The squeak of the back porch door and the sound of Papa and her two older brothers prompted Isabel to investigate.
“Isabel,” Mama scolded, “one of these days you are going to hurt yourself; jumping off the stool that way!”
“Yes, Mama.” Isabel smiled and slowly backed to the door and then ran the length of the back porch to hold the screen door.
Papa entered the back porch, stomped snow off his boots, and then made a show of wiping his feet on the braided rug before entering the kitchen door. “Temperature’s dropping awfully fast,” Papa said as he sauntered to the stove to warm his hands while Mama poured a cup of steaming coffee into a heavy mug and offered him a gingerbread cookie.
“Here’s your tree, little princess,” Papa teased as he pointed to a tiny tree before stepping aside to reveal a large pine.
“Oh, Papa it’s beautiful!” Isabel jumped and clapped her hands simultaneously.
“That is a lovely tree!” Mama reached over Isabel to open the door wider. “Let’s move out of the way, dear so that Papa and the boys can bring that lovely tree inside.”
Isabel skipped into the kitchen and moved her stool out of the way before running to Maggie.
“It’s here, it’s here Maggie. Wake up!”
Maggie sat up and rubbed her eyes. “The Christmas tree?”
“Yes!” Isabel sang, “The Christmas tree and we get to help decorate it!”
Both girls danced around the kitchen as Papa carefully carried the tree into the front parlor and placed it gently into the corner where it could be seen from the kitchen and through the windows.
“Now girls, don’t get too excited. We need to prepare supper and clean up the kitchen first. Besides, we haven’t finished stringing popcorn. We will work on that tonight and add a few of the decorations. Tomorrow we will wrap up cookies to give to our neighbors when we go Christmas caroling. How does that sound?”
“Fun!” Isabel and Maggie sang in unison.
After the dishes were done, the popcorn strung and handmade ornaments hung on the tree, Mama picked up the family Bible and the children gathered around her.
“Did you know that the people of Israel waited for the birth of Jesus – the “Messiah” for a very long time?”
“As long as we waited for baby Sylvie to come?” Maggie asked softly.
“Yes,” Mama said as she reached down and touched the child’s cheek. “They waited many years.
“That’s a long time!” Isabel exclaimed, walked closer to Mama and sat cross-legged on the floor.
“Almost since the beginning of time – since Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden.”
“Did Abraham wait for Jesus to come?” Eugene asked as he folded a piece of paper to cut into the shape of a snowflake.”
“Yes, Abraham believed! God even showed Abraham that He what salvation is all about; He showed us what salvation is by promising Abraham a son and then as precious Isaac began to grow and learn how to be a man for God, he was used as an example of sacrifice.”
“God asked Abraham to take Isaac to the mountain, didn’t he Mama? Eugene said as he laid his craft aside and leaned on his elbows as Mama flipped the pages of the Bible to Genesis.
Papa turned from adding water to the bucket holding the tree, rubbed his chin and joined the conversation. “Abraham was a very old man when little Isaac was born, you know.”
“Older than you, Papa?” Curtis asked innocently.
“Oh, I guess Abraham was about fifty or sixty years older than me.”
“He was old!”
“Yep, he and Sarah both were much too old to have a child. That is part of the miracle – right Mama?” Papa tossed the question back at Mama who had found her place in Scripture.
“That’s right,” Mama smiled at Papa and then looked at the children. “Sarah was much older than me so don’t need to ask. She was even older than Gammy Isabella and Grandma Sarah Elizabeth too. Abraham was one hundred years old when Isaac was born and Sarah wasn’t much younger.”
The children quieted as Mama pulled the lamp closer to her chair and lifted the Bible.
“Genesis chapter 21 tells us about the birth of Isaac. It also tells about what happens when people try to take matters into their own hands to make things happen instead of waiting for God to answer but we will discuss that another time. Tonight, we are talking about the very long wait Abraham and Sarah had to wait for the son God had promised to them. Oh, they were so happy to hold that sweet baby in their arms! Every day he grew bigger and stronger making their parents proud to be chosen by God for such a blessing! They laughed as he smiled in his sleep, watched him try to fit his tiny fist in his mouth – just like you did when you were babies.
He became his Papa’s helper when he learned to walk and then run.”
“Did they have sheep to sheer?” Eugene asked excitedly.
“Oh, yes. Abraham had many fine animals and many workers helping him but I am sure he taught Isaac all about the animals.”
Mama smiled and continued with the story. “One day, God spoke to Abraham and asked him to do something very hard. Something Abraham could never imagine doing but he trusted God.
“What did he ask Abraham to do, Mama?”
Mama began to read. “God said, ‘Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love and go to the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you. So Abraham arose early in the morning and saddled his donkey and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son, and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day, Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship and we will come back to you.’ So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took the fire in his hand and a knife, and the two of them went together. But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, ‘My father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ Then he said, ‘Look to the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? And Abraham said, ‘My son, God will provide Himself the lamb for the burnt offering.”
Mama hesitated and then looked at Papa and then at the children. “Abraham obeyed God and made the altar just as he was supposed to. He put the wood on the altar and then he lifted up his son, Isaac and laid him on the altar where he would normally put a perfect lamb.”
“But why, Mama?” Eugene stood and looked over her shoulder to see the Word of God.
“Because God asked him too,” Mama said softly. You see, before Jesus was born, a perfect lamb or a ram had to be sacrificed to cover their sin. It was an act of faith to show that they believed God would forgive them – to lay the blame for their sin – and remember anything that displeases God is sin – on the sacrificial lamb.”
“They kill the fluffy lamb like Papa has to shoot animals for food?” Isabel felt a tear run down her cheek as she remembered seeing Papa bringing home a deer and a turkey earlier in the week.
“Something like that dear,” Mama said softly, “however, this was an offering to God and not for dinner. The animal used for the sacrifice was very special.”
“So what happened to Isaac?” Curtis asked impatiently.
Mama scooted closer to the lamp and continued reading. “Let’s see now, where did we leave off? Oh, verse ten.”
“And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the Angel of The LORD called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ So he said, “Here I am.”
And He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”
“Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son.
And Abraham called the name of the place The-LORD-Will-Provide.”
“Phew!” Eugene exclaimed, “I thought he was going to kill Isaac!”
Mama nodded in agreement and looked at Papa before continuing with tears in her eyes.
“The Angel of the LORD spoke to Abraham a second time and told him: ‘By Myself, I have sworn, said the LORD because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son- blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore, and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed (children) all the nations of the earth shall be blessed because you have obeyed My voice.”
“Abraham and his son, Isaac went home,” Mama said softly as she pulled out a hankie, blew her nose and placed the hankie in her apron pocket. “In the New Testament book of Hebrews, chapter eleven, it said that because Abraham believed God, it was counted to him for righteousness. It also says that because Abraham obeyed God and offered up his only begotten son believing that God would raise him up from the dead. Boys, what was the Bible verse you learned in Sunday School class last week?”
Eugene and Curtis stood up and began to quote together:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3: 16
“Thank you, boys,” Mama said as she closed the Bible. You see, God gave us a picture of what He planned to do for you and for me. He planned to send His only begotten Son – Jesus to be our sacrifice so that by believing in Him, we will have everlasting life with Him in Heaven.
Abraham was just a man. Isaac was just a boy but Jesus is God’s perfect, sinless Son. He is God in the flesh. He is called Immanuel which means ‘God with us.’ We are human and sin. Some boys may have struggled to get away but Isaac trusted his father. Perhaps Isaac also trusted God to save him – and he did. He provided a ram. Jesus is our ‘ram’ isn’t He?”
“Let’s see now,” Papa said slowly. God promised a son – Isaac to Abraham and Sarah but they had to wait many years before Isaac was born. Abraham’s seed or descendants had to wait hundreds or even thousands of years for Jesus to be born – right Mama?”
“That’s right, Papa. The book of Matthew starts out with the people who were born and died before Jesus was born and it is a very long list! King David is on that list too, Mama said. The Bible is filled with mention of Jesus or the Messiah all through the Bible – from beginning to end. Last week, the preacher said that it is as if there is a red ribbon all the way through the Bible and that red ribbon is Jesus. Remember when God created everything and then he created man? He said, ‘Let us make man in our image.’ Jesus is God the Son. It is hard to understand but God The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit are ‘three in one.’ We won’t truly understand it until we are in Heaven.”
“But it’s Christmas,” Curtis said, “why are we talking about Abraham and Isaac?”
“We wanted you, children, to understand how important Christmas is. It isn’t about the tree or the pretty decorations you made for it and it isn’t even about filled stockings.” Mama said as she leaned over and rocked baby Sylvia’s cradle. It is about the long-awaited, special, miraculous baby who was born in a stable like sheep to be the Savior of the world. Did you notice that God kept calling Isaac ‘your only son or your only begotten son?’ Jesus is God’s only begotten son.
Isaac’s birth was a miracle because Abraham and Sarah’s age. Jesus’ birth was a miracle because He did not have an earthly father. God is His father. Jesus was born of a young woman who was pure. A virgin – but we will talk about that when you are older.
Abraham and Isaac had to travel to the place that God would show them. Mary and Joseph, the man God chose for Mary to marry so that he would be a good fill-in father for Jesus, had to travel to Bethlehem. They later had to travel to Egypt because of the wicked King who wanted to harm Jesus. Jesus traveled in His ministry and then, he had to walk up the hill called Calvary to become the sacrifice for our sin. After He gave His life for us, His disciples, his family and followers waited three long days when Jesus arose from the dead!
So you see, waiting so long for Jesus to come is very much a part of the Christmas story. Sometimes, we forget that because we focus on gifts and trees.” Mama said with a smile and nodded to Papa who stood and left the room.
Papa returned to the room with a large bundle and walked slowly to the tree.
“Is it a gift?”
“Who’s it for?”
Everyone seemed to speak at once while watching Papa struggle with the bundle in his arms.
“Mama,” Papa said with a chuckle. “Guess you had better help me with this before I drop it!”
Mama rushed over and removed the gunny sack to reveal a wooden structure.
“Oh,” Isabel exclaimed, “is it a dollhouse?”
“Of course not, silly!” Eugene said with confidence. “It’s a stable!”
“That’s right, Eugene.” Mama smiled as she helped Papa lower the structure and placed it carefully under the tree. Next, he dug into the bag and pulled out some hay to lie on the floor of the stable. Next, he pulled out a box on legs and filled it with hay.
“What’s that?” Little Maggie asked and reached out to touch it gently.
“It’s a manger!” Curtis said. “You know – the bed for baby Jesus but it’s really a food box for the animals. Right, Papa?”
“That’s right, son,” Papa said as he stood and placed an arm around Mama. “Why don’t we sing just one Christmas carol before we turn in for the night? I’m afraid the chickens have beat us to bed tonight!
Mama picked up her squeeze box and played Joy to the World as the children and Papa sang along. Isabel looked once more at the stable with the empty manger.
“Papa, what about Baby Jesus? Doesn’t he sleep in the manger?”
“Well little Princess,” Papa said softly, “we have to wait.”