Merry Christmas! I hope you have a restful and peaceful day. I’ve posted an excerpt from my book, Full of Grace, below. It’s the first Christmas Eve, and most travelers are asleep, except one man who waits as his wife travails in childbirth; and the world holds its collective breath as the promised savior is finally born.
His concern now turned to panic, Joseph rushes to the last inn in Bethlehem. It’s dark and late; and Mary’s pain has intensified. She cannot walk and only holds onto the donkey as she waits for him by the well. Joseph knocks on the door, praying there is vacancy for them. All the other guesthouses were full. Everyone, it seemed, had arrived in Bethlehem to register, leaving them without lodging.
Joseph bangs on the door when no one immediately responds.
The door swings open and a burly man appears.
“What?” he asks with disgust.
“I need a room.”
“Yeah? You and everyone else in Judaea. Get out of here, there’s no room,” the man states gruffly and starts to close to the door. Joseph steps up and blocks his way.
“Please, we’ve tried every other guesthouse, we just need one room. My wife is in labor,” Joseph begs, growing more desperate with each passing second.
“We have no rooms.”
“What’s going on?”
A middle-aged woman pushes her way around the man.
Turning to her, Joseph pleads, “My wife is in labor. We need a room.”
The woman’s countenance softens.
“Oh dear, where is she?”
Joseph steps back to give her a view of Mary, who is holding the underside of her belly, a pained expression on her face.
“We don’t have a room available, but there’re a couple of stalls in the barn. You can stay there until something comes open.”
Joseph sighs. The barn wasn’t the most ideal lodging, but at least they would be inside.
“I’m still charging you,” the man states.
Joseph doesn’t trust himself to respond and instead turns around to get his wife. With his arm around Mary’s waist, he walks her slowly into the stables. The smell of manure is strong; and for a moment, Joseph reconsiders his decision. Then Mary stops. Her eyes are tightly shut and she ceases breathing as her body tightens up. Joseph is afraid for her; yes, he had told Anna she was strong and he still believed it but all this seemed more than even he could take.
“Well, come on, you don’t want the baby to birth itself, do you?” the woman, the innkeeper’s wife, says, coming up behind them. Carrying some blankets, a candle and a stool, she walks past them into a clean stall and starts setting up for the birth.
When Mary’s pain decreases, Joseph resumes walking and leads her over to where the woman is. Feeling helpless, he can only watch as the woman removes Mary’s veil and unties her belt.
“Out with you, now,” the woman says, still helping Mary undress.
“Should I…?” Joseph begins, but he can’t think of a thing he can do to help.
“I’ve given birth to six children. Your wife is in capable hands,” she tells him, sternly. “Now go.”
Without an argument left, Joseph walks back outside, unsure of what to do. He could be a patient man when required; however, he wasn’t sure he could handle this waiting. Seeing Mary in pain was the worst experience of his life, though he couldn’t imagine it was any better for her. If that’s what childbirth was about, he was grateful he wasn’t a woman.
Joseph decides to take care of his donkey while he waits. Guided by the light of a bright star overhead, he finds his way back to the well, where the animal rests. He relocates him to the stable entrance and ties him to a post, awaiting permission to take him inside. He unloads the bags and brushes him down. With the task done, Joseph sits down beside the entrance. A dog wanders over and sits beside him. Appreciative of the company, Joseph strokes his coat, pondering what to do next. His stomach was tied in knots, so eating was not an option. And the innkeeper was not a friendly fellow, so conversing with him was out too.
A scream emerges from the barn. Joseph jumps to his feet. It’s Mary. He is ready to rush in, but hesitates after giving it some thought. Was something wrong? Or was this all part of the process? Wouldn’t the innkeeper’s wife come get him if something had happened to Mary?
There is another scream. Joseph steps into the barn, then back out. He wants to go to her and help her, rescue her, take the pain from her, but he knows he can’t. Looking for a distraction, he sits back down beside the dog and pets him. As if wanting to comfort him, the creature moves closer and rests his head on Joseph’s lap.
Time and time again over the next few of hours, Joseph has to quell his instinct to protect Mary. She had become his other half, as Heli had said, and to hear her suffering was more than he could bear. Joseph begins to pray; however, the words are barely out of his mouth when he hears another cry. This one is different than the earlier ones: it’s the cry of a babe, a newborn. Struck by the sound of it, Joseph stands up and makes his way to the stall where he left Mary. There he finds his wife, sitting on the stool. She is dressed in her undergarment, her legs are uncovered and there is blood nearby on the straw; yet she is wearing the biggest smile he had ever seen. She gazes up at him and that’s when he notices the bundle in her arms.
Her son, he thinks, then corrects himself: their son…the Mashiac. Apprehension grips his heart once again.
Mary moves the blanket away from the child’s face as he steps closer to her. Reminding himself of his father-in-law’s words, he takes in a deep breath and kneels beside Mary. She leans into him so he can take a closer look at the boy. He is small, pink and wrinkled with a head full of black hair.
“Isn’t he beautiful?” Mary whispers.
Having been struck speechless, all Joseph can do is nod. Foolishly, he had imagined the child would be born a man, with full wisdom and knowledge of his destiny. And maybe somewhere in his consciousness, the babe was aware of it. For now though, he was simply a child, perfect in shape and form, just as G-d had created him. He would fulfill his calling in time; until then, Joseph would accomplish his and be the boy’s father.
“What will you call him?” the woman asks.
“Jesus,” he replies, gently stroking the child’s head.