imagine, how it could feel.
Already a new experience. Three months of desperate hope turned to despair and still…she could not let go of the hope …the promise.
But in the face of the families rejection – Seeing Joseph face it again. It’s too much Lord! Still now, in the most desperate time of need, they would still not relent.
The pain pressed so hard in her throat and the tears brimmed over spilling down her cheeks – cut off with another tearing pain forcing a low groan out of her – but still in that moment her Father in laws voice cut through her heart.
The words were sharp and repeated by the other men in the crowded room – permeated by the silence of the women. Their eyes would not meet hers. The noise of their protests grew louder and harsher and silenced other travelers down the hall.
Josephs fingers dug unconsciously into her shoulder – but in the moment the pain was comfort. His hand shook…was it rage? or fear? or shame?
Already blood was running into her shoes – soaking one side of the binding dark red – black in the flickering oillight. The InnKeeper was already urging them out – echoing Josephs male family members. She could see that it was all they could do not to fling their sparse bread at them as they retreated back through the crowded halls. Curious condemning eyes raked them over as they stumbled precariously back. She groaned with shame.
Oh LORD! how could you? How could you subject me to this? The sharp despair cut through her as they made their way down the stairs. Joseph was talking but she couldn’t. She just couldn’t focus. Her foot kept slipping in the prints she was leaving behind.
And the voice. The InnKeepers wife’s voice. Cursing her. “You’re defiling my house!” And dogs. They were now dogs to strangers as well as family. Someone flung something that hit Joseph – she heard it. Felt his body close beside her recoil – and the brief pause of considered retaliation followed by his firm determined step away from confrontation.
Then they were outside and the sharp night air hit her as another contraction came – and she was down. Down in the street – her hands in the soil. The soil mud. The mud soaking through the material at her knees. She knew this even as she felt Josephs hands trying to pull her back up, even as the pain cut through her like a knife. Even as the words of death caressed her face. “God’s son? Are you a fool? What really happened when that man came and visited you?”
The pain passed and she gasped for breath.
“Come on!” Joseph sounded out of breath as well. “Come on – we will go back and get the stuff from the donkeys – you can wait there while I find someone!” His voice sounded strained. Stressed. He was a methodical and quiet man, but tonight she heard the fear and anger that she’d known would eventually rear it’s head.
The reaction of stress she’d anticipated when she’d told him , had finally come. Elizabeths hand had been white in her grasp. But Joseph hadn’t done anything.
She remembered the way time had seemed to freeze. The way the words turned to clay in her mouth and reluctantly were pulled out like sackcloth.
The way his face had seemed to lose color. The way the smile of the moment before was still half locked in place. The way he’d robotically eaten the meal and left.
But now the anger and the strain was evident. The muttered prayers that could no longer be held back from her ears as they stumbled along. The way they sounded half curse and disbelieving laughter.
She focused on this as they struggled back to the stable near the entrance gate. But the meaning of the words escaped her. Only that he prayed.
The soldiers there looked impatient. She stopped with pain and shook her head -so he went to them alone. She stood there in the dark and bit back the scream on the edge of her mind. Joseph in the firelight explained the need to pay for extra time to keep the animals there. The soldiers language was abusive and their body motions looked threatening. She could tell he was trying to negotiate. Trying to keep his sanity about him. A group left the fire and made a ring around Joseph. He looked helpless and muddy. They held out their hands for money.
Even in the dark she knew the look he threw back at her meant failure. He gave them the money and returned to her where she leaned against the wall.
“Come on – we don’t have time for this,” It was gentler than she’d hoped for. She nodded and took his arm.
Inside she sank down next to the donkey. “I will try to find a place and a woman. Just wait here.” He smelled of garlic and sweat and – “Don’t go anywhere.”
Mary turned and vomited into the hay – when she was finished heaving he was already gone. The animals tied up around her stomped impatiently. She groaned as a another contraction came – The animals whinnied and whined and pulled at their ropes.
The whole reason she’d gone to Elizabeth immediately was to keep her virtue intact. But of course Josephs family would think her family was only covering up her indecency. She laughed into the groan that dragged a small cry from her. Panting in the dark she let the cry escape. She was too tired for this.
God of all the earth I can’t do this! I can’t do this – was she praying outloud? She was sobbing in fear and desperation now. It was mostly dark – a few lanterns sent dim light into the animals – their legs made a fence of shadows around her. She leaned into the wooden stakes making bare separation between peoples animals. Joseph please hurry.
A few men came in leading in their tired donkeys. A soldier followed them and watched. His eyes raked her body over. He grinned and spit. She trembled wondering how despicable and vulnerable she must seem. The men didn’t see her. They spoke of hunger and sent annoyed glances towards the soldier. They scurried away to warmth.
Warmth. Already she’d forgotten the cold. Was it cold? She almost laughed – but another contraction came and she found herself on her hands and knees in the hay. And when it passed she realized she was in filth and – looking up, the soldier was still there staring at her. Tears or sweat or blood or filth filled her eyes and blurred her vision. Then hands were on her arms – pulling her up. She struggled, screamed, flailed – Pain, pain –
When her eyes cleared she saw that it was Joseph. There was the soldier close by. He wasn’t smiling. Was it disgust or concern in his eyes? He held a lantern over his head which lit the scene. Animals were snorting and stomping. The place was filled with their smells. And with Joseph a woman. Mary sobbed and bent her head in shame.
“Alright. Let’s do what needs to be done,” The womans communication was simple – and foreign sounding. She was not jewish. She had earings that jingled. The soldier said something and the woman nodded. Little bell sounds. Mary groaned into her pain. The contraction brought a sudden cry from her. “I can’t do this! I can’t do this!” She was sobbing helplessly now. Who would help her? Joseph’s face looked frozen in fear and shock. He looked at the woman desperately.
“We will go into the soldiers hut,” the woman said motioning to a small outhouse like shack outside the stable area.
Inside Mary was lead to sit on a wooden crate – the woman took her hands and laid them in her lap; on her embroidered skirt, and the soldier brought a bucket of water. The woman washed Mary’s hands. The water was fridged. The woman said something to the soldier and he left. Another woman stood nearby in the half-light. She also was neither a simple woman or a jew. She was half-dressed and one of the soldiers near her had a hand on her thigh beneath the shawl that she held around her bare shoulders. She watched without any emotion. The soldier took his hand away from her body and he and the other soldier sitting nearby against the wall got up and left the small wooden structure. Joseph left and came back with two of their saddle bags. He pulled out their blankets and laid them out on the bench. He looked at the two women desperately. “Please,” he said. And his throat was dry. Then he took off his outer garment – and laid it out over the muddy wooden floor between her and the bench. Kneeling at her feet he quickly untied and unbound her feet, removing her soiled stockings and shoes. Then with the womans help he removed her outer shawl. He helped her up and awkwardly helped her to the bench. “Please,” he begged the two women again. And then he put on his outer garment stained with her bloody footprints and he was gone.
And she was alone. With two woman who she realized were prostitutes.
Alone in this empty place as vulnerable as she’d been the day she’d been born. “You’re going to die,” death whispered to her. And she felt it’s breath on her cheek as the pain came again.
It was like a hand smearing dark colored paints – “You told me not to be afraid – but I’m afraid!” – intermittent with her own screams and stern voices…and firelight. Someone pushed wads of something behind her head for support, soldiers – or Joseph – or…someone brought hot water. And was it Joseph who sat beside her wiping her brow with a damp cloth?
There was too much pain – and her body betraying her in ways she hadn’t thought possible. And there was nowhere to go. Already she was far beyond shame and worry. Now terror held her breath with it’s cold hand. But the faces of the women above and before her were fixed with a serious determination that she could not be more thankful for. Yet, even their overbearing words, – she was grateful. Father, thank you!
“Breath.” The stern voice was barely descernible from the pain. And she listened to her own screams and determined to fight the voice of death.
“Father – FATHER –The cords of death entangle me, the anguish of the grave comes over me; I am overcome by distress and anguish. O LORD, I pray, deliver my soul! Father you are gracious and righteous; You oh God are full of compassion! Deliver me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling – that I may walk before You in the land of the living! Spread your wings over your servant, for You are my redeemer.”
A voice echoed her prayer close to her ear – Had she prayed outloud? the comfort of the verses strengthened her resolve and she gathered her wits to face the pain.
It was all a excruciatingly painful blur until the scream that cut through her own. Sharp and small the wail ignighted whatever will she thought she lacked, and so she pushed – and then the miracle – small and wet and fragile. A little gaping mouth making the most beautiful sound she could hope for. And the tiny -so tiny perfect hands and feet – little perfect toes and fingers that accentuated their owners little screams of life.
And Joseph, close beside her. “You have a son,” the woman placed the little being in her eager arms and brushed a strand of hair from her face leaving behind a bloody line on her forehead. She smiled pertly. Joseph laughed softly in a relieved way.
But Mary only had eyes for the little human blinking in the dim light – he was smacking his mouth now -his neck was weak and so his head wobbled in his effort to gaze about. Little mewling sounds came from him, his eyes were like two black diamonds.
“You need to feed him,” it was the second woman. She was clothed now. Mary noticed that her own blood smeared parts of the womans shawl. The soldier close behind her looked on awed and nervous. He held a handful of white cloth – he cleared his throat and stepped forward handing it to Josephs outstretched hands.
“Thank you for everything,” Joseph was weeping. He helped Mary wrap the little boy carefully in the sackcloth. Then he looked into her eyes – her damp hair hung in strings around her flushed face – he smiled at her through his tears. She smiled at him through her own – “Immanuel,” she laughed as the tears came again. “Yeshua, lets name him Yeshua.” “Yes, it’s good,” She moved to do what her son needed – and his little greedy mouth found her easily.
The soldier cleared his throat nervously, “I’ve prepared a – “he motioned towards the manger near his feet. “The hay is clean. But you have to go as soon as the sun is coming up. The captain will be back and this is his,” he motioned to the shack.
“Thanks so much,” the soldier seemed embarassed at Josephs tearful thanks. Mary nodded – she remembered what she’d told the angel… “I am the Lord’s servant. Let everything you’ve said happen to me.” She sighed. This was what it meant to be his servant. What else would this life bring? What other joys and sorrows and sufferings must she endure or be witness to? She held the sweet warm little body closer and savored the feeling of joy. She would hold onto this – to this joy she would cling…
It seemed like no time at all had passed – but Josephs hand shook her. “Mary, Mary, – ”
Oh – the baby…Was Yeshua awake? crying? needing her? was it time to leave? She shook herself from the folds of exhaustion and pushed herself into a sitting position. The soldier was in the door again. The candle light lit his face to gold. He cleared his throat, “Can they?”
“Yes,” Josephs face was back to it’s old demeanor. And something else – cautious joy?
The solder backed out and faces came into view. Mary pushed herself up fully and pulled the blankets up to her chin. The man who seemed to be in charge cleared his throat – his face had a wild look to it – and they all seemed out of breath. “It’s true!”
“True?” Mary shivered as wind swept in.
The man stepped in and held the torch – three others followed – more pressing at the door waiting their turn.
“We were watching our sheep like normal,” from the smell Mary knew it was true. She laughed.”and the angels of the Lord came!” The mens voices stumbled over eachother in the telling. “This is the baby”” – you -“” we were told to find you” “- that we’d find you here!” The first three nelt and held their lantern near the small figure nestled in the hay. They wept. The men filtered in as they could, and knelt beside the manger – they whispered prayers, and they all in turn wept as they gazed at the small little face among the hay.
And then they were gone and Mary and Joseph gazed at eachother across the darkness, lit by a single flickering lamp.
And in the silence they let their tears have their way.
In the silence they held the joy of the moment.
In the silence the first christmas passed into dawn –
— and the miracle blended into the waking normal routines of the days needs. And for them a new life.