Thursday, January 2, 2014

Keith Koerner: Today in Paradise - A Christmas Story

Founder's Note: This is an excellent Christmas story from my friend Keith Koerner. We thought our readers would enjoy his Christmas message. Merry Christmas and many blessings. -Steve Shultz

Intro from Keith Koerner:

I wrote a short story about
Christmas, taking some artistic liberties.
Perhaps it didn't happen exactly like
this, but it may have.
Have a Merry Christmas and
remember the reason for the season.
It isn't about a baby's birthday.
It is about a Savior, a plan set in motion
to save us from our sins and
restore relationship between us and God.
If you enjoyed this story, please share it with others!
________________________________

Today in Paradise - A Christmas Story
Crouching down under the back of a wagon, I peer cautiously into the darkness. I can hear the soldiers shouting and the hoofs of horses in the distance. The whinny from a horse makes me jerk my head to the right. Twenty yards away, a mounted Roman soldier is searching the street. I inch backwards under the wagon, further from his view. I slide out from under the wagon and kneel behind a large box. The soldier's lantern swings by the wagon where I had been hiding under just moments ago. He continues slowly down the street and out of sight. I breathe a sigh of relief, trying to calm the pounding in my chest.
I squint through the darkness, trying to assess my surroundings. It appears that I got lucky. The chase has lead me to the edge of the town. Only a few houses separate me from the hills surrounding Bethlehem. Fifty yards and I'll be free. I stealthily move down the darkened street and into the low-lying hills. Using the trees as shelter, I make my way further from town. Once at a safe distance, I drop my bag. By the light of the moon, I peer at the contents. Close to twenty gold coins, a gold cup, and a small dagger. This is my best theft yet in my budding career. Poor tax collector, leaving his home unbarred on a busy night. Perhaps drunk, or perhaps too naive to suspecting that anyone - let alone a wiry twelve year old - would take something from his home.
I smile and put the contents back in the bag. I'll spend the night out here in the hills, away from the town of Bethlehem. Away from the soldiers searching for me. Tomorrow, I'll travel to Bethany. Hopping from town to town, I will prey upon unsuspecting victims.
Nestled amongst the trees, I prepare to sleep. I hear shepherds nearby, laughing and talking around a fire. Sheep bleat occasionally, more for the comfort of each other than for any real need. It is quiet. Stars are attempting to shine their magnificence through the partially cloudy covering.
I take my blanket from the pack and place it at my side. I form the rest of the pack into a pillow and pull the blanket over my body. As I lie back, I see a bright light appear in the sky very close by. I roll over to my side to peer through the trees. A light coming down from the sky. The shepherds laughter and talking immediately stops. They are staring too. I've never seen anything quite like it. I crawl out of my blanket and creep closer, strangely drawn to the unknown. Out of the light a figure appears, suspended in air about thirty feet above the shepherds.
Terrified, the shepherds turn to run towards the trees. Towards me.
"Wait!"
They stop, uncertain if they should run or listen to this figure.
The figure reaches out his arms in a welcoming manner. "Don't be scared. I have some great news for you. Not just you, but all people. Tonight, a mighty king has been born!"
The shepherds turn fully towards the figure. I emerge from the shadows, wanting a closer look.
"Here's how you know who this King is: You'll find the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a feeding trough."
I've hit the jackpot! A King. Wealth. Think of the treasures in His home!
Wait. A feeding trough? That doesn't make sense. Perhaps I heard wrong.
Suddenly the sky brightens, and hundreds of these figures are all around us. They sing and declare peace on earth. Frightening yet incredible. My senses are alive.
Then as quickly as they appeared, the figures all disappear. Silence and darkness. The shepherds stare at the sky, still trying to understand what they just saw.
"Let's go find Him," exclaims one of the shepherds.
It breaks the group out of their trance-like state. Quickly they gather their things and start walking towards Bethlehem. I quietly gather my belongings and trail along at the back of the pack. I should be leaving. I shouldn't be risking going back into Bethlehem, but the temptation is too great. I want to see this King. I want to see who He is. But I also know that this is an opportunity to steal more valuables than ever before. Perhaps I'd be able to steal enough to no longer have to steal again.
Walking back into town, one of the shepherds notices me.
"Did you see that?" he asks.
"Yes, I did!" I reply. "That was amazing. I want to see this King too."
"Come up here and join us. We will find this King. This is truly great news," he exclaims as he wraps his arm around my shoulder and gives a rough squeeze. Though a stranger, we have a camaraderie based around the hatred of our nation being subjected to the foreign rule of the Roman Empire. A King gives us hope.
I join the shepherds as they search for the future King. I try to stay in the middle of the group so I wouldn't be spotted easily by any soldiers who may still be searching for me. I think again of the treasures I could take from this King's house.
We arrive at a rundown inn close to the northeast side of the town. Just as one of the shepherds starts to knock on the door, we hear the distinct cry of a newborn baby. Turning, we see the small cave where the animals are kept.
Surely not in there. Surely a baby could not be in such a dirty place.
The shepherd in the lead spins on his heels and we as one enter the cave. Peering over an old donkey, I glimpse a family. Sliding around to the other side of the donkey while staying in the shadows, I am able to take a better look. A man and a woman sit along the back of the cave, huddled together for warmth. A small lantern casts shadows on the cave walls. In the dim light, I see that in the woman's arms is a little baby, crying softly. She wraps the blankets tighter around the baby, gently rocking Him.
Two of the shepherds tentatively step forward. The leader introduces himself and tells the young family what they just experienced in the field. The couple's eyes grow wide in amazement. As the shepherd tells the story, the woman continues to rock the baby and soon he stops crying and falls asleep. She looks down at the baby, her eyes filled with wonderment yet peaceful. It was as if she knew this would happen.
I move further into the cave and feel the squish of fresh manure beneath my sandal and curse under my breath. I smell the stench of the animals. I feel the cold air blowing in the cave.
How can this be? A poor family. A baby born in a cave? Where is the wealth? Where are the treasures? Could we be in the wrong place?
Yet I knew He was The One. There was something about everything that had been going on. This was not common. A future King. Peace on earth. But penniless. Not in a castle, but in a cave.
I look around the room one more time, looking for anything of value. A small bag is near the young man, but I don't have the heart to steal from someone who just had a baby.
Scraping the manure off of my sandal, I slowly slip out of the cave and into the cool night air. I hear the shepherd ask what the baby's name is. As I walk away, I hear her reply, "Jesus."

________________________________
For over thirty years since I began a life of crime, I have never been caught. Without a father and with a mother more interested in other men than me, I had turned to stealing in order to provide for myself. Now as I hide in the shadows of a rich young ruler's home, I think back to my humble beginnings. I remember the first loaf of bread I stole from a street vendor. I recollect the first time I snuck into a neighbor's house. I had known where he kept his gold. Quickly and quietly, I had taken several coins but purposefully left most of the coins since I had thought his daughter was beautiful. I remember the night I stole from the tax collector and almost got caught by the Roman soldiers. That reminds me of the puzzling encounter with the shepherds, floating figures in the sky, and a supposed baby King.
I wonder what ever happened to that baby?
My attention returns to the house as I hear the door open. The young ruler locks the door and hurries down the street. Now is the time. I make my way to the back of the house, looking for an opening. The courtyard gate at the stairs leading to his rooftop is not barred. I quietly open the gate and climb the stairs. On the roof, I crouch near an opening in the roof. Slowly I climb down the ladder and into his house. I've become very adept at searching homes in complete darkness. I feel my way around the room looking for a loose rock in the wall, a common hiding place for valuables. Behind that rock I know that there are many gold coins. I need to find those coins. I need to stop being a thief. It is getting harder to steal. The risk is getting greater. People are becoming more wise and hiding things better. The Roman soldiers are looking for thieves with greater persistence.
I find the loose rock! I place it on the ground and reach into the hole. I feel coins. Lots of coins. Jackpot! I begin to load my bag. My heart begins to race with the all too familiar thrill of stealing a large treasure. I'm a little sloppy in my excitement. Quickly. The coins are clinking as they hit the bottom of the bag. A little too quickly. A little too loudly. Loud enough to not hear the door open as the young ruler returned to get something he'd forgotten. Too loud to not hear him come up behind me. Suddenly a sharp pain in the back of my head. Darkness. ________________________________
My head is pounding in pain before I even open my eyes. I reach to feel where it hurts but my arm is stopped short. I open my eyes. My arms and legs are shackled together, allowing for only the smallest of movements. I lift my head and take in the surroundings. Across the room is a man that I recognize. Another thief. We had even planned and committed a few thefts together when the jobs needed more than one man.
I grimace in pain. My head is throbbing. My chest hurts when I breathe. My back feels like someone has made cuts all over it. My vision in my left eye is partially blurry and my face feels swollen.
I lean back against the wall. This is it. This is the end. Caught in the act. I know the punishment. I close my eyes to the physical and emotional pain.
________________________________
I try to sleep off the pain and not think about what is next. The head continues to pound and my body hurts. But I know it is nothing compared to the pain I will feel in a few hours. Sentenced to death just an hour earlier, I feel the weight of the judgment upon me. Terror rises in me. Helpless to do anything about it, I curse the air.
Down the corridor I hear the shouts of an angry mob of people. I look up to see the guards pushing a man down the hall. He is hardly recognizable. Covered in blood, chunks of His beard pulled out, His back ripped open from the whippings of the dreaded cat of nine tails. His face covered in spit mixed with blood.
A guard opens the cell door. He removes the shackles from the other thief and me. "On your feet," he barks.
We follow the crowd out into the open courtyard. For some reason, the mob is furious with this severely beaten man. I see the Roman soldiers and the crowd of mostly Jews begin to mock Him.
They cram a crudely made crown made out of large thorns upon His head. I see blood stream down the back of his neck. They put a robe on Him.
"King of the Jews?" They taunt him.
"You think You are so great. Just look at You now." A burly guard slaps Him across the face.
I am led across the courtyard to stand before Pilate, the ruler of the region. The other thief stands with me. Pilate is distracted by the mob. He wants to let this man go free, but the crowd is shouting, "Crucify Him."
"Jesus, what do You have to say?" Pilate asked Him.
Jesus? I vaguely recall the name. Many years ago. A King. My head is throbbing. I can't think straight.
I think back through the years. All the people I'd encountered. The ones I stole from. The ones I called friends.
A King? The crowd is wanting to crucify a King?
Shaken out of my thoughts by a guard shoving me forward, I wince in pain. The verdict has been passed. Pilate has waved me on. He will not save me. All three of us now must begin the march towards death. Weakened by the beatings, the crossbar they strap to my shoulders is almost too heavy. I have to carry it to the hill. The crowds are now even larger. Hatred spews from their lips. They curse at us, spit on us, yell at us. But I notice most of it is directed at the man they call Jesus.
Why such hatred? What did He do?
I stagger under the weight, nearly falling on my face. I attempt to regain my footing, bumping into someone. Jesus. Just a couple of feet away. He turns His head and I see His face. There is something in His eyes. I can see it. Not the anger of being beaten. Not the terror of being sentenced to death. Not the shame of a life of crime. It is something else. Something good. Beyond the pain being inflicted upon His body, His eyes are shining with... love! With love for the people!
It makes no sense. The crowd is so angry, so full of hate. Yet He is full of love.
We finally make it to the hill. The soldiers lay each of us down upon a large pole. They tie the crossbar onto the pole. I brace for what is next. I see the spikes. I see the hammer. I roll my head to the left. I look into the eyes of the ones they mockingly called the King of the Jews. He looks at me, eyes deeper than the ocean. They seem to look right through me, right to my heart. I look away, feeling strangely ashamed of what I'd done in my life.
The hammer falls. Worse pain than I've ever felt now courses through my body. Right hand. Left hand. I feel weak with pain. I look back at Jesus. His body trembles in agony, but He continues to look into my eyes. Right foot. Left foot. The pain of the stakes is almost too much.
They lift us up. I feel the blood rush to my feet and I feel dizzy. My body sags under the weight of itself. I push myself up on the cross to be able to breath. Unbearable pain. The crowd is screaming.
Jesus. A cave. Figures in the sky. Shepherds. A King. Peace on earth. A Savior.
The disparate thoughts all merge together.
This is Him! This is the One that over thirty years ago amazing supernatural events trumpeted His arrival.
I see the figures. The angels. "Glory to God in the highest. Tonight a Savior is born."
A Savior. Jesus - which means One who saves. One who will save us all from our sins.
I turn my head for another look. I see the eyes. Eyes of love for mankind. I understand who He really is. My vision blurs. I see the baby. The innocent baby is nailed to that cross! One who hasn't harmed anyone. The Savior. The King.
The crowd continues to yell. I know He is innocent, yet I see myself walk over to Him. I spit upon Him. I slap Him. I yell, "Crucify Him!" The baby just looks at me with love.
I put Him there! I was the one.
Jesus. The One who will save people from their sins.
I rejected Him. I had heard of His miracles but I wasn't interested. I was too busy committing crimes, living my own life. My sins are too many. I step away from the cross. I feel the guilt. My mind flashes back across the years. The things I had stolen. The things I said. The selfish life I'd lived. It was me. I understand in a moment that this baby was dying not for the crimes He had committed, but for mine. For everyone standing there. For everyone yet to come.
The innocent One. The pure One. The King of the Jews. The Son of God. For me. A baby. Fully God, yet fully man. A plan. A plan for all mankind.
I push myself up again. I'm so weak. My vision is starting to blur. I see the baby. I see the severely beaten man. I see the King. I see my Savior. I understand that His Kingdom was not of this world. He is opening the door to let us all have access to that Kingdom.
"Remember me when you arrive in Your Kingdom," I say to Him.
Eyes full of love. I feel the guilt wash away. The shame removed. The humiliation gone. I feel clean. My mind is clear.
"Today, you will be with Me in paradise," He says in a soft, kind voice.
Through the excruciating pain, a slight smile crosses His mouth. Without strength to say any more, I smile back. I feel a warmth at the back of my head. My vision blurs. White. Bright. Light. Nothing.
Paradise.

Copyright 2013 - Keith Koerner

Source: http://beingreal4all.blogspot.com/2013/12/today-in-paradise-christmas-story.html

Permission is granted (and you are also encouraged) to reprint these articles in hard copy form, as well as sending them to your own email lists and posting them on your own websites. We ask only that you keep Elijah List website, email contact info, and author contact information intact.

Elijah List Publications
528 Ellsworth St. SW
Albany, OR 97321
www.elijahlist.com
email: info@elijahlist.net
Phone 1-541-926-3250