The Manger Maker
written by: Skip Hempsey
Cool air breezed down the narrow streets in Bethlehem as the workday began to come alive. The sounds of carts and donkeys mixed with the chatter of merchants and store owners. Just another day in what would become a very special town.
The smell of fresh-cut cedar and cherry wood filled the air as the carpenter’s shop bustled with activity. There was much excitement for the workers as this was the season for building and many orders had come in for them.
They made chairs, boxes, ladders, oars, grain bins, fence posts, decorative pieces for door coverings, wall ornaments, window frames and many other things. This work would ensure a prosperous time and everyone at the shop was very happy and very busy.
Jo’nan was also busy but not with the work his heart desired. He was one of the youngest carpenters in the shop, yet he craved recognition. He believed his work was as good as the senior carpenters’ and he was determined to be noticed by his superiors.
Every night when he came home, he would hug his wife Shaleel and his two little girls Betrim and Anna. Then he would thank God for his blessings and sit by the window looking out at the street and dream of being the most famous carpenter in Judea. After dinner, Jo’nan and Shaleel would talk about the future, their hopes and plans. They would often laugh and play with the girls until bedtime, but something was tormenting Jo’nan deep inside and it was getting harder and harder to ignore it.
After the girls were asleep, Shaleel would ask Jo’nan if God was guiding him in his work and his decisions for the family. Jo’nan was a prayerful man but lately, his prayers became clouded with his desire to have his abilities favored at work. He would tell her that all was fine and that soon things would be even better.
It was Wednesday at the carpenter’s shop and most of the work that had been assigned to the men would be completed and new work would be given to each carpenter. Wednesday was the day that Jo’nan dreaded the most. This was the day that his dream of recognition as a favored carpenter would be tested yet again.
Without delay, the owner came into the shop area to announce which carpenter would be working on which order. Now it was well known that there had been a fire in a nearby Inn and many of the wooden pieces had been destroyed. Much of the stable and side entrance of the Inn were damaged and the shop was praying that they would get to do the restoration work.
With a large grin and understandable excitement, the owner began to tell the carpenters that indeed they had been awarded the contract to do the restoration for the Inn. Everyone in the shop began to clap and thank God for this prestigious fortune on top of their already busy schedule. For now, their immediate future was secure, and all would benefit from good pay for months to come. However, the focus of the owner was now, the task of hiring additional carpenters to fill the workload. The assignments would have to wait until Monday. The men were tasked with finishing all current work to have a clean and empty shop, for the next week would be very, very busy. With the added work and the need for more carpenters, Jo’nan would surely move up the ladder in status and have seniority over any new hires. This made him very happy as his dream was moving closer to reality.
When he came home, he gave Shaleel a great big hug and swung her around then gave her a big kiss on the forehead and told her the good news. That night he did not stare out the window and dream, he sat with his little family and told them that soon they could live in a bigger house with nicer things and maybe even have servants to do the housework. They all laughed, talked and thanked God for their good fortune.
Monday, Jo’nan practically flew to work he could not wait to see how his position would increase within the shop. “No more step stools and broom handles for me”, he thought. He imagined the beautiful doors and chairs that people would comment on for years to come, perhaps even generations would see his talented work.
After some commotion, everyone settled down in the shop as the owner came in with a list of new assignments. He began to read, “Sabastian, you will take three of the new hires and build the new entrance door from the stables to the Inn. Teleous, you will take three new hires and make a new mantel for the main fireplace in the lobby along with new window frames and wall panels. Seranus, you, and Maletek will make twelve new chairs for the dining room along with a head table. Take five new hires as well to help you.”
The list seemed to go on forever. Jo’nan grew more and more anxious as it seemed all the important work was going to the same carpenters as before and the new hires were only assisting them. Finally, the owner called out his name. “Jo’nan, you will build the new stalls, water pails, stable doors and troughs, take two new hires to assist you.”
The owner kept reading but Jo’nan could no longer hear him. He was shocked and even embarrassed although no one thought he had been slighted. In fact, he had never had this much responsibility before. Except for Jo’nan, everyone was delighted and grateful for the work.
He walked slowly home, Sheleel began making dinner, wondering what was keeping him. Once home Jo’nan walked quietly through the door and sat down in his chair, no one had even heard him come in. She found him sitting alone and asked him what had happened on this happy day to make him so quiet.
“I’m not sure myself,” he said. “I have been put in charge of several new projects and even given carpenters to assist me. Yet I still feel like I have not moved past anyone else at work. We all were moved up in the same order of importance as before.” He was perplexed at his own feelings. He would be making more money, he was now managing others and trusted with several projects at one time. He was never in such an elevated position.
Sheleel stared at him and with a puzzled look on her face asked him if perhaps his real desire was not to improve his income and his value at work but rather to beat the others out of their position. Jo’nan thought for a second and then agreed, “Yes, I want to move past the others who have been favored before me and gain recognition for my work, causing people to think, “What talented craftsman has made this”?
As the days and weeks passed Jo’nan pressed on with his new crew and work at the Inn. However, he became more anxious and jealous of the senior carpenters. Sheleel would try to calm him and have him see the positive side of his work and career blessings that they had prayed for so long. Unfortunately, he became more convinced that he should move on to another shop where he could get the recognition he craved.
In the second week of his new position, Jo’nan was picking up some tools at the shop before heading to the Inn when he saw the owner speaking with one of the senior carpenters. The owner was asking the carpenter to add the creation of a beautiful “head of the table chair” to his workload. The carpenter was concerned about this addition to his already heavy workload and asked the owner to consider someone else. Then to Jo’nan’s amazement, the senor carpenter told the shop owner to consider Jo’nan for the chair. He told the owner he had been watching Jo’nan and he believes he can do a good job and should become a senior lead carpenter.
Jo’nan gasped. Was God answering his prayer right in front of him? He was picturing Sheleel’s face as he tells her that now they will be able to have all that they had dreamed of having. His talents have been recognized and he can be happy again. The owner and senior carpenter parted and before Jo’nan could slip away, the owner spotted him and waved him to come into his office. With every step Jo’nan felt more and more excited. When they were face to face, the owner looked at him and told him that there have been some extra requests made by the Inn and he would like Jo’nan to be of the few to take on the extra work. “It would be my honor,” Jo’nan said. The owner then began to explain the extra work that Jo’nan would be in charge of building.
Sheleel, was busy with dinner and the girls as she waited to greet her husband returning from work. Jo’nan pushed the door open slowly and practically dragged his feet to his chair, then dropped into it and hung his head. The girls ran to him then Sheleel came into the room and knelt down beside Jo’nan asking what had happened. Jo’nan raided his head and said, “God has cursed me.” “What has happened? Are you hurt?’ she asked. He described what had happened at the shop. Sheleel backed away in disbelief and said, “You were blessed with a special project and earned the support and respect of a senior carpenter, and you are depressed? Are not these the very things that you craved so strongly?” “It would have been all that we prayed for if I were asked to build the head chair or any work of prestige or importance. But it was more of a slap in the face!” he said. “Why, what did they ask you to build?”, she asked. He looked up at her and quietly said, “A feed box for stable animals.” Then he dropped his head again and put his face in his hands.
Before, going to work the next day Sheleel spoke to him and told him that he has no reason to be disappointed and that God hears their prayers and that he is dependable and works in ways we may not understand at first. She encouraged him to work within God’s plan which is more than enough for their family’s needs and happiness. This put a smile on Jo’nan’s face and gave him a respite from his sadness as he made his way to work.
Jo’nan’s head was filled with thoughts. He knew God would have the best plan for them and would not ignore his prayers nor his talents. So, he decided to make a deal with God. He prayed and said, “I will build these things with all the talent and skill that you have given me. When the Inn is finished, I will get a letter of referral from the senior carpenter who spoke well about me to the owner. Then find another shop and take my place as a lead carpenter.” In his head, he felt this was a good plan that honored God and his own desire to be recognized as a prominent carpenter.
In the weeks to come, Jo’nan was as happy as he had ever been. His work was going very well, and he poured himself into it using every skill at his disposal to make the very best products of his career. Sheleel was overjoyed at the change of heart in her husband as were Anna and Betrim who loved their daddy very much.
The day arrived that Jo’nan had been longing for, the Inn was finished and open. It was attracting business from the best travelers and the reviews of the restoration work were stellar. The shop owner would daily pour his gratitude on all his staff for a job well done. Today was the day that Jo’nan would ask for his letter of referral and soon tell the owner that he would be leaving the shop. The senior carpenter agreed to write the letter and keep it secret until Jo’nan told the shop owner of his plans to leave. After work, Jo’nan stayed behind while the senior carpenter penned his letter of recommendation. It was filled with praise and confidence in Jo’nan’s work and personal character.
As Jo’nan walked home it was later than usual and the sun began to set, he noticed many people walking by quickly. They were talking excitedly; some were almost running towards the Inn. He asked a small group going by him what was happening. “Kings have been spotted heading to the Inn,” they exclaimed. “Kings? What Kings? Why would Kings come to the Inn?”, he asked. Is it possible that word of the work done on the Inn had reached other lands? Were they here to see it for themselves and then have work done on their palaces? Is God about to deliver something to me that was even too incredible to imagine? He decided to find the Kings and introduce himself as one of the restoration carpenters and hand them his letter of referral personally. So, he turned and began to run towards the Inn.
He quickly made his way as he knew all the shortcuts from months of working there. He arrived at the front entrance of the Inn, but no one was there. He began to wonder if the story was a fake. He started walking around the Inn and began to see people, more and more people. The crowd was not at the Inn but at the Inn’s stable. He moved into the crowd, pressing forward to see what could possibly draw Kings to the stable.
As he pressed forward, he indeed saw what a royal caravan must be. It was just outside the very stable where he had worked for months. The royal camels had no riders, could the Kings be inside the stable? He decided that he was in the middle of an unprecedented act of God. This cannot be a coincidence, so he reached into his pocket and pulled out his letter of referral that he would present to the king’s handlers or perhaps a King himself!
He knew of a back entrance to the stables, and he made his way there to avoid the crowd. As he moved to the back of the stable, he realized it seemed to be getting brighter even though the sun had already set. He was shocked when he looked straight up to see a large bright star shining down on this strange event. What is happening? He began to pray and was even a little scared.
The torches from everyone present lit up the interior of the stable. From his vantage point at the back of the stable, he realized that the crowd and the Kings were staring at the very feeding trough that he himself had made! He rubbed his eyes and almost refused to believe what they were showing him. What an opportunity! He will go up to the manger bearing his mark and introduce himself to the royal party then offer them his letter. If accepted, it will advance his career beyond all his dreams and prove the wisdom of Sheleel’s advice. Be patient and wait on God.
As he moved closer his eyes were fixed on the manger. His mark was prominently shown on the front of the work for all to see. He could not believe that no one stopped him, as he was now within arm’s length of the King. He gripped the letter in his hand and took a deep breath as he dared to address the King standing practically beside him. Then a sound he had not expected to hear broke his concentration.
His eyes began to move from the manger to the sound so out of place in a stable, it was the sound of an infant and to his shock there in the manger was a newborn baby. He could not believe what he was experiencing. “God please help me, am I losing my mind? This is all too much to understand.” Then, King Melchiore spoke out and said, “The Lord and Savior has come to earth, let us rejoice and worship him.” With that, they knelt down and bowed their heads before the child. Jo’nan, stood speechless and for a brief moment, his eyes met the eyes of the child. He felt his heart melt and soul sing. His mind went blank, and he again saw his mark on the manger that now held the Savior. As he dropped to his knees, the letter he thought would change his life, fell to the ground and his hands found each other in prayer and worship.
Jo’nan longed for recognition of his work, yet unknowingly he had already received it. No man has ever made a more important manger, and no one ever will.
On his way home, he came across Sheleel and the girls, they too heard the news about the Kings. He embraced and kissed them taking the girls in his arms he told them everything that had happened. “God was answering our prayers all along, but I was foolish, trying to force his will to mine. God chose my work to hold his son, our Lord, and Savior. There is no greater recognition!”
Jo’nan, Sheleel, Anna, and Betrim walked, skipped, laughed, and hugged their way home. They went on to live wonderful lives full of happiness and hope.
- The Manger Maker - January 6, 2023