They looked at each other and then back at me. It was clear they had no idea what I was talking about.
“I’ll walk in front while you two walk on either side of Jesus on the donkey.”
Saul shook his head. “That’s not a good idea. It’ll take us away from our charges.”
“Perhaps, but most demons know me from the war. If they see me, they won’t attack, or I’ll be able to drive them off before they attack either of you. It’s a maneuver that we used in the war and I know it works. I insist.”
“This isn’t the war.” Miriam stepped closer to me, and I stepped back, watching her staff.
When I agreed to do it their way if my plan didn’t work, they agreed to attempt my plan.
I knew within a minute that I was wrong. The demons simply waited until I passed and attacked Miriam and Saul from the rear. When I went back to help them, demons came in to attack Mary and Joseph from all sides.
When Miriam whispered into her ear, Mary realized she had forgotten something, and The Family returned to the stable.
Miriam stood at the entrance and wouldn’t let me pass. “Are you willing to listen to us now, or do I have to break another toe?”
“You were right.” I held up my hands, and stepped away from her. “That didn’t work. How do we do this?”
“I’ll be in front with Joseph,” said Saul
“I’ll walk along with Mary.” Miriam stepped closer to me, smiled, and raised her staff.
“And you’ll take the rear,” they said together.
Their plan was perfect. Any demons, who started toward Mary or Joseph, retreated as soon as they saw me. Their plan worked so well, I was able to watch what was going on along the way.
The demons attacked in groups. One or two would push a guardian away from her charge while another demon whispered in the human’s ear. At one point a human got too close to Mary. Joseph stepped between them and the man backed away.
By mid-morning we stood at the end of a long line of parents waiting to offer their first born sons to the Lord. As we entered the Temple, the other guardians made quite a commotion when they saw Mary and Joseph holding Jesus. Some actually left their charges to see the Baby.
Dark mists slowly rose from between the tiles of the floor and formed columns of smoke next to each human. The figures inside the smoke struggled to get out until, as if on a command, they gave up the struggle, and simply stretched arms of smoke toward the humans. A sense of fear overcame the humans. The smiling faces filled with joy and pride a moment ago turned to pouting lips and fearful or angry glares. Mothers fretted over screaming babies. Fathers frowned and scolded their wives for their inability to soothe them. The babies screamed louder.
“Stop!” I banged my staff on the floor. “Look what’s happening behind you!”
“Oh no you don’t!” Ruth rushed back to the child who was in her charge. “Get away from him!”
She struck what looked like an arm within a stream of smoke that was reaching out to the boy, and it split in half.
The demon screamed as the separated half disintegrated. “Go back to where you belong.” Ruth hit the demon again, cutting it in half with her staff. “Leave God’s house!”
The other guardians rushed back to their charges as well, and the demons that were attacking the defenseless children disappeared. Staying close to their charges, the guardian angels bowed and knelt in honor of Jesus.
Some of the humans instinctively felt something and looked around the temple.
Their smiles returned as the mothers rocked their babies in their arms, soothing and cooing them as they stopped crying, and husbands put their arms around their wives.
Saul, Miriam and I formed a triangle around The Family until Mary and Joseph presented Jesus as their first-born son and performed The Dedication to the Lord Ceremony by sacrificing two turtle doves they had bought from one of the merchants in the Temple Market.
“Saul, maybe you or Miriam can help me with something I don’t quite understand,” I said.
“What is it?” Saul rested his chin on his staff and glanced at Miriam.
“I know demons are always present wherever we go on earth.” I frowned and looked at the floor of the Temple. “If we don’t see them, they’re hiding in shadows, lurking around, and waiting for us to make a mistake or until they see an opening given by a Human.”
“Yes, that’s true.” Saul nodded and cocked his head to one side. “So what is your question?”
“When these demons attacked, they couldn’t break free from the smoke.” I frowned. “Usually they take some kind of solid form before attacking anyone.” I looked at Saul and then Miriam. “Why couldn’t they do that this time?”
“I was wondering the same thing,” said Miriam as she turned her attention to Saul.
“I’m not entirely sure, but I think it has something to do with the fact they were in the Temple, God’s house.” His gaze drifted from me to Miriam. “This is a sacred place, and they might not have that power here.”
I looked at the floor a moment before grunting and nodding my head in agreement. “That makes sense.”
After the ceremony, The Family followed the other parents to the exit of the temple.
“May I see the child?” An elderly man who walked in small steps, crouching forward and using a cane to keep his balance, hobbled toward the Baby.
“He’s Simeon,” said a young priest on his way inside. “He comes here every day, and watches the families bring in their first born for this ceremony. He’s harmless.”
The priest peeked under the blanket. “He says that the Lord told him he would not die until he saw the Messiah, or something like that.” He smiled and continued on his way.
Mary lowered the blanket that covered Jesus’s face. Jesus looked into the eyes of the old prophet and smiled.
Simeon’s eyes opened wide, and his mouth dropped open. He looked at Mary and smiled.
“Praise the Lord!” Simeon touched Jesus’s face, and raised his arms and eyes to heaven. His voice rose with each word he spoke. “Now I may die in the peace of the Lord as thou hast kept Thy promise. Mine eyes have seen Thy salvation of Israel and the Gentiles, a revelation for all people.”
As Simeon blessed them, Joseph put his arm around Mary’s waist and gently guided her away from him.
“Behold!” Simeon clutched Mary’s arm, and his voice echoed through the Temple. “This Child is destined for the fall and the rise of many in Israel, and for a sign that shall be contradicted.”
He leaned closer to her and whispered. “And your own soul a sword shall pierce, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
I felt the instinctive shiver a soldier develops when danger is near, and my chest tightened. I crouched into a fighting position, as a feeling of dread washed over me.
Suddenly, Elizabeth’s baby began to scream and fuss as if someone was sticking him with a needle. Mary held Jesus closer to her, and glanced at Elizabeth, then at Simeon and Jesus, and finally, Joseph, as he put his arm around her. Because they didn’t understand, Mary and Joseph nodded to Simeon, and rushed to join Elizabeth and Zechariah.
“What was that all about?” Elizabeth looked back at Simeon, who was still raising his hands to heaven and praising the Lord.
“I have no idea, but I don’t like the sound of it.” Joseph’s eyes darted from Elizabeth to Simeon to Mary and back to Simeon. He put his arm around Mary. “Something about swords piercing souls or hearts.” Joseph led Mary out of the temple as quickly as he could.
“Well?” Miriam asked. “Why did you crouch like that?”
“I don’t know.” I exhaled a long, deep breath, and the feelings of dread slowly left me. “I’m as confused as you are,” I whispered. “I guess we’ll have to wait to find out later,” I said as we ran to keep up with The Family.
(Picture by Lisa Hendey)