Yes, Virginia, You’d Better Believe there Really is

The dates etched into the plate of clay is 2,000 years old.

The boys gape. They press their fingers against the glass of the exhibit.

They’re trying to touch time. Trying to believe.

I read the museum’s plaque in hushed tones: Wizened and carbonized, these dates were discovered in the caves of Qumran… in the caves with the Dead Sea Scrolls.

It’s those Dead Sea Scrolls we’ve come to see.

The exhibition, 200 artifacts and eight fragments of scrolls, all on loan from Israel’s Antiquity Authority, it fills the basement of the Royal Ontario Museum.

The space is dimly lit, nearly empty on a late Friday afternoon. The city’s out doing Christmas shopping.

The boys linger long over the coins from 1 B.C. The exhibit quotes the words of Jesus: “Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

Caleb looks up at me. “You think He touched these, Mom?”

I have few words on hallowed ground.

“Take a picture, Mom?”

I point to the signs prohibiting cameras and shake my head.

“Etch your own date here deep, sons.”

I stand long before one stone.

The rock’s inscribed in Hebrew with the words “to the place of trumpeting.”

I read the museum plaque, noting this as the most significant archeological find of temple excavation.

This stone once stood in the southwest corner of the Herod’s Temple, the second temple, where, according to ancient historian Josephus Flavius: “it was custom for one of the priests to stand and to give notice, by sound of trumpet” (The Jewish War, IV, ix, 12) to mark the beginning and end of Sabbath.

I read the words on museum plaque and I don’t think I’ve read it right so I read it again, slowly:

Jesus of Nazareth, as an observant Jew who came to the temple, would have passed by this stone.”

I’m standing in the place of trumpeting and want to trumpet, proclaim: God with us.

According to the museum’s display, the third word of the Hebrew inscription into the stone, the word broken off, can be interpreted as either “to declare [the Sabbath]” or “to distinguish [between the sacred and the profane].”

All is now sacred.

Outside the snow falls and Toronto’s busy, congested streets, dressed in its holiday style, sing with silver bells, silver coins. God has walked this sod. God has walked this sod.

The whole planet’s holy, glorified by the Creator, the Coming, the Christ and who can speak profanities, desecrate the Temple of here by treating the divine as trite, the hallowed as commonplace?

Profanity is failure to see the inner mystery,” writes Elisabeth Elliot.

Advent scrubs the world of its profanity.

After we’ve gazed upon a first century tunic, the soles of sandals from the time of Jesus (God has walked this sod), an inkwell found at Qumran from the time when the Word that spoke the world into existence came as the Word held by the skin…. we step into the darkness of the inner gallery.

I find myself before the fragments that have kept the faith.

I had not read it before we came to the museum, which of the 900 Dead Sea Scrolls, texts of the Old Testament from 2nd century B.C. – 1st century A.D., would be included in the exhibit.

It hadn’t really mattered. To see any of the scrolls would suffice. Only a mere 8 of the 900 have made the journey from Israel. No one is standing near one particular climate controlled unit in which the scrolls are housed, so we approach.

“Which one is this?” Hope-girl breathes the words heavily in the quiet, shadowed vault.

“This is….” and something catches.

“This is … ” I close my eyes and speak the words softly.

These words I know by heart.

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him…

We’re standing before a 2,100 year old Jesse Tree.

A Jesse Tree that had not yet seen the star shining in the manger, a Jesse Tree that still only prophesied His glorious coming … a Jesse Tree that could only believe.

What ancient hand, a hand like mine, wrote of this Jesse Tree while waiting, longing, still yearning for its future fulfillment?

The kids crowd around to peer into the glass boxes, into Hebrew words painstakingly inked across parchment made of animal skin.

I want the Word written on my skin.

“I thought they would be one long scroll,” a son murmurs. “I didn’t know they’d look so… ”

Fragile.” His brother finds the word for him.

“Oh, but see…” I slowly trace the outline of the fragment on the glass.

“Aren’t these the strongest Words ever written? Words that have beaten back time, that have spoken of Him beyond time Who steps into time, to deliver us out of time… Centuries of humanity building lives on these very words… and they hold. Don’t let the tatters fool you, boys. There were never stronger, surer words — they’ve held the universe together.

At home by the fireplace, our Jesse Tree stands on the other side of Calvary’s tree. Our Advent is one of waiting for the coming we know that comes, of prophecy fulfilled, eternal life shooting from the truncated.

My hand runs across the glass of the display, somehow brushing against the hand who wrote these Advent words, who believed the inner mystery of Christ in Christmas before there was a Christmas.

I want to find the hand of that writing man and tell him what he already believed: It came true. It all came true.

Yes, Virginia, you’d better believe there really is a Jesus and a God in heaven and an Emmanuel who came, Creator of the Cosmos who wore bones to touch our skin.

And He can be hoped in, believed in, trusted in;  He came and He is coming again and the shoot springing from the stump, it makes all our the hours and our lives slow into these endless sacred rings.

The inner mystery expands and grows us. We root in Christ and, in Him, these limbs bear good things. Yes, Advent takes us into the holy of Holies to see again and Christmas cleanses us of our own profanity.

Outside and all across the city, the snow, it keeps coming down pristine.


Edited repost from the archives



Jesse Tree Journey Update

{I owe you a humble apology}

Ah, that little gift slipped off to friends this year? The Jesus Advent Celebration: A Jesse Tree Journey, it was humble and imperfect and in our knitting it together with love, I dropped a word here, and stitched too many commas there, and I pray it still is a serviceable soul sweater on chilled Advent nights in spite of the slip of my keyboard?

Your grace is the most amazing of all.

Now a very generous couple offered to smooth out some of the mis-stitched lines and I am so grateful we are made for community because I am ridiculously weak alonethank you for making this a safe gathering place!

An updated file of The Jesse Tree Journey is now available for download in the footer of the RSS feed.

(For directions on how to download the Jesus Advent Celebration: A Jesse Tree Journey, see this post)

The text of The Jesse Tree Journey remains unchanged from the original download gift — just now some straggling loose grammatical strings have been happily tucked in neat! (While I confess the slips were making me itchy, driving me to blushing distraction,  if you are one of those wildly gracious folks who really don’t mind dangling grammatical threads, then no need to download again!)

If you’re trying to download the PDF file of the Jesse Tree Journey and having issues: Just click on the link in the footer of your email update or post in your reader, and patiently wait, sip a cup of tea, laugh with the kids — while it may appear as nothing is happening, it just takes a long (long!) time to download all those ornament graphics.

That you’d take our humble, flawed, homemade gift — only family! The family of that very real sprout from the stump.

I am so glad our Kingdom family tree is real this Christmas. Thank you.