Final installment in a Christmas series beginning with NW1:
After an evening of memories and laughter with family, M & J went to bed. Ms. Anne insisted that Mary take their bed, being “large with child,” and no one objected, at least out loud. She slept peacefully with the exception of one dream of the cross outside Jericho, which awakened her in a cold sweat. Once she fell back to sleep, she slept until a rooster crowed and she could hear voices and footsteps in the house.
“Well good morning mother-to-be! I have fig cakes ready if you want one,” Mother Anne was a master of hospitality even though, or maybe especially because, she had family sleeping on all her furniture and floors. “We have a lot of cooking to do today – tonight is the beginning of Shabbat you know.”
“Oh, right, Joseph wants to be settled in, in Bethlehem before sunset.”
“You’re not staying here tonight? You’re coming back though to stay longer, right? That’s not a question… nevermind . . . you will be coming back here after you register in Bethlehem. I’ll have things ready the morning after Shabbat,” Ms. Anne decreed.
“We will be here . . .” Joseph said, smiling as he walked through the front door. He and Joachim had just finished watering and packing up Mel, re-balancing everything based on Joachim’s suggestions on how it could be done better than Joseph had it.
“It’s going to be slow going today because of the crowds. You kids eat a good breakfast but then you need to be moving along if you’re going to find a place in Bethlehem before dark.” Joachim had the best of intentions in his instructions, but left Mary feeling a little rushed.
“Yes Papa. I think we will be fine. Mel will get us there,” she responded.
With that, they said their goodbyes, and Ms. Anne and Elizabeth made a ceremonious presentation of some swaddling cloths made by them especially for baby Jesus. Mary welled up but held back tears as she took the gift, hugged the givers and then with one hand on her belly, walked down the street and into the throngs. Heading South through the city, they walked by the base of the western wall of the Temple, and then out of the southern gate, by King David’s old palace. M & J both breathed a sigh of relief to be outside the narrow, crowded streets of the city, but traffic was still heavy and they knew Joachim was right that it would take longer than usual.
A mile or two south of town, having heard nothing but the mixture of the voices around them and the crunch of the dirt under their feet, Mary starts a conversation: “Funny how Adonai works, isn’t it, Joe? If the Israelites had killed everyone in their path as God instructed, King David wouldn’t have bought the Temple Rock from a Jebusite, because they would all be gone, and Boaz wouldn’t have married Ruth, because she would have never been born, and even back in Jericho, Rahab wouldn’t have survived.”
Joseph, intrigued by Mary’s line of thought, responds: “Adonai uses our disobedience as well as our obedience for His purposes. Neither one takes Him by surprise. He lives outside of our Time, so even as He gave Joshua’s army their initial marching orders, He knew they would not actually wipe everyone out, and He could see that the people of this area would live together. The fact that Jesus has Rahab from Jericho and Ruth the Moabite in His bloodline shows us that Adonai loves everyone, and accepts into His kingdom all who accept Him.”
About this time, M & J can look around them and instead of seeing the walls of Jerusalem, they are looking at some of the very fields where Ruth and Boaz worked, where David tended his sheep as a boy, and where shepherds were tending sheep as they and Mel walk by.
“I see Bethlehem up at the top of the hill now! We’re almost there,” Mary said with excitement in her voice. It was just past noon now, so feeling no rush, they stopped for a snack and a drink for Mel. Other travelers passed by steadily as they rested.
“You know what I think is funny,” says Joe, ” . . . the fact that your uncle Z was so surprised to hear from God in the Holy of Holies. I mean, isn’t that what he goes in there for? I thought the priests heard from God everytime they went in, but when Uncle Z actually did see an angel, he didn’t even believe what he was told!?”
“Don’t be too hard on him. Each priest does that maybe once in a lifetime, so he was nervous going in, and of all things he didn’t expect that news, even if he did see an angel,” Mary points out.
“Just sayin,” – Joe.
The walk is difficult going up the hills to Bethlehem, but they finally reach the edge of town. “The City of David,” says Joe. “We made it. Let’s check the La Quinta first – there’s always a Denny’s next door.”
“Let’s try the Days Inn. There’s a Krispy Shawarma at the edge of their parking lot,” suggests Mary.
All booked up.
“Let’s keep walking. There is surely something on the next block.” – Joe
“Skip the Motel 6” says Mary. “I don’t like that number. I’d rather sleep in a cave or a manger.”
“Be careful what you wish for. . . . Let’s stop for some lunch and find something afterwards” Joseph says.
Mary: “Maybe we can find a place that makes Baklava as well as the place down the street back in Nazareth.”
“Not possible,” – Joseph.
After a relaxing lunch, the restaurant owner reminds them that rooms are not available because Tishri is the month of holidays, which means travel, plus most people are staying the night where they are at this time of day because they won’t do work, including packing their animal or traveling on the Shabbat, which starts in only a couple of hours.
“That’s why we need a place soon,” responds Joseph.
“There is one place further up the hill that may be willing to help. The inn-keeper is a devout Jew and will do whatever He can for you if he knows who your family is.”
With sore feet and discouraged hearts, M & J make their way up the hill. Just before they knock on the door of the spot the restaurant owner described, the owner steps out to meet them. “I’m sorry – I’m all full up and nobody is leaving tonight, but if you’re willing, I’ll show you the manger.”
Joseph to Mary: “What did I say . . .”
Mary to Joseph: “I’m feeling it again. Contractions. I don’t think it’s a false alarm this time.”
Joseph and Mary to the Inn Keeper: “We’ll take it.”
The Inn Keeper leads them into a cave behind the house, and shoos a few of the animals out as he goes in first. “My son Aaron will be here shortly to sweep this out and help you unpack. Young lady, when you go in, you will find a comfortable place to sit just to your right, and a bigger area to make a bed further in to the left. Here’s a candle.”
As the sun begins to color the clouds with a myriad of pastels, young Aaron comes to sweep out the floor as Joseph is bringing in the bags. Mary is sitting on the seat just inside, focusing on her breathing now. “Why didn’t *gasp* we just stay at Mama’s *clenching teeth* house . . . this would have been easier there. . . Where is Elizabeth when I need her?”
“I’m here,” says Joseph, “we can do this.”
“We?” and the pain stops. “Ok, I can breath again. Mom said it would happen in waves . .”
Joseph – “The sun hasn’t completely set, but there is one star already out. I’ve never see one so bright.”
Aaron follows a goat trotting in, just to catch it and pull it back outside, trying not to look as Mary begins breathing heavily with pain again.
“Ok Joseph. . . this is *clenching and puffing* IT! Mary tightens her grip on her seat and pushes until she can’t breathe . .
Joseph shouts with Joy: “Emmanuel. JESUS. He’s here, Mary. YOU DID IT! Ten toes, ten fingers . . . Joe cuts the cord, wipes Him off and hands the Baby to Mary as he finds the cloth that Ms. Anne and Elizabeth gave them. “Adonai did it.” Mary says as she re-situates herself to hold the baby. Joseph cleans up a little and puts some hay on the floor and over to the right, by the door where the animal usually eat.
The world seems to shrink in and become quiet as the new parents hold their baby and touch their child’s face and hands with no one around to know what just happened. Outside, all the spirit world watches in silence, recognizing the significance of this birth, the Hope it will bring, the Dissonance it will cause, the Peace it will give, the Torture and Death that is just years away, and the Victory that will follow. The Spirits see all this as a single moment, without the filter of the lens of time.
At this moment, while Mary and Joseph are resting in the quiet cave, three men in Saba, Persia, – Gaspar, Baldasar, and Melchior – are studying the stars when they detect something uncommon. Based on this they begin another historic journey. (Journal of Marco Polo, Ch. XI)
Simultaneously, a single angel appears to the shepherds M & J saw on the way in, at the base of the hill:
10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”[d]
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
When the shepherds left, Joseph made a place to sleep, and then sat down with Mary to admire their Son in the quiet Shabbat evening.