**This is part of a series, beginning with Nativity Walk 1:
“Joe, did you hear that?”
“Joe – I heard something. Wake up.”
“It’s not even light yet – go back to sleep – we’re fine.”
Mary cracked open the door and peered out into the pre-dawn blackness of the roman settlement. She was accustomed to the sounds of horses, goats, chickens, dogs and other domestic animals in Nazareth, but this was different. A growl – a roar even. Something wild.
Awake now, Joseph consoles his fiance’: “We’re in town; there’s nothing dangerous here but people, and they don’t sound like you’re describing. Calm down.”
“Calm down?! I know you didn’t. . .”
“No! No. I didn’t. I wouldn’t . . .” Joseph suddenly remembers his premarital counseling; “What direction is whatever you think you heard?”
As they greet Mel for the morning and begin loading her up, Mary explains that the noise came from down the hill to the east, and tries her best to mimic the sound, accomplishing nothing but a chuckle and a patronizing compliment from Joseph of how cute she is.
“Well Mary that’s the direction we’re going, so I guess we’ll just meet up with your monster and Mel and I will take it out when we find it, right Mel?” Mel snorts and looks toward the first beams of sun creating splashes of color in the few clouds of an otherwise dark sky as she swats an invisible bug with her tail.
As Mary leads Mel away for a last drink before departure, Joseph winds the straps of his tefillin around his arm and recites his morning shema. Adorned with his good new prayer shawl, he bows back and forth as he prays toward Jerusalem, now six days away:
Praised are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, creating light and fashioning darkness, ordaining the order of all creation.
You illumine the world and its creatures with mercy; in Your goodness, day after day You renew Creation. How manifold Your works, O Lord; with wisdom You fashioned them all. The earth abounds with Your creations. Uniquely exalted since earliest time, enthroned on praise and prominence since the world began, eternal God, with Your praise and prominence since the world began, eternal God, with Your manifold mercies continue to love us, our Pillar of strength, protective Rock, sheltering Shield, sustaining Stronghold.
Our praiseworthy God with vast understanding fashioned the rays of the sun. The good light He created reflects His splendor; radiant lights surround His throne. His heavenly servants in holiness exalt the Almighty, constantly recounted His sacred glory. Praise shall be Yours, Lord our God, for Your wondrous works, for the lights You have fashioned, the sun and the moon which reflect Your glory.
Our Rock, our Redeemer, our King, Creator of holy beings, You shall be praised forever. You fashion angelic spirits to serve You; beyond the heavens, they all await Your command. In chorus they proclaim with reverence words of the living God, eternal King. Adoring, beloved, and choice are they all, in awe fulfilling their Creator’s will. In purity and sanctity they raise their voices in song and psalm, extolling and exalting, declaring the power, praise, holiness, and majesty of God, the great, mighty, awesome King, the Holy One. One to another they vow loyalty to God’s kingship, one to another they join to hallow their Creator with serenity, pure speech, and sacred song, in unison chanting with reverence:
Holy, holy, holy, Adonai tzeva’ot; the whole world is filled with His glory.
As in the prophet’s vision, soaring celestial creatures roar, responding with a chorus of adoration:
Praised be the glory of the Lord throughout the universe.
To praiseworthy God they sweetly sing: the living, enduring God they celebrate in song. For He is unique, doing mighty deeds, creating new life, championing justice, sowing righteousness, reaping victory, bringing healing. Awesome in praise, Sovereign of wonders, day after day in His goodness He renews Creation. So sang the Psalmist: “Praise the Creator of great lights, for His love endures forever.” Cause a new light to illumine Zion. May we all soon share a portion of its radiance. Praised are You, Lord, Creator of lights.
Deep is Your love for us, Lord our God, boundless Your tender compassion. You taught our ancestors life-giving laws. They trusted in You, our Father and King. For their sake graciously teach us, Father, merciful Father, show us mercy; grant us discernment and understanding. Then will we study Your Torah, heed its words, teach its precepts and follow its instruction, lovingly fulfilling all its teachings. Open our eyes to Your Torah, help our hearts cleave to Your mitzvot. Unite all our thoughts to love and revere You. Then shall we never be brought to shame. Trusting in Your awesome holiness, we will delight in Your deliverance. Bring us safely from the ends of the earth, and lead us in dignity to our holy land. You are the Source of deliverance. You have called us from all peoples and tongues, constantly drawing us nearer to You, that we may lovingly offer You praise, proclaiming Your Oneness. Praised are You, Lord who loves His people Israel.
Your teaching is true and enduring. Your words are established forever. Awesome and revered are they, eternally right; well ordered are they, always acceptable. They are sweet and pleasant and precious, good and beautiful and beloved. True it is that eternal God is our King, that the Rock of Jacob is our protecting shield. He is eternal and His glory is eternal; He is God for all generations. His sovereign throne is firmly established; His faithfulness endures for all time.
His teachings are precious and abiding; they live forever. For our ancestors, for us, for our children, for every generation of the people Israel, for all ages from the first to the last, His teachings are true, everlasting. True it is that You are the Lord our God, even as You were the God of our ancestors. Our King and our ancestors’ King, our Redeemer and our ancestors’ Redeemer, our Creator, our victorious Stronghold. You have always helped us and saved us. Your name endures forever. There is no God but You.
You were always the help of our ancestors, a shield for them and for their children, our deliverer in every generation. Though You abide in the pinnacle of the universe, Your just decrees extend to the ends of the earth. Happy the one who obeys Your mitzvot, who takes to heart the words of Your Torah. You are, in truth, Lord of Your people, their defender and mighty King. You are first and You are last. We have no King or Redeemer but You. You rescued us from Egypt; You redeemed us from the house of bondage. The firstborn of the Egyptians were slain; Your firstborn were saved. You split the waters of the sea. The faithful You rescued; the wicked drowned. The waters engulfed Israel’s enemies; not one of the arrogant remained alive. Then Your beloved sang hymns and acclamation, extolling You with psalms and adoration. They acclaimed God King, great and awesome Source of all blessings, the everliving God, exalted in majesty, who redeems the meek, helps the needy and answers His people’s call. Praises to God supreme, ever praised is He. Moses and the people Israel sang with great joy this song to the Lord:
Who is like You, Lord, among all that is worshiped? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, awesome in splendor, working wonders? (Exodus 15:11)
The redeemed sang a new song for You. They sang in chorus at the shore of the sea, acclaiming Your sovereignty:
“The Lord shall reign throughout all time.” (Exodus 15:18)
Rock of Israel, rise to Israel’s defense. Fulfill Your promise to deliver Judah and Israel. Our Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, Adonai tzeva’ot is His name. Praised are You, Lord, Redeemer of the people Israel.
Joseph has been taught these words and recited these words twice a day as long as he can remember, but today he listens more carefully to his own words, given the weight of his mission and his location in a roman town. He finishes and jogs to catch up to Mary at the watering trough. He shoves his prayer accessories into the bags and they start down the hill toward the now bright sky.
Just as they round a curve of the trail, they find the source of Mary’s earlier fright: to the right of the trail is a roman arena complete with gated lion pens at the base, for the slaughter of those deemed dispensable for entertainment by the rulers. The lions are finishing their morning breakfast, intentionally kept light by the caretakers so as not to ruin their appetite for more game, later in the day when the crowds will come. Mary shivers as she thinks of this scene, the present roman occupation, and the prophecies of Isaiah about the Messiah. She says nothing and they quicken their pace through the wealth and discomfort of the marble streets of Bethshean. The fortress where Saul hung stands on the mountain in the background.
Before noon the couple reaches the cool water of the Jordan River and stops for a long respite to give Mel a break from her load and let Mary sit on a rock and soak her feet.
Both the flora and the frequency of travelers is more dense now than in the hills, as the water of the Jordan nourishes the landscape and attracts the travelers for the census to its banks and its fish. M & J are relieved to find shade and to know that much of their journey will be along this path to the south now, as the river runs down into the Dead Sea.
“We’ve traded the filth of the Romans for the wildlife of the river,” says Joseph; “but at least now if we have a problem we are traveling among family,” says Mary. “But some of Abraham’s children are no safer to us than the Romans . . .” Joseph reminds.
“Joe – feel this – He kicked!” Mary takes Joseph’s hand and places it softly on the left side of her belly. “He’ll be a football player if saving the world doesn’t work out as His first job,” Joseph jokes, as Mary jabs him in the ribs.
– continued at NW3 –