This time of year I normally share my version of a Christmas story. The way I see it, you can't have the life-giving joy of the nativity without the gruesome, life-giving joy of the crucifixion. One is pointless without the other.
Without further suspense for those of you who’ve not read it, and with no more waiting for those who have, here it is.
by Helen Williams!
Mary and Joseph had been turned away from the inns and told they’d have to stay in a barn; their child would sleep in a manger after he was born. That’s where they found themselves the next morning, sheltered with the animals.
Their child had been born long into the night, a boy child. They named him Jesus. He lay quietly on a bed of hay in the manger. As Mary sat there watching him sleep, she couldn’t help but notice what a beautiful manger it was. Considering it was built to hold hay for the cows, she wondered why its maker took such care and put so much delicate work into it. Her husband, being a carpenter, might know. She called it to his attention and asked him why he thought the carpenter that built it would have made it so ornate.
‘Well, either he just takes a lot of pride in his work, no matter what he’s making, or he had nothing much else to do and decided to put all that detail there to keep himself busy. Or perhaps God told him that our child – His child, would lay there. Only the carpenter himself knows. And yes, he did a wonderful job on it. But, we’ll probably never know who made it, dear.’
As he was answering, Mary saw straw from the hayloft sift through the boards and they heard a rustling coming from above.
‘But then again,’ he whispered, ‘one never knows.’
He tiptoed around to steps that led to the hayloft and as quietly as he could, climbed them. When he got to the top he boldly asked, ‘Who’s up here?’ He waited for an answer. At first there was silence. But, when he saw the straw moving, he asked,
‘Shall I come see for myself?’
At that, the straw moved a lot and from it emerged an old man. He tried to stand, but lost his footing and sat down.
‘Hello, master. It is only I, the keeper of the animals. I mean you no harm. I sleep here alone. I’ll be on my way about my chores now.’
He got up and hobbled to the top of the steps as Joseph descended. He came down slowly. By the time he reached the last step, Mary eagerly asked him if he knew who had made the beautiful manger.
He nodded his head. ‘It was I, ma’am.’
Mary noticed that even though he was on the ground now, he didn’t stand up straight. She complimented the craftsmanship he’d so skillfully used on the manger but had to ask, ‘Why did you make it so special? A manger is for animals to eat from. You made it look like a piece of furniture for a king’s house.’
‘Ah yes, ma’am. I did make furniture for the king’s palace, and he did like it to be perfect. I can still work as well as I used to, even though I’m all bent over now. So my work carries on. Though the only job I could get was here. You see ma’am, once you’ve worked for the king and been let go, no one wants you. I’m a reproach among men and they don’t even know why. The king didn’t like the way I look. When I was young and strong looking they liked to have me as the king’s carpenter. But as I’ve aged, time has not been so kind to me. The longer I live, the more bent over I stay. When the king dismissed me, with little appreciation for my work, no one would even look at me. I felt as though he’d spit on me. All I managed to bring with me was that big ol’ hammer there.’ He pointed it out.
‘So now, you must know that God’s hand is upon me for me to make that beautiful piece using such a big hammer. The other tools I use, I’ve made myself. They too are meager, but that big hammer was once in the king’s carpenter shop. I guess it’s rather special to me. I worked there a long time.’
As he rambled, he came closer to the baby, straining his neck to see him. Joseph sat down behind Mary, putting his hand on her shoulder. They smiled at the man. Mary asked, ‘Would you like to see our baby? Come closer. He’s awakened by your voice, but he won’t cry.’
‘Why, his eyes are opened and he’s just a newborn. I’ve never seen the likes of him,’ the old man said with a chuckled. ‘It looks as though he’s looking right up at me, almost as if he knows me. Precious little boy. What did you name him?’
Joseph spoke up, ‘His name is Jesus. Come closer. Would you like to hold him?’
‘Oh, you can’t trust my back. I don’t think I should.’
But, there was a look of yearning in his eyes.
‘God’s hand is upon you, remember? You said so yourself.
Pick him up and hold him close,’ Mary said.
The old man bent lower to pick him up, praying he’d be able to hold the boy Jesus. As he stood up, he kept straightening himself to a standing position. At first he didn’t even realize he stood up straight, as he did in his youth. He smiled at the child and talked to him ever so quietly. He looked at Mary and said, ‘If I didn’t know better, I’d think he was trying to tell me that he knows me. Just the wishing of an old man…’ His voice trailed off.
Suddenly realizing he was standing tall, he exclaimed, ‘Why, little Jesus, if you could see me now! I’m standing again! It’s a miracle!’
He held the baby close to himself and began to dance around the room. Joseph smiled at Mary and she said, ‘It’s not the first one to happen in this barn.’
After returning the baby to the manger, the man said, ‘I’m blessed by the hand of God, indeed. I can’t repay God for the miracle He’s done in my life, but I do want you to take my hammer with you when you go. I want you to teach this young child to be a good carpenter. As he grows, show him how to bring life to something as simple as a piece of wood. And tell him about me when he’s older. And tell him about the manger. I wish I could tell him myself. If you were going to be around for a while, I’d make him something to take with him, from me. But, I’m sure you’ll be moving on shortly here. So take the hammer, please. The hammer reminded me of when I worked for the king. But, my walk will remind everyone that now I walk with the King.’
His eyes gleamed with joy and delight. Joseph accepted the hammer from the old man and promised it would be Jesus’ to use as he grew, knowing that he’d have to be quite a little man to swing that hammer. It was a big one, indeed.
When Jesus was big enough to lift the hammer, the first thing he made was a manger for his donkey. Though, he didn’t really use the heavy hammer much, he used other tools to carved, as best he could. He took his time and a great deal of care and lovingly made it after the pattern his mother had described so many times. When he’d completed his work, he called his mother to see it. He led her by the hand into the workshop where he and his father worked so diligently. She was proud of his work and her eyes filled with tears.
Jesus said, ‘Mother, if my donkey can come into the house, we can keep it there! It looks beautiful enough for a king’s house, doesn’t it?’
‘It sure does, my son. But, the donkey stays outside.” She laughed as she nodded her approval. “We’ll keep the manger forever. It’ll remind us how our heavenly Father wants us humbled before Him, so He can lift us up with His blessings. The manger you laid in was a blessing, to me, as well as to the old man. I wanted you to have the best, but God wanted you to be born in a barn. Yet, in the midst of that barn, He let us know that He was there with us. Oh my Jesus, I love you.’
She hugged him tight.
As Jesus grew older, he grew in the wisdom of God and in love. He always showed his love graciously, never esteeming himself more highly than others. He knew that it was better to give than to receive and he knew that he would give the ultimate display of love at the appointed time. He knew that when you lend, not to expect back what you’ve lent. And he always gave his best, which is why when a city boy came out to where Jesus lived, looking for the biggest and heaviest hammer he could find, Jesus gave him his.
The boy told him, ‘My father is the biggest man in the city and he has a big job to do. I told him that I would find just the right hammer for the job and I’ll keep looking until I do.’
Jesus stopped him and said, ‘Why did you promise to find this
special hammer for your father?’
‘Wouldn’t you?’ the boy replied. ‘Besides,’ he added with a whisper, ‘if I do bring home the perfect hammer, he won’t send my mother and me away.’
Jesus told him, ‘Well, you’ll need a little help to carry my hammer. It’s very big; just right for that big job. I’ll help you carry it.’
They walked together for almost a mile. Pointing, the boy announced proudly, ‘There’s my father. We live over there. He’ll be pleased.
Would you like to meet him? Come on.’
The boy ran ahead of Jesus, calling to his father. Looking up, the angry looking man saw them coming.
‘I’ve found the biggest and best hammer for you, Father!’ the boy declared, disregarding his father's furrowed brow.
‘Do I know you?' he asked Jesus. 'Your look says you know me.’
‘No,’ Jesus replied, ‘you don’t know me yet.’
He handed him the hammer and shook his other hand. After Jesus turned to walk away, the man looked at his hand, the one that held onto Jesus’, running his fingers over the palm as if he were feeling for something.
‘He was a big man, wasn’t he, Father? He sure had a big hammer,
and he gave it to us, Father!’
Years later on a hill called Golgotha, Jesus saw that hammer again, and it was certainly being used for a big job. After the soldier swung the last blow of the hammer, he looked at the man he was nailing to the cross. His eyes filled with horror as he recognized his face. He fell to his knees, but, quickly got back up before anyone would realize that his heart was being pierced. It seemed like forever as he looked into Jesus’ eyes, everything he’d ever done came up in his mind. He felt so helpless and he somehow knew why.
Jesus said to him, so quietly that no one else heard, ‘Now, you know me. And yes, I’ve always known you, and I love you.’
It was no coincidence the man’s marriage began to mend the day he took hold of that hammer.
It was also no coincidence that his son was standing there beside him - also in a Roman soldier’s uniform.
He dropped the hammer and walked away from the cross, looking back only once. In his heart he grieved. But, he knew that God knew of his grief when Jesus cried aloud from the cross in the air,
‘Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.’
Soon afterward, he followed the disciples
– forgiven and alive for the first time in his life.
Have you yet to hold that hammer in your hand?
The house the King desires to live in is your heart.
What have you let Him build there – with His hammer?