Read CHAPTER VIII - THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD of Christmas Light , free online book, by Ethel Calvert Phillips, on ReadCentral.com.

The household of Samuel the weaver lay sleeping soundly. The dim light of the small oil lamp revealed the figures of Samuel and his wife wrapped in heavy slumber, with Jonas, rolled into a plump little ball, at his mother’s feet. Naomi lay close by with arms outstretched. Her dreams were pleasant, for her lips were parted in a smile. Ezra was missing. He was again spending the night in the fields with shepherd Eli. The friendship between the old man and the lad had grown more deep and strong since the night of the Angels’ Visit, and they never wearied of discussing the wonderful event and all the marvels that had followed in its train.

These happenings had roused all the village of Bethlehem, and had now touched even the city of Jerusalem since the appearance of the Wise Men from the East, who, following His star, had come to worship the King of the Jews.

That very evening Ezra and Naomi, caught on a lonely hillside by the sudden fall of night, had with one accord pointed to the dusky road below, along which rocked noiselessly three tall camels bearing the Magi rapidly in the direction of Arabia.

“They brought gold and frankincense and myrrh,” murmured Ezra, “the offerings to a king.”

“Aye, to my King, to my Messiah,” answered Naomi happily. “Oh, Ezra, I would that I had all the gold and frankincense and myrrh in all the world that I might lay it at His feet. How can the neighbors doubt when they see what He has done for me? Who but the true Messiah could open my eyes and give me sight again?”

Ezra shook his head.

“Many do believe, Naomi,” he answered. “And all thy life now thou canst be a living witness to God’s mercy and love. How happy He has made us all! Father and Mother, thou and I!”

“And Jonas, too,” said Naomi quickly. “He laughs and plays with me now as never before. He knew that something was wrong, though he could not put it into words. We are to begin again to dig our well to-morrow, he and I. I promised him.”

It may be that Naomi’s dreams that night were of this pleasant task that awaited her; it may be that in her sleep, as in her waking hours, her thoughts were filled with visions of the Christ Child even as her heart was full of love for Him. Her smile deepened, and she did not stir as the night wore on.

The stars were growing pale, though morning was still far off, when the deep silence of the village was broken by the sound of feet running lightly, cautiously, up the lane.

Nearer and nearer came the footsteps until they halted before the door of Samuel’s house, and a little figure, panting and breathless, stepped quickly within.

Naomi sat upright and peered sleepily through the gloom.

“Ezra, is it thou?” she asked in surprise. “Is it morning yet? What brings thee here?”

“I have news, Naomi, bad news, I fear,” the boy answered. “I must waken my father and mother. Whatever is done must be done quickly. There is no time to lose.”

“I hear thee, son,” said Samuel’s voice unexpectedly. “What is thy tale?”

“And my mother?” questioned Ezra. “It concerns Jonas.”

“I sleep not,” said Jonas’s mother, broad awake in an instant, and drawing the drowsy little ball into her arms in swift alarm. “Tell thy story quickly.”

“As ye know,” began the boy hurriedly, “I went down to the Fields of David at sunset to spend the night with shepherd Eli. And as I passed through the gate old Nathan hailed me. He told me that one of the shepherds had borrowed his warm cloak and had not yet returned it, and that he was now full of aches and pains and sorrows because of the lack of it. He charged me straitly to tell the shepherd to return it at once or he would have him haled before the magistrate at daybreak, and that he would not cease his watch for it nor sleep that night until the cloak was round his shoulders once again.

“When I reached the Fields, I gave his message, but the shepherd who had taken his cloak was not there; he had gone in search of a lost lamb. And when, less than an hour ago, he returned, he asked me to keep him company to the gateway, and help him make his peace with angry Nathan. They know that Nathan is friendly to me,” added the boy in explanation.

“And I know that some night, wandering about as thou dost, thou wilt be caught by beast or robber,” growled Samuel. “Resume thy story.”

“The shepherd and I,” continued Ezra hastily, “were passing the inn when I saw a figure by the roadside beckoning me to come to him. It was Joseph of Nazareth, and behind him in the shadow was his wife, Mary, bearing the Christ Child in her arms. He spoke low so that the shepherd should not hear. He told me that an angel of the Lord had appeared to him in a dream, saying, ’Arise and take the young child and his mother and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I tell thee: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.’

“He spoke no more,” Ezra went on, “but I said unto him, ’My little brother, think you there is danger for him?’ He nodded in reply, and then I asked, ‘Start you at once?’ He nodded again and stepped back into the shadow.

“At the gateway old Nathan, glad to see his cloak again, let me through, and I hastened home to tell the tale to thee.”

Ezra’s mother had already arisen and, opening the great carved chest, had taken from it warm wrappings in which she was bundling the still sleeping Jonas.

“Deborah, the vine-dresser’s wife, leaves at sunrise in the caravan for Joppa.” As she spoke, she worked busily gathering Jonas’s little garments into a bundle. “For friendship’s sake she will take Jonas with her. We have, in her, at least one true friend in Bethlehem. Her mother lies at Joppa sore stricken with a fever, and it may be that our boy will take the sickness and perchance will die. But rather would I see him in his baby grave than in the clutch of cruel King Herod.”

“I will go with thee, wife, to carry the child,” said Samuel gravely, seeing that her simple preparations were now finished. “Give thy brother a kiss in farewell, children. It may be thou wilt never see him more.”

As Naomi stood on tiptoe and pressed a tender kiss upon Jonas’s plump cheek, he suddenly opened his dark eyes and, at sight of his sister, broke into a broad smile.

“Farewell, Jonas, farewell,” whispered Naomi, her eyes full of tears. “When thou returnest we will dig the well behind the myrtle bush, thou and I. Farewell!”

Then she laid her hand upon her father’s arm.

“Father,” said she in a low voice, “the little Messiah also traveleth far to-night. I owe to Him my sight and the happiness of us all. I would fain give unto Him a gift. I would that I might give unto Him my little Michmash, that He may be borne swiftly and surely on the long road that He must go.”

Samuel looked for an instant into the brown eyes upturned to his own. He remembered the darkness, the suffering, the vain hope, the despair, then blessed be Jéhovah! the Light that had appeared and that had so wondrously shone into the life of his little maid.

“Yea, child,” said he warmly. “No gift that thou couldst give would be too great.”

“Ezra,” cried Naomi, “canst thou overtake them, think you?”

But Ezra had already left the room, and could be heard in the shed behind the house fitting the bridle over the astonished Michmash’s head.

Naomi caught up her little scarlet cloak from out the carven chest, and as Ezra came past the door, leading the little gray donkey, she flung it across her brother’s arm.

“The journey down into Egypt is far, and the night winds are cold. It may be my scarlet cloak will keep the little Messiah warm.”

She threw her arms about her donkey’s neck and laid her cheek against his soft furry nose.

“Fare thee well, little Michmash,” she whispered. “Stumble not nor falter on the way. Thou carriest the Light of all the world, the Hope of every heart upon thy back. Farewell, farewell!”

Sunrise and again Naomi stood alone upon the housetop. Her night of darkness behind her, she turned her happy gaze upon the morning sky, blue and rose and violet, whose clouds touched to misty purple the hilltops and the peaks that surrounded Bethlehem village. Below her lay the white stone houses, a few steep fields of dark ruddy loam, the sloping gardens with their vines, their fig and olive trees.

From where Naomi stood the road that led to the Holy City was hidden from view by the mountain peak Mar Elias, and as she looked toward it her face lighted and she clasped her hands before her. For on the mountain-top rested two great clouds like angels’ wings, and with a heart full of awe and reverence and love little Naomi felt that she stood in the very presence of Jéhovah God.

What though the promised Messiah was fleeing secretly and in dread from His own country? The Lord was mindful of His own, and was even now keeping watch over His people. “Behold, He that keepeth Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”

She had no words. She could only stand and let the tide of love she felt sweep over her again and again, until softly and almost imperceptibly the Heavenly Pinions faded away into the blue.

When Ezra came he found Naomi looking toward the road that wound ribbon-like past the Bethlehem inn down into the land of the Pharaohs, the country of the Sphinx and the Pyramids.

He nodded at the question in her eyes and silently pointed out to her a little group that moved steadily forward upon the dusty road below.

“Dost see them?” asked Ezra softly. “Joseph, staff in hand, leads little Michmash who bears the Mother and the Child upon his back. He steps forth bravely, the little beast. Ah! now they take the turn that hides them from our sight. Our little Messiah! Gone from us after so short a time!”

“Aye, but to come again,” said Naomi confidently. “I know it, Ezra. I was blind and now I see. As a tiny Babe He brought the light to me alone. But when He comes again, He will be the Light of all the world, Ezra, the Light of all the world.”