Hear the Sound of Heaven’s Joy
Chapter 1 A Time and Place So Dear
Emma slumped motionless in Papa’s high-back rocking chair, her chin in hand, leaning on one of its well-worn armrests. This old wooden rocker had been a treasured place of solace for Emma dating back to when her father read her Bible stories as they rocked together before she drifted off to sleep. From there, Emma’s imagination grabbed the reigns of adventure awaiting her until a crowing rooster alarm brought her back to the reality of morning chores. Yet, Emma’s vibrant faith had reached its lowest ebb this late Christmas Eve hour.
A room filled with warmth, laughter, singing, and the buzz of family conversation only hours earlier was now still and quiet as all but Emma had retreated to bed in anticipation of Christmas morning. As the youngest of seven children, Emma was introduced to the concept of work at a very early age. And, being part of this family meant doing her share of both household and farming tasks assigned to her—nobody was exempt. Papa was quick to remind Emma and her siblings about the importance of teamwork and of encouraging each other in the process. There was always plenty to do on the family’s farm nestled in the foothill meadows of a nearby mountain range. Emma loved every bit of this idyllic life, hoping it would never end. But her youthful exuberance could not prevent life’s realities from interrupting her heaven-like dreams—at least here on earth.
Emma painfully discovered that being the youngest in the family also had its drawbacks. She had already outlived grandparents, Mama and three of her siblings. Now, Papa was slowing down from old injuries and aging. Emma’s two remaining sisters both married and raising their own families, showed no desire for farm living again. And, Emma’s twin brother Ethan was a no-show again this Christmas. The sound of heaven’s joy escaped Emma at this moment. Although her sadness over all the changes dampened her spirit, Emma refused to let her faith fade with those feelings. She had felt this way before, but she knew she was loved by God and her family. She prayed that Ethan would regain his assurance of God’s love.
Looking at old photographs of family members helped to remind Emma of times spent with them over the years. Such inescapable memories of family brought many smiles. For example, that of her story-telling father, affectionately known as “Papa Rock” because toddling Emma would reach up and grasp his hand, then point with her other hand toward the rocker… the same spot where she now sat, patiently praying, and wondering if Ethan would accept her invitation. The mantle clock, next to a triangularly-shaped American flag display case, indicated “No” but Emma kept praying anyway, unwilling to give up.
Time was not on Emma’s side and too much of it had passed her by in reaching out to her estranged brother who had distanced himself from the family both physically and spiritually. Ethan’s faith had grown cold as he bided his time, waiting for his chance to break free of the “religious roots” that he had grown to resent; what he saw, not as foundational truths, but something that held him captive in a faith he didn’t like, want nor believe could exist. Unlike Emma, death in the family affected Ethan much differently. Enough for Ethan to question God and become disillusioned with the Savior who he’d accepted whole-heartedly as a young boy. The tragic news of older brother Thad being killed-in-action overseas devastated Ethan. Something snapped in Ethan as a result, and from then on, he ran as far away from God as possible. He avoided the family completely—even missing Mama’s memorial service. Emma and her sisters were furious at him for that but Papa didn’t show any outward emotion.
Ethan followed Papa Rock and Thad around the farm when he was a young child, mimicking their actions, listening and learning from them. Once, he literally tried to fill their heavy, oversized boots but his tiny feet weren’t strong enough to take a step in them. Likewise, Ethan’s walk of faith with the Lord needed time to grow. But his faith trail had taken a detour. He didn’t respond to Emma’s letters or Christmas invitations, since going back home would only reinforce his struggles with God and remind him of whom he wanted to forget. How would Papa react… missing Mama’s service and leaving him to work the farm virtually alone? And his sisters? Forget it, they wouldn’t understand. Such thoughts just stoked a fire already burning within Ethan until he angrily wadded Emma’s carefully hand-crafted invitation into a ball of crushed paper and tossed it into the opened door of his woodstove.
Chapter 2 A Knock at the Door
Meanwhile, the dying embers of hope were crushed within Emma’s heart, mirroring the fading glow of a once brilliant firelight illuminating the native stone hearth next to her. Emma could only manage a faint smile at the thought of what could have been, as the chill of her disappointment rolled in like wintery storm clouds. For this wasn’t the first time Ethan had ignored her invitation to join the family for Christmas. Sadness gripped Emma’s grieving heart even tighter since she wanted so much for Ethan to reconcile with Papa before it was too late. Fighting back the tears welling up in her eyes, Emma raised her own hand to wipe them away. Papa Rock’s gentle hand was no longer easily within her loving reach, his comforting hugs had been weakened and his keen sense of hearing dulled. Emma’s optimistic emotion could carry her no further. Only Jesus could hear her cries for help at this lowest point and the Holy Spirit carry her wounded heart and mind to a place of restful peace in Him.
By eleven o’clock, Emma’s sisters had given up on Ethan coming that night. But ever the optimist, Emma held her ground yet, with barely enough energy to set the old rocker gently into motion with a push of her foot. Before long her chin fell from its hand-held perch, stirring her from a seemingly dream come true: quiet knocking at the front door. Emma’s heavy eyelids rose slightly with the sound then slid back down with even greater speed. All was quiet again until the knocking sound resumed and with more intensity behind it. Soon the knocking turned into pounding. This was no dream! Emma’s heart pounded and her mind raced, wondering what to do. She glanced up at the clock. It was past midnight. Who’d be at the door this late? She vaulted from the rocker, nearly falling flat before regaining her balance, then tip-toed toward the front door. Despite her grogginess, she quickly recognized a sound she’d not heard since childhood. It was the distinctive, secret code knock, known only by her and her twin brother.
“Ethan?” she asked with rising anticipation, “Is that you? Is it really you, Ethan?”
Yes, it was indeed! “Thank You, Lord” she muttered to herself. The window curtain fell back into place as Emma’s hands rose in sheer delight, having seen her brother standing on the lighted porch. But in her excitement, she forgot the secret “response knock” and began to cry.
Ethan stood at the door shivering and pounded it again asking, “Are you ever going to answer, Emma?”
Finally, Emma swung the door open wide and was greeted by Ethan and a blast of cold air right behind him.
Oblivious to the wind, she threw her arms around Ethan’s shoulders, crying out his name in jubilation, as if Lazarus himself had just emerged from the tomb.
“I thought you’d never open the door,” he said, “It’s freezing out here!”
“Come in, come in!” Emma nearly shouted. She covered her mouth upon remembering those asleep upstairs. Emma took Ethan by the hand, pulled him in out of the cold saying, “Come sit by the fire, I’ll stir it up a bit.”
Their conversation lasted far into the night, fueled by a rekindled fire and renewed hope this early Christmas morn.
“Sing praise to the LORD, you His godly ones, And give thanks to His holy name. For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; Weeping may last for the night, But a shout of joy comes in the morning”
(Psalm 30:4-5 NASB).
Alan Summers, GBC Elder
Next up: Chapters 3 and 4 continue the story.
All Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB), 1975 edition unless indicated.