Night air sucked hard through her teeth as Mary gasped and clutched her stomach. “It’s coming.” Wetness seeped through her robes and warmed the poor donkey beneath her. Lord, we’re so close to the town. Couldn’t it wait a bit longer? A seizure gripped her middle as her body rebelled against the good sense she offered.
With a forceful rush she realized, I'm not ready. 14 years she'd lived on this earth. What did she know about raising a child? She'd only learned where babies come from a couple years ago. Not that it helped much in this situation. Her mind rushed through the events of the past year like it did only when she'd been chewing a sugar cane too long--her betrothal to Joseph, the angel's frightening visit, and the arrival of her cousin Elizabeth's baby boy. Joseph's heartbroken rejection when he'd found her with child, his acceptance of God's will after his own visit with an angel, and now this long journey to the city of Joseph's ancestry for Herod's census.
She took another breath to calm herself. It didn't work. Mama had talked her through what was to come with a birth. So why did she feel so unprepared?
Joseph took three steps, dropped the donkey’s lead rope and turned. He looked thunderstruck. “What?”
“The child.” She gritted out. “He’s coming.” A mess of emotional thoughts flew through her mind while she watched her betrothed’s eyes flip from her face to her stomach and back again. Thoughts like, Who am I that God has chosen me to deliver his child?
The donkey swished its tail, growing cold now with the moisture and night air.
And still other thoughts like, What if I do something wrong and the babe doesn’t survive? Will God kill me too? And…
Joseph raked a hand through his hair, his long, travel-worn cloak whipping up with the motion, and sported a dumbfounded expression.
…What am I doing so far away from home with this clueless man?
Reality must have settled in Joseph’s mind, because he grabbed the donkey’s halter and pulled them along. Dim lights of Bethlehem came into view and relief melted over her shoulders.
She struggled to stay on the donkey when another pain hit. Joseph knocked on the door of the inn and looked torn between staying with her and barging in the door. She knew he wouldn’t go in without her, but after three tries, no one answered. Becoming frantic, he gave the door a final, hard pounding. “Please, let us in.”
“Look people,” the voice came out muffled and gruff before the door opened. “We got no more room in here. Not even if the Messiah hisself came and asked to stay…” Coarse laughter exploded from inside in response.
With a glance at her condition, the man softened his tone. “Sorry. Couldn't fit another person if every one in 'ere sucked in and turned sideways.”
“Where is the next in? My wife is… She’s…” Joseph gestured to her.
“Next inn?” the man snickered. “Bethlehem only has one and this is it. Next place for decent folk to stay would be in Jerusalem.”
Joseph, jaw twitching in anger, looked up the long hill to the royal city. She could almost hear his thoughts. It would be too late before they reached another inn. There was no way she’d make it into Jerusalem.
Dear God! If the city of David does not receive Your Son, is there no place on this earth He is welcome?
“‘Fraid you won’t find any room there, either. Horrible crowded, what with ‘His Greatness’ Herod’s decree.” The innkeeper said with a snort. He eyed Mary closely. “Though, from the looks of it, you’d best find some sort of shelter soon.” The man moved to go in, then turned. “There's…” he scratched his mustache, “What I mean is—it’s not a fit place for a birthing but… There's stables,” he gestured, “In the side of the hill yonder, where the shepherds sometimes stow their flocks in the winter.” He looked between the two of them and the donkey. “Sorry.” The proprietor rubbed his belly and shuffled back into his inn, muttering under his breath.
“Oh,” Mary groaned. The pangs were coming closer together now. This one so strong it startled her.
Joseph looked up. The urgency in his eyes mingled with determination and reminded Mary of his iron-like will. Honor was everything to him. Even early on, when he’d suspected her of infidelity, he’d chosen a merciful path, rather than the justice he held rights to. He studied the skyline a moment.
“Dear Lord, I’m sorry,” he prayed as he trudged up the hillside, “but this is the best I can do.”
The path to the stable became a blur of agony. Sweat trickled into her eyes. When she could finally breath again, she looked up at her home for the night.
It was a cave. Only a little less frightening than she’d imagined, though not as dark. The starlight was unusually bright here.
Joseph led her into the primitive shelter. The stale odor sheep left behind trampled over any sweet smell the hay might have provided.
Lord, is this where you want your son born? Nothing made sense. She moaned. Especially when her stomach tightened like now. She bit her tongue to keep from screaming and tasted blood.
Joseph lifted her from the donkey and carried her to a mound of trampled looking hay. That’s when the pain rolled in. Her mind turned to mush. Vague moments came through in pieces—Joseph caressing her brow and hesitantly checking her progress, herself uncomfortable with his seeing her this way.
Another pain hit.
She was going to be a mother soon. A virgin, but a mother. She couldn’t deliver this child alone. Her abdomen contracted and nearly bent her in two. There was no choice but to sacrifice her embarrassment.
Joseph eased behind her to support her back with his chest when the spasms eased for a few seconds.
Thank you, God, for such a man.
The cloud of anguish returned faster and stronger than ever. She screamed, unable to hold back, then the pressure eased and her burden was gone.
“He’s here,” Joseph whispered in her ear, as if she didn’t already know. She almost laughed but didn’t have the strength. He reached around her to gather the baby, and brought the slick new infant into her view. “And he’s perfect.”
Mary looked at her baby. Something wasn’t right. Why wasn’t he breathing? Where were the cries? Had she done what she feared? Had she messed up God’s plan?
Joseph’s big, man’s hands cleaned the baby’s miniature face and massaged its tiny chest until it began to wail so loudly, she almost wished He would be quiet again.
She laughed and made a feeble attempt to help Joseph wrap the child in the cloths he’d found—cloths left from wiping down the animal occupants now gone away. Warmth filled Mary as Joseph helped her hold the baby to her chest to nurse.
“Jesus,” her husband whispered to the hungry baby boy.
The Messiah. He was finally here. She couldn’t resist reaching a wobbly finger to touch his finely shaped brow and closed eyelid. A tear dropped from hers.
Then a thought hit her and left her shaken. “Joseph.”
He was just as busy studying Jesus as she. “Hmm?”
She turned to watch the man to whom she’d pledged herself. “Why us? Why here?”
Joseph caught her gaze. He opened his mouth to respond, but his eyes filled with moisture. He ran his tongue along the inside of his cheek and shook his head instead. After a few moments he said, “I don’t know,” and brushed calloused carpenter’s hands overtop her baby’s head. “But I’m glad.” His voice broke and they cried together, and laughed, and cried again.
When quiet descended and the warm weight of her baby lulled her, Mary dosed in Joseph’s arms. Birthing was harder than she’d guessed.
A noise woke her. “What was that?”
“Hmm?” Joseph murmured into her hair, obviously enjoying their tranquil closeness. He’d not even held her as of yet.
A sheep ran into the shelter and sniffed the corner before lying down.
Joseph, ever protective, stiffened and moved to stand guard.
Another sheep joined them. Then another, followed by a thin, rangy man who knelt, beholding Jesus with tearful worship. More followed him—some young, some old—gathering about the cave’s mouth like cautious children.
And finally she knew. Knew why this is where God wanted His son to meet His creation. Why He was born in the deepest part of the earth, witnessed by outcasts, showing how far Love would reach to save His people from their sins.
It was for her.
Hey ya'll. Hope you enjoyed this scene. I know it may seem a bit 'Americanized', but I had so much fun writing it, I just had to share. You'll find the Biblical account in Luke chapters 1 & 2.
Our next post will be Friday, Jan 6. We will be learning about Rahab, suggested by Bethany.