Herb’s Blog, Herbdate 22603 – 917
Here’s the haps:
In 2007 I originally wrote a series of 4 posts about how I imagined Joseph may have seen things. In 2010 I took it down and fleshed it out to a total of 7chapters. A couple are over 2,000 words and one of them is over 3,000. The first 4 are pretty much the originals and number four is scheduled for Christmas Day. I am going to post the whole 7 chapters this week.
Joseph’s First Christmas
Part 4 of 7
Bethlehem is very small and David was very prolific. Even on feast days in Jerusalem itself, you do not think you have ever seen so many people. You have been to every house in the area; relatives you know, relatives you have never met, strangers they have referred you to, people you have done work for, even favors for, but the story is the same. If only you had come sooner. You hang your head. What can you do? You have tried everything from cajolery to bribery but it is the same story and when you get back to the party, Mary is having pains. The real thing this time, too.
You decide to go back to the place you were at first. It is getting late and you go to speak again with the owner of the inn. The inn consists of a walled square with a well in the court and several unfurnished chambers with stables carved from the rock and built onto by a carpenter. The master, Simeon, was prepared for a large crowd, but not for anything like this. He and his wife are used to entertaining many guests and are always prepared for travelers now and then, but every inch of space on all of the floors is covered. All of the chambers, the courtyard, and the large room that is actually part of the owners’ house are full. His house is full of relatives. There are people underneath tables, people on top of tables. Every space is covered by someone. He has tried to find someone who would give up their space for your family and has even offered as much as five times what they paid, with no takers. But, he points out, really, the people are packed in so tightly they couldn’t move if they wanted to and do you really want your wife to give birth in here?
“What am I to do?”
“You can see there is no room. None. What am I to do? I am already going to sleep standing up myself.”
The man’s wife, a sturdy-built woman, comes out of the tiny kitchen. She has rented the chambers and rooms to weary travelers many times and often just opened the doors in hospitality and fed whole companies and caravans alongside her husband for years but she also has never seen anything even remotely like this. She likes you and feels sorry for Mary and thus has risen to the task, however.
“The stable-hands will sleep in the kitchen with my husband and I and the other servants and you can have the stall in the stable that they usually use.”
Before you can bluster out your angry refusal, Mary’s mother comes and she looks very anxious. It is almost time. She speaks with the innkeeper’s wife, who has done the work of a midwife before, and ere you or he can open your mouths, the two women have made all the arrangements and the wife is already dispatching servants to make it as ready as possible.
As you walk around to the back where a cave has been squared off and someone has built a couple of stalls onto it you don’t even think about the star which is directly overhead with its longish tail following and almost pointing to the very rock you are walking toward. The arrangement is rather ingenious and you observe that the construction is solid. You look at how the animals can be separated or not by a series of little half-doors and admire the craftsman who came up with the design. A cloth over the opening would ensure complete privacy. You will have to remember this.
Your reverie is short-lived, however, broken into by the cries and groans of your poor little wife. This worries you. You have never heard her cry out like this. Will she be all right? She sounds as if she is being slowly tortured to death. You know so very little about women and childbirth and find it a bit fearsome as well as awesome and you are afraid for her. What if she is meant to die in childbirth? Could a woman give birth to the Holy One of Israel and not die? You try to push these thoughts aside, to save them for later, thinking to yourself that the Most High has a plan and that this thing obviously could not happen randomly. He does not work that way, but always has a plan of His own. Still, as Mary cries out with another pain, you wonder what manner of plan it is. Should not this be the true King of the Jews, King of all Creation? Why is he being born in a barn?
How the innkeeper’s wife has gotten the place so immaculately clean escapes you, but it is astonishing. As you think on it, it is better than a room, being larger and not covered with wall-to-wall people. She has produced an odd-looking stool and is getting rid of all men-folk. You explain your fears about Mary’s pains, how she has never cried out like this before and you ask if she might not be in pain unto death. The woman’s laugh rings out boisterously. “It has been thus since Eve was deceived! You have nothing to fear that man since Adam has had to fear, now get out; there is work to be done! If you cannot stand the sounds of pain you’d best move on down the road, but don’t go too far.” There is much bustling about between the kitchen and the stable, servants being sent on various errands, water being drawn; much activity for such a still night.
You hang about outside, waiting, waiting and waiting still more yet, trying to hear and trying not to hear at the same time until at last, you hear a sound that breaks through the night. The sound of hope! The sound of a new beginning! The sound of an infant crying for its very first time. A servant girl brings you in and you see that all of the bustle was about making a comfortable place for Mary to lie with the baby.
The baby. You are rushed back out again. There is much to be done yet. Later, after an eternity of time, you are called in and the midwife hands you a bundle. “There he is, sir, salted, bathed and swaddled. Those are clean cloths he’s swaddled in, I made sure myself. I washed them this morning and they didn’t come from out here. I had them hid in the kitchen in case I needed them, you know, what with so many people and all.”
You don’t hear her. You are overwhelmed. You are looking into the face of an infant and the Almighty at the same time. How can this be? You feel the awesome power that you felt when the angel appeared to you and along with it, you feel an awesome peace. You feel so peaceful, looking at the child who is more beautiful than you ever thought an infant could be. Did he smile at you? Tears fall onto the baby’s face and you see a little bed they have made for him out of a manger full of straw. A heavy cloth covers the straw and should make a nice little place to sleep as you lay him down.
At that very moment, as you lay him in the manger, the stable door bursts open and a group of scruffy-looking characters, men and boys followed by the hotly protesting innkeeper, enters and immediately fall silently to their knees, on their faces in front of the manger and then begin worshipping and praying and giving thanks. Even the innkeeper stops in his tracks. Do they all feel the power and peace that you feel? By the smell of them you know they are shepherds. Honest and hardworking at a task that had never had much honor until King David. There was always something you liked about shepherds, something about the kind of person who became a shepherd that appealed to you. You listen as the wide-eyed, nay, wild-eyed shepherds tell you a story of an angel speaking to them from the sky; their great, intense fear as the angel shone the glory of God on them; and then their peace and the awesome feeling of the power of God that they felt as the angel spoke to them and said, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And you can understand their awe, having felt the same. Then they describe the sky opening up and the entire heavenly host singing at what seems by their description to be the exact moment you heard the baby cry for the first time. “What was their song?” You know that even Isaiah never saw anything like that and you try to imagine a sky filled with angelic beings.
“They sang, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’ And when they were done we ran as fast as possible to get here. We know where all the stables are in town, but this was the first one we tried.”
Mary gently speaks and says, “Would you like to hold him?” The midwife frowns but says nothing as the baby is passed among the shepherds by rough, dirty, hands that have worked hopelessly all their life, even the young boys. He is wept upon and kissed and cooed at many times by simple men who are thankful to God for such a miracle as they have seen and the salvation that is come. None of you understands fully what salvation means, but are filled with unspeakable joy and peace at being in the presence of the Holy One of Israel.
You tremble with them as you tell your own story openly to these men, even though you would never tell one of the religious leaders about it. These men have come as close to seeing God as any mortal could and have felt His power. They understand and believe and go out into the streets shouting their good news and telling their story to everyone, sharing their great joy at having seen the Savior, born in the City of David. Noising it abroad to any that would hear. Some people mock. Some doubt. But some believe.
Merry Christmas Herb!
I think I would like to be in your Sunday school classes. Your telling of this well known story is fresh and compelling.
Thank you very much.