It is dark. But the darkness is more than the absence of light. The stars are shining. A glow comes from homes and structures scattered about the countryside. It is cold. But the cold is more that the plunge in temperature after the setting of the sun. Tension fills the air. Anxiety engulfs the night.
In the center of this scene we find a young pregnant woman and her equally nervous husband seeking shelter. The town is filled with people registering for the census required by decree of Caesar Augustus. The increased stress is a result of the order that every person registers in their home town.
Mary’s time of delivery coincides exactly with the timing of the emperor’s edict. By the time the exhausted couple arrives, no rooms are available anywhere in Bethlehem. A frazzled inn-keeper tells the couple, “I’m sorry, but if you want to stay here, the stable out back will have to do!”
The inn-keeper closes the door, refusing to be involved. He cannot allow this couple’s need to tug at his heart. The inn-keeper instructs his wife to go about her business. They have an inn to run and guests paying the full price of a room to care for. Life in the inn-keeper’s world is set. He will not allow that to change –for anything.
Joseph does what he can to make sure his beloved Mary is as comfortable as possible. He tries to block out the cool night air. He looks for straw that has not been soiled by the animals. He needs to give Mary a sufficient bed to deliver the precious child. Joseph will also need to line the feed trough with enough padding for the little one’s impromptu cradle. –He knows he could have built a nicer crib for the virgin’s child if only he could have stayed at his carpenter shop. It hurts his pride that he has not been able to provide a better situation for his young bride and their –well, her firstborn.
Joseph doesn’t have time to wallow in his disappointment. Mary’s water broke just after arrival at the stable. The animals were moved outside to protect Mary and give her and Joseph room.
A dear sweet woman named Ruth had come out to the well to get water. She heard Mary crying from the intensity of her labor pains. Ruth’s husband, a kindly old Hebrew had fallen happily asleep following the food and wine enjoyed earlier in the evening. He would not even know Ruth was practically engaged in her seasoned duties as a mid-wife. Setting her water jar aside, Ruth moved quickly to give Mary assistance. She had aided hundreds of mothers. Why was the spirit of this so different? Ruth felt compelled to help Mary and Joseph with the delivery of their baby.
No questions were asked. Ruth just knew exactly what to do. She rattled off instructions. Joseph was given his marching orders. Ruth directed Joseph to secure heated water, scraps of cloth and some of the inn-keeper’s discarded bedding. By the time Joseph returned at the stable, Mary’s delivery had begun. Ruth was instructing Mary on precisely what to do. Even though it was cold, sweat was covering Mary’s face. “Push!” Ruth shouted! “Breath!” “Push!”
Joseph stayed outside pacing between the lowing cattle and the other animals who seemed strangely content. Joseph ran his fingers through his hair. He looked up to the sky as if to pray. Then suddenly, the night was pierced with the smack of a hand on human flesh and infant cries echoed across the hills of Bethlehem. “It’s a boy!” Ruth proudly proclaimed, unaware Joseph and Mary had already heard Heaven declare the child’s gender. Ruth completed the procedures of a mid-wife and gently handed the child to Mary. Joseph reclined beside her to admire the tiny Son-of-God.
Before leaving, Ruth tenderly took the baby’s right hand into her own. She spoke softly, but deeply, as she looked to the stars above, saying: “Precious one born this night in Bethlehem, though you are tiny, you shall become a ruler and Savior for Israel and to the Gentiles because you are before the beginning and you are everlasting. Your arrival as one of us changes everything!” Joseph knew it was prophetic. Ruth said it with unquestionable conviction, as if she saw a vision. She then spoke in her normal voice giving kind words of congratulations to the new parents before slipping off to the inn.
Mary and Joseph never saw Ruth after that night. She and her husband left the inn at sunrise attempting to be first at the census line at the Bethlehem Registry Post. Their paths never crossed again.
Joseph then went about making a cocoon of straw around mother and child to block drafts of cold night air. He brought the animals in closer to generate additional heat in the stable. The animals appeared to be soothed by the infant’s cooing. Joseph came in close to Mary. For a few moments, all the world was at rest.
For Unto Us a Child is Born! Courtesy the LumoProject
The quiet was broken by the noise of men shouting in the distance. Joseph groaned, sure that travelers had enjoyed more wine than necessary.
“Over here!” One yelled.
“I see a light.” The other replied.
Surely, these drunkards will wake the entire town of Bethlehem, Joseph thought. Mary was sleeping. After all she had endured, Joseph couldn’t bear the thought of her rest being disturbed.
“This way,” Josiah, called out.
“Stop shouting ya damn fool,” Reuben countered “you wanna wake the whole town?”
“Maybe the two of you can stop acting like uncivilized Philistines,” Benjamin scolded, “now shut up and listen to me. The angels said we’d find our Savior laying in the feed trough bundled up in strips of cloth. God knows if anyone needs a Savior we sure as hel… He caught himself before he finished the word. –Well obviously we do! So, let’s find our Messiah and worship Him. Guys, it’ll change everything!”
Mary’s rest was brief. When Joseph understood the shepherds weren’t drunk, they were just regular old shepherds, he felt less annoyed. Many of his carpenter friends had similar raucous personalities.
Mary took everything in with a look of satisfied wonder. Joseph was astounded most by the demeanor of the shepherds. Men of great bravado and toughness were exhibiting such quiet humility. Kneeling beside the manger that cradled the child, they worshiped. They then related the entire account of being greeted by the angelic host out in the field. They shared how frightened they were until the angels confirmed their message was one of good news which would bring great joy.
Indeed, it was angelic communication to the world that would change everything!
The shepherds, Benjamin, Reuben and Josiah went on their way, singing as they returned to the hills. Mary thought back to the day Gabriel announced the holy conception inside her. Life had been changed forever. Mary knew she was holding the “change maker” in her very own arms. The darkness, cold and tension seemed to dissipate, at least for a little while.
Joseph stepped outside the stable. It was chilly, but he felt uniquely warm inside. He looked up, focusing on the brightest star in the midnight sky. He remembered the dream he’d had months earlier. The one where the Lord explained that “everything Mary told you is true.”
He promised Yahweh he would be a good husband to Mary and the best father possible to God’s Son. Joseph knew the moment he committed himself to Jehovah’s plan, it changed everything! He didn’t know what that meant. But he did know from years of experience in his trade, every good carpenter has a draft—a blueprint. Deep in his heart, Joseph knew the “Master Carpenter’s” craft and design would be flawless.
Joseph walked back to the stable. He knelt, gently kissing Mary. “He’s beautiful honey. You did so well tonight. You’ve been so strong this last week.”
“It was Yahweh’s strength.” Mary replied.
“Jehovah must be so proud of my precious wife,” Joseph told her.
“I hope so Joseph, I hope so?” She answered with a question.
“I know so,” was Joseph’s quick response.
“Look at Him,” Joseph said, softly caressing the crown of the babe’s head, “our little Immanuel, God with us. It is beyond belief! Jesus, our Savior… Oh Mary, dearest, this changes everything!”