This is a story about the Annunciation which I wrote for a service on Christmas Eve.
Rosie lived with her grandfather in a little cottage by the river. The cottage had once been painted white but time had exposed the outlines of the bricks, reminding Rosie of a riverbed at the end of a long, dry summer.
They didn’t have very much, and what her grandfather did have he shared with Rosie unreservedly, often going hungry himself so that she would have enough.
During one particularly hard winter, Rosie noticed that her grandfather’s plate was often empty and, knowing that there wasn’t enough food to go round she decided that she needed to do something about the situation.
So Rosie set off in search of food. She put on her muddy green wellies and her big brown jacket and crept over the fence into the nearby woods but it was dark and damp and the squirrels had long ago taken all the half-decent nuts.
So she went down to the river instead, hoping to catch a fish or two with her little yellow fishing net but the water was icy cold and the fish were wily and slippery and she came away with nothing but a dull ache in her fingers and in her heart.
She was on the verge of giving up when she decided to go and have one last look in her grandfather’s allotment plot which sat just up the road from the cottage. Maybe there would be something there that he’d missed, something to keep them going through the last days of winter.
It didn’t look promising. The ground was all neatly turned over, and what plants she could see certainly didn’t seem edible.
But then, in the corner of the allotment, she spotted a little blue-gray bag, tucked away under an old yellowing sheepskin fleece. She looked in the bag and saw that it contained a single golden-brown potato.
Rosie rushed back into the house to find her grandfather and she told him what she’d found. “Shall I bring it in and you can have it for your tea?” She asked him.
“Oh you mustn’t” he replied, “that potato will feed us for the whole of next winter”
“One potato will feed us for a whole winter?” she said, incredulously. “Yes,” her grandfather replied, “sometimes the smallest things are filled with the most potential”
That spring, when the days started to lengthen and the frost no longer clung so tightly to the ground, Rosie’s grandfather took her out into the allotment and showed her how to quarter the potato, making sure each chunk had an eye, and plant it deep into the soil.
As Spring turned to Summer Rosie watched the shoots appear and the plants begin to spread their leaves.
When the Autumn came, Rosie and her grandfather went out to the allotment with a fork and a fraying wicker basket and she watched in amazement as her Grandfather turned over the soil to reveal hundreds of golden-brown potatoes.
Rosie tried to count them all but she didn’t know enough numbers so instead she helped her grandfather gently wipe them clean and put them in the basket to take back into the house.
Before they returned home, however, Rosie watched her Grandfather choose one of the potatoes, put it in the little blue-grey bag, and tuck it under the old sheepskin in the corner of the allotment.
As they walked back along the road, Rosie asked him why he used a blue bag to store the special potato.
“Do you know the story of Mary?” he asked her
“I know about the donkey and the manger and the shepherds and the kings with their presents” she replied, closing the cottage door quietly behind her.
“Well”, he said, as the fire crackled into life, “before all of that Mary was just a young girl – not very much older than you. But God chose her to look after something very small, and very precious.”
“Was that the baby Jesus?” she asked
“Yes, she had to look after him – even though she was only young herself, because that tiny baby growing inside her would one day give life to the whole world”
“Sometimes the smallest things are filled with the most potential”, Rosie murmured, remembering what her grandfather had said back in the allotment all those months ago.
“In pictures”, he went on, “Mary is always painted wearing blue, so that’s why I decided to keep my special seed potato in a blue bag – so that it would be protected, kept safe, just like Mary protected Jesus.
“And when the time is right, when the earth is ready, when the task is done, that precious little gift can go on to give life, and hope, and strength.”
Rosie watched her Grandfather settle back in his chair, and she wondered whether he was talking about Jesus, or the potato, but she decided it was just as true either way. As her eyelids grew heavier the flames flickered up from the deep red embers of the fire, making the shadows dance around the room like a heavenly host watching over them as they slept.
Rich Clarkson, Christmas 2017