Posted by: ourbakersdozen | November 4, 2011

An Advent Project…

Some of my friends on facebook may have noted my mention of writers block. Well – the cause of it is a childrens book that I am writing for Advent. It grew out of a project Gabriela and I were discussing doing with the little ones this Advent. I asked her if she remembered the year I created a wall of footsteps that wound around the living room and ultimately ended in a small stable in Bethlehem. I had a drawing of Joseph with Mary riding side saddle on  a donkey that we moved from step to step to step – daily throughout Advent. Then I laughed as I realized that Gabriela had been an infant that year – so she most certainly had not remembered this journey to Bethlehem. We had fun talking about things we could do in the evenings with the little ones and cutouts we could create to go on the wall to mark the adventures caravans might have encountered while journeying to their birthplaces for that momentous census. Suddenly I said – wouldn’t it be great to have a little story to read each night before we moved the Holy family forward towards Bethlehem! And thus began my own pre-advent adventure and a lot of research! Because while we all know that Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem to be counted do we, for instance, know how far they would have traveled?

Well I do, now. Its about 80 miles and some research claims that they would have had to avoid Samaria as due to the angry relations between the Jews and the Samaritans while still others claim that travelers going to Bethlehem would have traveled in groups or caravans due to the possibility of attack by thieves and the necessity of passing through Samaritan territory. Because of the historical sitings that the later route would reveal to Joseph and Mary this is the route I will use as their journey.

I can not tell you how thrilled and motivated I am about this and can’t wait to finish it. My goal is to have it out on Kindle form by the first Sunday of Advent (Thanksgiving weekend!). Gabriela and I are working on our own drawings to include in the book that can be used to either inspire to draw your own pictures or to cut out and use for your own wall journey to Bethlehem for Advent. They will be in black and white so that children can color their own copies and use them on their wall to move along as Joseph and Mary travel to Bethlehem. (I am hoping that we can set up some pages to be able to be printed. If not we will have to include a link to a site where we will have them available to print off.)

Later – if the book takes off, I will see about having it published in book form but kindle is our best hope for it to be available in time for this coming Advent season.

So without further adieu here is the first chapter as a teaser. I am currently working on the third Chapter – “A Surprise from Jerusalem”  But here is the first:


The Census is Decreed

Chapter One: The Census is Decreed

The sunlight filtered through the shutters over Joseph’s couch and tickled at Mary’s eyelids. Feeling the welcome warmth playing on her face, Mary woke. Stiff from the chill and the thin mat she had been sleeping on, she stretched and eased her legs over the side of the stone shelf that allowed for seating in the day and sleep at night. Her stirrings woke Joseph and he smiled across the room at his lovely bride.

“Stay Mary, keep the covers over you while I stir the embers and get the fire going.”  She started as if to protest but then smiled back at her husband so eager to care for her.

“ Emmm, Joseph,  I believe I will wait a moment. Thank you!” She gently rubbed her swollen abdomen and whispered to the little one nestled below her beating heart. “Oh little one – not so much stretching, Mama’s tummy will explode”

Joseph glanced at his little family contained under the woven cover that Mary pulled up over her shoulders and smiled. Was a man ever so blessed as he? Such a beautiful, loving, kind and yes holy woman God had chosen for him. He bent and stoked the small fire that warmed their cozy abode – in no time it would be warm enough for Mary to begin moving about on the clay floor as she prepared their breakfast without freezing her toes.

“There,” smiled Joseph, “The fire is going! In a few moments you can start with breakfast. While you wait I will just get some water from the mitveh* for you to wash with before you start breakfast. “

Joseph slipped quickly out the door before the chill wind could snatch away any of the growing warmth.  For not the first time Mary thanked her Lord* for such a thoughtful husband and a carpenter besides. The shutters held tight against the cold dry winter winds and, earlier, had sheltered her from the glaring desert sun.  Likewise was the door that led to the courtyard where their gentle goat, Zelda, was tethered through the night – safely away from her garden.

Mary gave a small yawn and stood, allowing the cover to fall away. Shivering just a little she reached for her shawl and wrapping it around her shoulders she then reached for her belt and attempted to tie it around  her halug* just above her bulging stomach.   She could hear Joseph call to Zelda. In her minds eye she saw their crowded courtyard and the delicate blue flowers she had planted just around the bottom of their mitveh. Joseph had teased her that the little goat she had brought with her from Jerusalem would simply eat them. So far Zelda had ignored the little flowers, yet Joseph persisted in teasing her that one day Zelda would devour the tiny morsels of blue delight.

“Ooof”’ she groaned slightly and chided her little one “You are growing too much! Soon Mama will not fit in her halug and she will have to borrow one of Papa’s. “Tenderly she rubbed her belly and then in a few short steps she was before the wall where she stored her various foodstuffs. Josef was a good provider and they had many garlands of dried figs and other fruits as well as many jars of grain just waiting to be ground for bread. There was still a flat barley loaf left from Monday’s baking and she would share with Joseph along with some dried figs and warm fresh milk waiting to be taken from her little goat before Jarib, the local goat herder, would gather her to join the others for the day.

An hour later she and Joseph were finished their early breakfast when they heard a commotion outside their courtyard. Mary recognized ten year old Jarib’s young voice, shrill and angry amidst a dozen or more bleating goats and they both hurried outside to see what was upsetting him.

Jarib’s halug flapped in the breeze as he angrily flung himself about trying to free himself from the strong grip of the Roman soldier. He glared as the Roman laughed at his futile efforts to free himself. Suddenly catching sight of Mary’s shocked face, the Roman sheepishly let the boy go – causing him to sprawl in the dusty road. The nanny goats skittered away from his tumbling body and danced about the road, crowding the unfamiliar soldiers against another court wall. The dusty street was easily crowded by just the boy and his goats. This unwelcome addition of roman soldiers left everyone pressed against each other.

“Let that be a lesson to you boy!” the Roman Centurion growled. Then he kicked at the dust so that it spewed over Jarib’s curly black hair.

“Come on!” he growled at the other soldiers who were all grinning at the antics before them. Let’s get a move on – start knocking on these gates. The sooner we can get this worthless group of Nazarenes gathered by their well  – the sooner we can move on! And the sooner we move on – the sooner we are home! Come on!” he yelled again as he cuffed one of the more slowly moving young soldiers.

Anxious with worry that Jarib had been hurt by this gruff soldier, Mary hastily bent over Jarib.  Joseph knelt as well and between the two of them they quickly had the young boy on his feet.  Angry tears threatened to overflow and leave trails on the dust covered cheeks! He shook his fist at the departing soldiers who were raucously moving down the road, alternatively kicking at gates and yelling over them as they summoned the neighborhood to meet at the local well. Then his fear and humiliation at the rough treatment he had just received overcame him and he crumpled into Mary’s arms.

Joseph caught Mary’s eye over Jarib’s head and he nodded. He picked up Jarib’s crook and started herding the goats towards the outer wall of their small town while Mary dusted the little shepherd off. Quietly she asked Jarib what had happened as they prepared to untie Zelda. Jarib’s terse and angry explanation filled the air.

“Those filthy soldiers were pushing my beautiful goats all around, even kicking at them. Then they started arguing over which one they would take with them for their supper. Called me a dirty Nazarean! I shouted at them that if we were so dirty then they need not stay and certainly needn’t steal our lowly goats! That’s when their captain, the ugly swine..”

Mary’s gentle brown eyes chastised the boy without a word and he blushed. “

But Mary – THEY are swine!” he protested. Silently she held his eyes with her own and a gentle smile calmed him a little.

“Ok, not swine! The miserable soldier grabbed me by the neck collar and started swinging me about – frightening my little goats still more!”

“Well Jarib – all’s well that ends well. You are safe, none of the goats were eaten and now you can take my little one with you. We will see you before sunset, no?” Mary quietly untethered the little goat that bleated hungrily and stared wistfully at the herb garden that was neatly tucked into the furthest corner of the courtyard.

Smiling under Mary’s cheerful gaze, Jarib chirruped to the little goat and she trotted obediently before him. Moments later Joseph was back and Mary had his hand woven cloak ready, as a biting wind was picking up. Pulling her rough shawl tight around her shoulders she joined Joseph and they made their way to the neighborhood well.

The normally cheerful town center was filled with worried and somewhat angry villagers. Merchants nervously stood before their stalls, hoping to protect their wares should a brawl breakout between the rough soldiers and unhappy husbands and fathers. There, Joseph and Mary greeted their neighbors and listened as the men and women nervously questioned each other. Why were the soldiers here? There were no zealots amongst this little neighborhood – not even in all of Nazareth were there any. What could Rome want with them? Hadn’t they all been paying their taxes? What was the problem?

The tallest Roman upturned a large red brown clay pot and stepped onto it and yelled at the crown for silence. Quickly all of the faces were turned to him and a small ripple of tension was released through the crowd in anticipation of his words.  The desert wind teased at the women’s shawls and men’s cloaks and little dust devils swirled among their feet.  The flapping of the tent walls from some of the merchants stalls punctuated the nervous silence. A small infant whimpered in his mother’s arm and her neighbor angrily shushed them. The captain’s cold dark eyes surveyed the crowd. Satisfied he had their attention he pulled out a scroll and began to read.

“Caesar Augustus, emperor of the world has decreed that all of his world shall be numbered. Thus all shall return to their birthplace to be registered. This shall take place at once and within a fortnight each member of this village will have returned to their…”

Little more was heard over the gasps of the women and the grumbling of the men. Sarah, Mary’s closest neighbor pushed her way through the crowd and grasped Mary’s elbow and leaning in close exclaimed; “Mary, whatever will you do? Joseph – she cannot journey so far – not while she is so with child?!?”


**Her Lord,  The members of the Jewish faith still treat the names of God with great reverence, typically writing God as G-d or Lord as L-rd. In Temple time they had many phrases that were used to make reference to God such as El shaddai which translates asThe All Sufficient God’. I seriously considered using some of these Hebrew expressions but in the end I decided to keep to our vernacular and used Lord when they would refer to God.

Jews in ancient times did not refer to God by His formal name which was written YHVH (there are no vowels in Hebrew) and only the High Priest could utter this name and then only in the Temple during Yom Kipper – the Holiest day of the year.  Orthodox Jews still hold by this rule. God’s personal name is simply too holy to be uttered.  (When written by Jews it is written as G-D) In addition, the High Priests only ever pronounced His name, YHWH, within the walls of the Temple. The Temple was destroyed in approx 70 AD and, as such, YHVH was never again spoken aloud. This has resulted in the correct pronunciation no longer being known. Mary and Joseph would never have used, in thought or in word, God’s formal name of YHVH – which Christians pronounce as Yahweh. If you visit you can find, under the link ‘Names for G-D’, a list of the many names for God that Jews used then and still use today.


*Halug – the outer garment worn by men and women alike in Ancient Israel. It was a long rectangular article of clothing with a seam going down both sides and gather about the waist with a belt. For more detailed description go here.

*Mitveh – typically a large earthen vessel used to collect rain water in for ritual cleansing that was usually completed before the eating of any meal that contained bread. Especially pious Jews would also do this cleansing upon waking from their night’s sleep.  Descriptions of a typical home and courtyard from this era include a mitveh inside the courtyard. However, other articles I came across in my research refer to a mitveh as almost being like a bathhouse for total immersion for ritual cleansing that one would engage in following, for example, giving birth. For more details on ritual hand cleansing go here.

photo credit




  1. Nice teaser :)! I like your writing style! Looks like this will be a great story…….. keep up the good work! Blessings to you and your family!

    • Thank you Theresa!! Have 4 chapters down and about 8 to go! 🙂

  2. I like it!


  3. This is Awesome Christi! I will buy this book!

    • Thanks Beth. Ben and I are trying to get the website active today and then I need to format the book for publishing to the Kindle. Ill keep you posted.

  4. Good work and very interesting. It helps make the Bible come alive.

    • Thank you Barb. I appreciate the feedback very much!

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