baby.

The shepherds praised God and dashed back outside, shouting the news to passersby. But the carpenter fixed his eyes on the infant, falling to his knees before it. Gazing into the baby’s laughing eyes, his bitter anguish melted away. The carpenter glanced at the father, who nodded with a smile.

Slowly, the carpenter reached out his large, calloused fingers. The baby grabbed one of them. The tiny, soft fingers sent a tingling feeling of indescribable peace throughout his being. Tears gathered in his eyes. A tiny voice whispered in the back of his mind. Thank you for making my bed.

Through a gap in the straw on which the baby lay, the carpenter saw his initials etched into the wood of the manger. With a gasp, he met the baby’s eyes once again, and wept for joy.

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