That week was the most hectic, chaotic, week of my life. People came from all over country to our tiny little village just because some greedy emperor needed more money. What was he thinking, a census! Did he really expect an accurate head count?
They started arriving in the afternoon, the day after the Sabbath. I knew many of the early guests. They were distant relatives who had left Bethlehem and resettled in neighboring towns. My father's inn quickly filled up. My mother was prepared for the visitors. We had been baking for days and we had baskets of bread. If they had not come, the mice would have feasted for weeks. My father had stocked up on wine after the last harvest. His brother Bartholomew works as a quartermaster in Herod's palace and warned him that Herod was increasing his food storage by four times the normal amount.
It was fun to have the inn full at first. It was like a party. Children were running everywhere. People brought their musical instruments so the streets were alive with music and dancing. But the next day the people kept coming. The fun ended and the work began. They said they were distant cousins but they must have been very distant because I had never heard of them.
When more guests started arriving, my father asked families to double up. Rooms that normally held six people were holding 12 to 18. A few brought tents. They set their tents all around our house. Others just spread their bedroll on the ground. Everyone pitched in to help. There were too many people to be counted in one day. While some went to be counted, others would stay behind and help prepare the meals.
The town really filled up on the third day, the day when the couple from Nazareth arrived. She was pregnant and it took them longer to walk than the other guests. My heart broke when my father told them that he had no room. He sent me to see if anyone else in town had any available space. I ran up and down the streets, asking, pleading with everyone but could not find anyone who had room.
My father would not let them sleep in the streets. The woman looked as if she could start her delivery at any moment. He told me to take them to the stable. It was not much, just a hole craved out of a rock wall, more like a cave. Not a very elegant place for an expectant mother but it was the best we could do. The rocks absorbed the heat of the day and kept the place warm after the sun went down. At least, she had have some privacy but it was so smelly.
I was glad my father allowed me to bring them supper. When I entered the stable, she was laying on some fresh straw. They had made a makeshift bed for her. A few women were helping her husband. Her labor pains had only just started. She did not want to eat but she was willing to talk.
She told me that her name was Mary and her husband name's was Joseph. He worked as a carpenter. They both had been born in Nazareth and had lived there all their lives. They seldom came to Bethlehem except on the way to Jerusalem.
I asked her whose relatives had been born in Bethlehem. She said that both of them could trace their ancestral heritage back to King David. When I complained about the way the census made so many people travel, she told me that she did not mind. It gave her an opportunity to see the villages of her ancestors. She said that it brought her joy to remember that she and Joseph were of tribe of Judah.
I asked her if she had chosen any names. She told me that they had decided to call the child Yeshua, which means, he who saves. I asked her what if the baby was a girl. She smiled and said, "It's a boy." I was startled. She was so confident. I asked how she could be so sure. She just smiled. She probably thought that I would just leave but her silence only increased my curiosity. I asked again but she would not answer. I asked one last time. She told me that I would not understand. So, I insisted and my persistence paid off. She told me that an angel had appeared to her and told her that she was pregnant. The angel told her to name the child Yeshua.
I did not know what to say. I understood but I was not sure if I could believe her. Why would an angel appear to her? She was not any different from any of my friends? Why her and not someone else? So, I asked her, "Why would God send an angel to tell you that you were pregnant." Between contractions, she just smiled.
I wanted to talk with her more but the contractions were getting strong. A woman who had volunteered to help Mary with the delivery shooed me away. Then my little brother arrived and told me that our father needed me back at the house. As I walked back, I thought about what Mary had said. I had heard some bizarre stories about a pregnancy in Jerusalem. An older woman named Elizabeth had delivered a baby boy and named him John. Elizabeth was the wife of a priest in Jerusalem, Zechariah. She was well past her childbearing years. Her pregnancy surprised everyone. They said that her husband had also seen an angel. I wondered if Mary knew about Zechariah's vision? If Mary had really seen an angel, I wondered if her vision had any connection to Zechariah's.
After I got back to the house, I briefly forgot about Mary. Everyone wanted something. One person requested more fruit, another person wanted more bread, and someone else asked for wine. They were all polite and very patience but I could only move so fast. A few hours passed when a woman came running into the house asking for more garments for the new baby.
"Is it a boy?" I asked
She said it was.
I ran out to the stable with her. When we entered the stable Mary was laying where I had last seen her. The child lay on her belly crying. He was still covered in blood. While another woman wiped him off, we tore the garments into stripes to wrap the baby. These would keep him warm and help his limbs grow straight.
My Father came to congratulate Joseph. He talked with the Joseph about politics and the census. When he found out that Joseph was a carpenter he asked him to return in the spring to build some new furniture. While they talked I watched Mary feed her new son. I wanted to ask her a few more questions but the older women would not let me get too close. They asked for more clothe, but we had used everything for the guests and the delivery. My father said he would send me to the market to purchase more clothe for the baby in the morning. While I was leaving, I saw Mary lay the little baby in the feeding trough near her to sleep.
The next morning the streets were jammed with people. I had to push my way through. After buying the material, I heard a group of shepherds talking to a merchant. They asked him, if he knew of a young mother with a newborn child. The merchant laughed at them. He announced very loudly to those around him,
"Of course, in this mass of people, I remember one young woman who had a child, born just last night and for the price of three denari I will give you directions to her home."
Everyone but the shepherds laughed. They just turned and walked away. I followed them. Once they were out of earshot of that rude merchant I ran up to one of them and asked why they were looking for a newborn baby. He smiled and said,
"Run along little girl, you wouldn't understand."
That really irritated me. I pointed my finger in his face and said, "I'll tell you what I do understand. Last night, I visited a pregnant mother in my father's stable. She told me that I would not understand either, but I wore her out with my questions. Then she told me that an angel had appeared to her and what I do understand is that there is a new baby lying in my father's stable just as the angel had told her."
You should have seen the eyes of those shepherds. They insisted that I take them to the mother and child. But I said, "Not until you tell me why you are looking for them."
They looked at each other and stood in silence for a few moments. One of them finally said, "An angel appeared to us while we were with our flock last night and told us about the child."
I said, "Follow me!" and ran toward our house. I was surprised that they could keep up with me through all the people. I darted in and out but they managed and were only about a dozen yards behind when I arrived. They stood before the entrance and I went into the stable. I asked Joseph if they could come and see the baby. He almost said no but I told him that an angel had appeared to the men. He stood up right away, and invited them to enter.
Each man wanted to hold the child. They kept saying it's true, it's true. Finally, they all sat down and told us their story. Angels had appeared to them telling them that in the town of David a Savior had been born who was Christ the Lord and they would find him in a manger! We were all amazed. Then Joseph shared their story with us.
Afterwards, the shepherds ran through the streets telling everyone what the angel had announced and what they had seen. More people came that night to see the child. Everyone kept asking, "What does it mean?" "What is God about to do?"
I guess Mary and the
shepherds were right, I'm not sure I can understand it all. So many things
happened. Why in Bethlehem? Why our inn? Why this couple? He seems like
just another baby boy. If he really is God's son as Mary says, I don't
understand why God would let someone so important be born in a stable.
I wonder if we will ever find out what everything means.
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