"Do you really expect me to go to Bethlehem?"
Joseph banged down his chisel on the scarred
Ephraim, his cousin, had just entered the low
workshop. "You don't have a choice, Joseph. If
you don't go the Romans will confiscate your house
and your precious tools. Just try to carve a yoke
with your fingernails."
"What are we, cowards?" the carpenter retorted.
"Mark my words, Ephraim, this
'Enroll-in-your-ancestral-city' business is
nothing more than a way to squeeze more taxes out of us. If
we give into
those foreign tyrants now they'll just be back for more
"What's more," Joseph continued, "you're crazy if you think
I'd take Mary on
a trip this month. She'd probably have the baby on the
"Couldn't you just leave her with your mother for a couple
of weeks? She'd
be all right. Nobody says the women have to go. It's the
heads of households
who have to register."
"Register, hah! Be taxed, you mean."
"So why not leave her at home?"
Joseph brushed the woodchips aside and motioned for his
cousin to sit down.
The carpenter spoke in a low but earnest voice. "Mary's
aunt has made life
miserable for her ever since she found out Mary was
pregnant. Some people
were willing to let it go. Not Tabitha."
"She got my wife all stirred up about it," Ephraim
"Not just your wife. Most of the women in this town go out
of their way to
avoid her. At the village well they whisper, "Little slut!"
just loud enough for
her to hear. Many's the day she's come running home in
"People sure can be cruel," Ephraim said. "At least you and
Mary went ahead
and got married."
Joseph bit his lip, but didn't say more.
Ephraim got up. "Well, you are going to Bethlehem, aren't
you? You'd be a
fool to get the Romans on your back. You know what they did
to old Ben."
Joseph stood up slowly. "Yes, I'll go. But Mary'll have to
come along. There's
no way I'd leave her in Nazareth by herself!"
However, when Joseph talked to Mary about it, she didn't
seem nearly as
sure as her husband. "How could I walk all that way?" she
said. "I waddle
now. I just can't make it."
"Mary, we'll bring old Jake. You can ride him when you get
"Have you ever ridden on Jake?"
"That animal is the most bony, jolting mule in Nazareth.
I'd rather walk!"
She did ride, though ... some of the way. Joseph would
finally stop for the day
when Mary just couldn't take any more. He'd help her down
off Jake, then
he'd fix a fire while she would unload their heavy blankets
and try to find some
shelter under a tree or large rock.
Mary would always be the center of attention among the few
that time of year.
"I remember when I was carrying Levi," one would start.
"Made my feet
swell. I couldn't do anything for months."
"That's nothing," replied another, "my sister got so big
everyone thought she
was carrying twins. But her time came there was only one
Joseph glanced over at Mary in the flickering firelight. He
could see fear flit
across her face. Her hands moved to her swollen belly so
she could feel the
baby's reassuring kick.
The women didn't notice. The first one went on, "Oh, the
pain's so awful! I'm
glad I'm too old to have any more babies."
Joseph put his arm around Mary's shoulders and pulled her
close. Only one
more night on the road before Bethlehem.
They reached the sleepy village of Joseph's ancestors just
about dusk the fifth
day. Joseph went to the inn and nearby houses trying to
find a place to sleep.
"God," he whispered as he combed the town, "can't You find
us a decent
place to have this baby?" Nothing.
All at once he saw Mary's face tighten. She tried to
suppress a groan as she
fought with the pain. It was a long moment before she
relaxed, but he could
see worry written all over her.
Joseph went back to the innkeeper again. "Are you sure
there isn't any room?
My wife's about to have a baby. We've got to find a place
out of this wind
The innkeeper thought a while. "Did you try the house at
the end of the street?
They sometimes take people in."
"I tried an hour ago."
"Any relatives in town? Any second cousins?"
Mary was shivering now, in obvious discomfort. "Joseph,"
she said weakly,
"I've got to lie down somewhere."
"Well, there's the stable in the back," offered the
innkeeper at long last. "Of
course, it's full of animals from all the visitors in town
for that blasted Roman
census. But if you can find a place in the corner, I guess
that'd be okay." He
paused. "Just don't keep the animals awake all night."
It was the other way around. The dozen donkeys in the
strange barn never
stopped moving. And the smell was overpowering to Mary who
fighting nausea as her pains got stronger.
In the wee hours of the morning Joseph knocked on the
"What do you want this time of night?" the innkeeper
snarled when he finally
came to the door.
"Is there a midwife in town?"
"Oh, it's you. A midwife? Yes, old Martha lives in a little
house about three
blocks from here. You go down the main road, turn left at
house, and go to the alley. You can't miss it. You go down
the alley and
across the pasture. She lives in a shack just behind the
third house after that."
"I ... I really don't think I should leave my wife. Her
pains are coming awfully
fast now.... Could you go?"
"Jonathan!" the innkeeper yelled into his darkened house.
"Get up and fetch
old Martha. A lady's having a baby in the barn. Hurry!"
He turned to Joseph as he closed the door. "Have some pity,
man. My whole
family's awake now."
Pretty soon the door opened again and a young lad ran off
in the chilly air.
After a while he returned, walking slowly so he wouldn't
outdistance the old
midwife whose arthritis certainly didn't to take to cold
winter nights. The boy
was shivering by the time he got to the stable.
"Here's Martha, sir," he muttered quickly, and darted back
into the warmth of
The old lady put them at ease right away. She had Joseph
fetch water and
cloths from the innkeeper. It must have been nearly two in
the morning by the
time the baby came, and another hour before Joseph dug into
his robe for a
few coins to give the old woman as she hobbled away.
Then he returned to his wife and took her hand as they
looked into the puffy
face of their son. Alone at last.
"I'm so tired, Joseph," Mary said, settling back into the
The baby finally stopped crying and drifted off to sleep.
Joseph stirred a few minutes later as some men peered from
the darkness into
the lamp-lit stable. He nudged Mary awake and reached for
"What do you want?" Joseph said to the men in a forced
wake the baby."
"We're shepherds," one called out. The baby started crying.
"We saw angels out on the hills an hour ago." The entire
story tumbled out as
the shepherds edged into the stable to see the baby. Joseph
relaxed his grip
on the staff.
The shepherd continued, "And the angel told us, 'To you is
born this day in
the City of David a Savior which is Messiah the Lord.' The
angel even told us
about the swaddling cloths and the manger here."
"The angel told you about the manger, too?" Joseph
"Oh, yes. That's how we knew where to look."
Joseph glanced over at Mary. Her eyes met his. He squeezed
"This baby is the Messiah, isn't he?" Joseph said quietly.
"After all these
hassles I had started to question. But..." He paused. "It's
almost like God
planned the whole thing: the trip neither of us wanted to
take." He chuckled.
"He must have seen you on bony old Jake." Joseph laughed
out loud. "Even
this smelly old barn and it's manger."
He stood up, still chuckling. "What do you know? In spite
problems--no, in the midst of the problems--God's been at
work all along."