“Elsar, look out!” Came a voice from a dusty alley.
The chariot driver pulled back furiously against the reins of his team of horses, as the tax collector’s private chariot came thundering around the corner of the stone building into the alley after night had fallen in Bethlehem. But it was too late, the heavy hoofs of the massive horses knocked the boy to the ground, then the chariot lurched upward as the wheels crushed the frail body of the young boy.
The driver pulled tighter as the mighty horses, panting heavily with the strain, came to their halt. The driver glanced behind him to see who, or what had been out on the abandoned road during this time of night. As he saw the body of the boy illuminated by dingy lamps of peasants who were emerging from the shadows, he realized it was no one of importance, besides the governor demanded prompt delivery of the taxes collected that day.
He sighed and turned to the horses, “Hee-yah, we’ve no time to waste.”
“He didn’t have a chance.” Exclaimed one of the people as he bent over the crumpled body. “Who is he?”
“Elsar!” Said the voice from the alley. “He is a keeper of stables, he talks to the animals.”
Elsar could still hear the familiar voice but it’s contents did not register, as it had always been before, Elsar was slow to understand the words spoken around him. This time it was different, this time is was not because of the slowness of his mind, but because of the gushing of blood he felt from his ribs and stomach. He rolled over as he winced in pain; all of the people gathered around were but fuzzy images with blotches of light where the lamps dangled over him. Except for one light, a star, a bright star, it was as clear as the mid-day sun to him. Somehow he felt peace as he gazed past the crowd towards the heavenly image.
Elsar was born without a “chance” as many would say, his mental abilities were at best, slow. His physical abilities were best described as awkward. His left shoulder dipped down as the arm dangled uselessly to his side. His feet were mangled from years of working in stables and flopped in inconsistent directions as he stumbled along. His father was a merchant who took one look at the misshapen figure of his son and left, cursing the woman who would give birth to such a creature.
Elsar’ mother, Elantia, was a young women when she had met the merchant. She cried as the merchant turned towards the door, but when she looked at the boy in her arms the tears vanished. He was a beautiful son - he was her son. She never would again cry for such a man as the merchant.
Elantia struggled mightily in raising the boy. She labored earnestly in service to any that would employ her. She sent timeless hours employed at an inn, cleaning, cooking, sewing clothes, and all. For this work she was given a humble little room in the back of the inn by the alley. She had taught Elsar diligently through the years to accomplish simple tasks to help with her chores. As Elsar grew, she asked the innkeeper if the boy could help in the stables. He was careful in his work and he loved the animals.
When Elsar was twelve, Elantia became seriously ill. Elsar tried to manage his mother’s duties but his limitations were too much. With much regret the innkeeper removed Elantia from her duties. The room would have to go to someone who could do the work, the innkeeper had no choice, and he removed Elantia and Elsar from their humble room. Elantia knew that they needed shelter against the elements. Her pleadings were met with compassion as the innkeeper allowed them to live in one of the stables that serviced the Inn.
Elantia watched carefully as her son, sweating and gasping for breath would push that awkward body to it’s limits. Elsar loved work, he loved people, and he loved the animals. As she would drift in and out of consciousness, she would hear him quietly and slowly whisper his broken words to the animals to calm them.
“Elsar,” Elantia whispered, “you have a special gift of caring and peace, don’t ever be satisfied with the expectations of man, live up to the expectations of God.”
Elsar crept closer as his mother’s words became softer and softer. “Mah Maah, I – Iah, do-ahnat ahnda-stannd.” But there were no more words from his mother, there were no more gasps for breath, her eyes closed as her head dropped heavily in his arms. The hands that had stroked his misshapen back through the years were now cold and tough. Elsar clutched his mother tightly in his arms as his tears dripped gently onto her face.
Elsar now lived alone with the animals of the stable. The innkeeper tried as best he could to feed the boy and watch out for him, but he too had a family and a business to run. There was little time for the boy who talks to animals.
Elsar lived each day with the words of his mother burned into his soul, “live up to the expectations of God.” He still did not understand the whole meaning of the words but he thought it had something to do with how he worked with the stables and the animals. He did his best each and every day because it seemed important to his mother so it would be important to him.
Today was no different, as he awoke to the grunts and groans of the animals in his stable. He crawled to the table to help him rise to his feet and stretched his good arm to the rising sun. Then began the awkward stumbling tasks of cleaning the stable and bringing in the fresh, new straw for animal beds as well as his own. For others it might have been a task that took a few hours without any thought, but to Elsar, it always took most of the day and it took every thought and bit of energy he possessed. It was not mundane or boring, it was a privilege and as he gazed towards the sky, it was expected of him… by God.
Elsar stopped for a moment, he understood!
He understood what his mother had said with her dying breath, the expectations of God. His was to care for this little corner of the earth, the stable, the animals. “But why?” thought Elsar, “it can’t be that important?” Well that would have to wait for another time, the sun was beginning to set now and the new straw was not entirely in position. Elsar completed the work and stood alone and quiet in the stable. It looked especially comfortable tonight; even the animals seemed to appreciate the masterpiece of which they were a part.
Now he would eat. He stumbled out of the stable towards the inn, looking back over his shoulder towards the stable; it seemed to reach out to him tonight in appreciation for his efforts. His thoughts were so involved in the stable tonight that he did not hear or notice the thundering hoofs of the approaching chariot.
That star! Elsar could only think about that star. He felt his life slipping out of his chest on the dusty road, but that star! He gently closed his eyes for the last time.
Suddenly, he felt his back stretch and straighten, in his left arm he felt a tingling feeling that he had not know before, his feet planted themselves firmly on the ground as his toes curled around the fresh, clean straw at his feet. He could hardly believe the pure energy flowing through his body; it made him feel warm and light. His eyes opened slowly at the brilliance of light before him, he lifted his now operational left arm to cover his eyes.
As his eyes became accustomed to the light he lowered his hand. It was his stable, but what was happening? The light drained out of the cracks and crevasses of the stable walls to unfold a view of eternal importance. It was a Child, a child that lay upon the straw bed that he had finished only moments before for his bed. The child lay peacefully upon the bed with a mother lying gently beside him, her hands softly stroking the small curls of hair around his large eyes. He thought of how his mother had once softly stroked his hair, as he would lay awake at night. He saw a man kneeling beside the two, tears in his eyes as he supported himself one hand on a wooden shaft the other rubbing the shoulder of his tender bride.
All his life, the events around him had confused and frustrated his slow mind, but tonight it was different. Elsar slowly kneeled before the child; “You are the Saviour of the world.” The words came clearly and distinctly to his mind and lips.
The mother of the child turned her head towards him, “His name is Jesus. He is the one whose mission is foretold, he will bring peace and eternal happiness. We thank you for your honorable service.”
The words sank deep into his heart like a flaming sword. He had lived up to the expectations of God. He had created the first earthly home for the Christ child. He had done his best. Now he was the first to gaze upon the heavenly child here on earth. He bowed his head as tears welled up in his heart and eyes.
Then he heard a noise behind him. As he raised his head he saw some of the townsfolk and shepherds, some standing, some kneeling in quiet reverence. Elsar again bowed to the child with a feeling of joy in his soul, then he slowly backed through the assembled crowd. As he passed the last member of the group - he turned to leave.
As he now glanced towards the alley corner where he had lain hours before, there she stood - with the star silhouetting her frame in the crisp, night air. Her arms open to embrace him. He knew at once, it was his mother, Elantia.
Elsar ran quickly to her and lifted her high into the air spinning in a circle with a strong, firm hug.
“Elsar,” she said “my boy, my beautiful boy, I am so proud of you. You have done well. Now I have someplace for us to go, it is called heaven by many, but to me and my son - it will simply be home.”
© Karl Egbert 2000