The months went by from that morning, December had come. Candi still couldn't shake the depression completely, but she was able to collect herself now. She noticed that Kimi's signal on her was getting significantly weaker, even when she didn't pray.
Nevertheless, she wanted to be close to God as much as possible. The police stopped harassing her and Denny, and she began to wonder why they were suddenly so scarce, as well as why they hadn't heard anything more about Kelsea Linney.
Nolle and Pete were not present at the church that particular Christmas Evening, and Wilbur made sure that Candi knew it was safe to come to church. Denny, a Levens at heart, followed her cautiously in.
The Christmas lights did little for Candi, and the couple really didn't have anything much to buy for Christmas. With each other at hand and the baby a few months away yet, what was there to shop for?
Denny's family, with the exception of his sister Jessie, was less than approving of the marriage. Miriam and Marina were in hiding, and Candi's brothers showed little delight in her wedded bliss either. Cards they had sent were returned unopened.
Nolle was in poor health, and Pete was with family elsewhere. Because of this, Wilbur decided not to attack them directly for scaring Candi away from church for so long. At the same time, he knew the extent to which Candi had been harmed; and was eager to do something to make it up to her.
"Good evening, everyone!"
"I see we have a much larger tree this year than we can manage, courtesy of our good friend Pete!"
The congregation laughed, but the mood was dry soon after. Where were the cliché Christmas messages?
"I know what you're probably all thinking about tonight's sermon. Well, scrap what you were thinking! Tonight, we're going to leave you with something so profound, it will hit a little too close to home for some of you!"
Callista, a travelling Phaelite who knew she wasn't supposed to be seen in public, decided against conventional wisdom to attend that evening. She feared the attention would be drawn to her, but instead, she felt almost ignored.
She had introduced herself as Callista Carmine, hiding the fact that she was in fact the half-Phaelite Callista Cormier, Jeral’s true birth mother. Like Ploribus, she had been delaying her aging process, though not to the same extreme.
Meadow was there, though she tried not to let Candi see her. The fun and games of her youth were quickly fading away, and she was beginning to feel that her wild and rebellious life was making her age faster, just as Callista's potion was making her age slower.
She was not with her husband, but went alone. She feared where he might be that evening, as he was not at home where she wished. But she wished to enjoy a sermon from the already-legendary Wilbur before she went searching for her missing husband.
Another loner was Victoria Keldine, fearful that the congregation would figure out that she was carrying the child of Roberto Jimerez. She had her fears, but no proof, that the officer behind her by the door was there for something far more sinister than just to hear a good sermon on Christmas Eve.
"Ladies and Gentlemen...what was it like for Mary?"
Victoria, Callista, and Candi all clenched their fists nervously, expecting they would all feel something prod at their consciences.
"We are told only that she was fully compliant, unlike Zechariah! She didn't even have to have her voice stolen! That must have required more faith than most of us could even dream of having!
But seriously, what was it like? As we speculate, we must wonder..."
Candi sat relaxed. For once, she eagerly awaited what Wilbur had to say, no matter how she sounded in contrast.
"You see...she had her moments, her thoughts would drift, she'd fret over small things; a typical woman of her time! She played by all the rules on the outside.
That's quite a feat, given most teens in this town in our time have forgotten there ever were such things as rules!"
Sitting separately from Candi so he could converse with Alvin, a child who looked up to him, Denny grinned and nodded at Wilbur's suggestion, thinking to himself: "And by the time they're adults, they no longer care!"
"The battle for Mary was in the heart, where we're only left to imagine what must have gone on! Clearly, on the outside, she played by all the rules!"
"Yet...I'm not so sure she was quite so wholesome on the inside. Like all of us today, the stresses and cares of the world tend to cause us to so easily lose our way!
We are not told if she ever objected to the assignment of Joseph as her husband, only that the arrangement was made, and she ultimately complied.
I would suspect that he was not her first choice; but she was meant for greater things than the human notion of romantic perfection...she just didn't know it yet!"
Candi was fearful that Wilbur was
hitting too close to home! While she loved Denny, they were not always romantic perfection. Nor was Denny her first choice!
She now felt guilty. Even though she'd waited, Candi was angry inside...why did Donte have to be so stubborn!? If she HAD to be such a young mother, and have such a bad reputation, she wished she could at least have deserved it! If she had
to have a child, she wanted it to be Donte's! But would Emeraldon's legacy ever be carried on? Had he so quickly doomed himself in this sense...all to protect her?
On the other hand, what if he wasn't meant for children? What if there were something evil in his genes he didn't wish to pass on? What if there were something evil in hers? What if the whole point is that she wasn't meant for romantic perfection, but for what she now couldn't do?
For Vicki, the pressure was off...she hadn't
played by the rules! Or was it really off?
"Thankfully, none of us have to worry about carrying the Son of God in our bellies! Though...letting him influence our gut feelings may at times feel just as taxing! But we can only wonder...what was it like when Joseph threatened to leave her?"
"She'd done everything by the books...on the outside at least! Yet, we are not told where her mind may have been, only about what she decided to do about it!
And even then, that decision was not made solely by her own power! The major decision was made for her...many of the great decisions were made for her, and only with the Spirit's help, could1 she have possibly accepted the outrageous decisions that were made for her!
Anyone else would have refused what she clearly understood to be her vocation! And who among us could have blamed them?"
"Can't you hear the voices of today's young mothers? 'Yeah right!' they shout with utter sarcasm, and then they turn around and call an exorcist!
Then, they probably have an abortion! And most of them are not even smart about that, holding off until they've significantly increased their own fatality rate! Clearly, Christ came into our world at just the right time in history. Our time would have been far too late!"
"And yet...even in our so-called 'tolerant' society, how easily we will make each other feel rotten for things we ourselves would just as easily have done if we could've gotten away with it!
I'm sure there were cries for Mary's death, women who spoke nasty things about her behind her back! Playing by the rules didn't make her life any easier. She was accused, probably abused, and most of the time, probably felt isolated...or worse...ashamed! The synagogue probably didn't welcome her!"
Callista already felt better. She was not clean; but was quite welcome, and nobody even suspected that she was, in fact, partly responsible for the creation of Botan!
"Yet! When man would have killed his own means to salvation because of his prejudice against one woman; God persisted to forgive them their arrogance, and through this woman, brought about man's Savior anyway!"
This was already leaving Candi confused...did this somehow relate to her situation as well? She knew her child wasn't any closer to being god-like than herself, but what about this whole thing of calling? Just what did God want from her anyway?
"Ladies and Gentlemen, I regret to inform you that, in our quest to remain pious, we have had those in our number go too far.
Instead of kindhearted inquiry, gentle admonishment, and sparing discipline within us; they have gone so far as to trade those traits in for rushed judgment, singled-out wrath, suspect persecution, bullying, and intimidation.
This is unacceptable; for we depend on this college town full of lost souls! We are here to steer them out of the muck and mire of that wretched university in our backyard, not scare them back into it!"
Candi was now convinced that he was drawing largely off of her experiences, but she didn't mind the vindication. She only hoped nobody started looking at her.
"So tonight, we must look at the options! Men sought out Truth Incarnate; but they also wanted to kill his mother! So, that is where we must ask God to help us make the right decision: would we kill Mary, or seek out the truth?"
"Would any of you kill Mary? Any one of you here, who has ever
condemned and chased away a college girl, from activities here, without proof of the allegations brought against her, is guilty of something almost as despicable!
Any of you who has harvested evil opinions about another, even based solely on doubt that individual would have ever married as they walk in here with their children, is like the Jews with their throwing stones in-hand, foaming at the mouth for their chance to throw said stones at a woman on mere suspicion of adultery!"
Candi tried hard not to let her vindictive glee over the implicit criticism of Nolle show, as she knew it was just as out-of-place.