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They were not the first to have fled Herod, but they were the newest to come from Bethlehem. The women of the refugee families saw in the new child some of the beauty and wonder of their own children as babies, so there was always a grandmother to hold him as his mother bent to wash clothes in the stream or as she worked in her garden.

Soon he was no longer a baby, but a wiggler and he would pull out of a grandmother's arms to crawl and then to stand and then to make those first few toddlers steps and all the women would laugh to see a new child laughing at the feel of warm mud between his toes at the village well or at the river's edge.

The first steps he had taken, he had taken at home. Mary had been seated, the child had wrenched from her arms to find some freedom and so, he had slid to the floor from her side and standing, turned to see his father.

Joseph had just come through the narrow door, smiling to see these two he loved at the end of his long day and, bending, held out his arms to his little boy. That was when the child made those first steps - away from his mother sitting there - toward his waiting father.

Such joy, such laughter, the neighbors might have imagined some celebration as the parents celebrated their son now waking.

After that, he preferred to walk, but reached to hold a parent's hand for walks to the well or to the river and his legs were firm and strong.

Some nights he would cry "Mama" from his pallet on the floor and Mary would rush to find why he was calling. Some times he only wanted a cup of cool water; sometimes he was feverish and she held him until he slept.

If he called "Abba," it was sometimes because he had glimpsed a star or the moon outside the window and Joseph then would sit to tell him stories about those heavens.

And there were nightmares. Within all the love of that small home, within the peace beside the Sabbath's candles, within all that warmth glowing, there were still cracks for nightmares to intrude upon his sleep.

Perhaps they came from a sudden glimpse during the sunlit days, of a man beating his tired burro; perhaps they came as memories of an angry mother hitting her little child; perhaps the lepers' sores and growths turned to horrors in his sleep and then Mary would hold him in her arms until the sobbing stopped and then her voice with its own lullabies would cling to him in sleep, the resonance of her quiet love.

Because he could sit still and liked to listen to the elders, he went with Joseph to the synagogue long before some other little boys and then he would sit beside his father, facing the Ark.

Those dark wide eyes watched everything and when the bells were placed upon the scrolls for that slow walk around the room when the bells began their music, a slow smile would start and soon his eyes, his face, his whole child's body seemed illumined by the sound of the bells.

Each man sitting there, each woman in the place to the side had heard those bells hundreds of times, but if some of these others glimpsed that toddler smiling at such music, the sound of bells within that day seemed somehow sweeter.

Mary, watching from her place back along the side, could see her child's smile and smiled her own as the scroll was carried back to be unrolled.

In this place, far from their cradle in Jerusalem, far from the synagogues of Nazareth or Bethany, as the scroll was opened - each one watching knew within their souls, all the other scrolls' openings since a Red Sea had opened to save Israel.

Some of the older boys grew impatient with the chanting of the prayers in a tongue they did not understand; he would some day grow impatient too, but now, in Egypt, with his feet not touching the floor, he smiled at the sound of bells upon the scroll; he heard the birds outside as well as the prayers within. He sat even as a toddler, listening to the prayer-shawled men with Joseph's prayers there close beside him.

They talked of it afterwards, for they guessed he was the youngest ever; they talked
of it afterwards, for he said it loud,
he said it clear,
he said it so they all could hear,
the morning when Jesus said his first Amen.


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