Silent Night! Holy Night!
All is calm, all is quiet
Round yon virgin, mother and child
Holy infant, so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace!
Sleep in heavenly peace!
“I’m sorry, ma’am. I understand. But there’s no room. If it was just me, I’d give you my own rooms, for the coming child’s sake, but I have my wife and five children to cram into there. I’m sorry,” my father was saying.
I glanced up from where I was, standing with a bundle of firewood in my arms. Two people stood in the door way, a tall, worried man and his wife. They must have come for the census. She had large black smudges beneath her eyes. Her hand strayed to her protruding stomach. Poor lady, I thought to myself. What a time to be with child! I hoped the baby wouldn’t come for a while.
Slowly the man took his wife’s hand and they started to leave. Father called a last, “I’m sorry,” and turned to me. “David. How much room is there in the stable?”
“Full up. All those travellers have lots of donkeys. There’s even a horse in there.”
“Not stalls. Space. Is there open space where they could stay?”
“Um,” I thought. “Yes, I think they could fit. It wouldn’t be very, well, nice, though.”
“Better then a crowded and busy street. I think that poor lady’s going to have her baby any minute. Run after them and offer the stable,” my father instructed, and I took off running.
It was a few minutes before I found them. They were standing by a neighbouring inn. I saw the innkeeper slam the door in the man’s face. His shoulders sagged and he turned helplessly to his wife. “Mary, that’s the last inn. Can you manage the street?”
She swallowed, and tried to smile bravely. “I-I guess I’ll have to, Joseph. Don’t worry, I’m—” Her assurance was turned to a gasp, and she clutched her stomach.
“Master!” I yelled. “Master Joseph!”
The man turned to me. “Who are you?”
“I’m the innkeeper’s son, back at the Olive Inn. We’ve found room,” I said quickly.
The woman’s face lit up. “Have you? Praise Jehovah for answered prayer.”
I didn’t want to crush her joy by telling her it was a smelly stable, but I had to. “It’s not much…” I began.
“It will be fine,” Joseph assured me. “Just take us there.”
“Actually it’s not really a room,” I said. “It’s the stable.”
He stopped. “The stable? You’re suggesting that my wife sleep in the stable? Are you blind, boy? Can’t you see how she is?”
“Yes sir, I see, I see,” I said. “But it’s all we have.”
“Joseph.” Mary tugged at his sleeve. “It will do.”
Joseph gritted his teeth and nodded. “Take us there.”
By the time we pushed through the crowds to the back of the stable, Mary’s face was whiter than snow. “Boy,” she said, her eyes wide with fear. “Do you know where a midwife would be?”
Oh no! I thought, horrified. She’s going to have her child right in the stable.
“Yes,” I said aloud. “One lives right down the road. Shall I fetch her?”
“Yes, yes,” Mary said.
I ran back out into the night, jostled by crowds. I returned about half an hour later with the midwife. She took one look at Mary, who had collapsed on a pile of hay, and began to order Joseph and me to fetch things.
I stood out the door, waiting to be called for something. I never would have thought I’d be helping with a situation like this. After a while Joseph came and joined me, breathing in the hot, humid air.
“All’s well in there?” I asked finally.
“Well enough.” Joseph shook his head. “If it weren’t for the angel, I’d be worried stiff about all the straw and animals. Not the best place to have a child.”
“Definitely,” I agreed, and mulled over what he’d said. “Angel? Did you see an angel or something?”
“Yes. It was… quite an experience. The angel told me not to put Mary away.”
“You were going to divorce her?” I asked. “Why?”
“I am espoused to her. We still weren’t married when she became with child. The sensible thing to do would have been to put her away. But then the angel came and now I know that she is no adulterer,” Joseph continued.
“Then what happened?” I said. “I mean, how…well, could she not be?”
“She is a virgin,” Joseph whispered.
I choked, “Excuse me?”
“It was God.”
“Um, that’s…weird. How do you know?”
“The angel told me.”
I was trying to decide if he was making a nervous joke or completely insane, when I remembered stories my mother told us. Stories of Hannah, Samuel’s mother. She hadn’t been able to have children before she went to the temple to pray, and then came Samuel. What about Samson in the stories? An angel had announced his arrival. Strange things had happened, that was sure. Could Joseph be telling the truth?
“I believe you,” I said suddenly.
“What?” Joseph looked surprised.
“I said I—”
“No, no, I heard you. But you…really believe?”
“Yes. I just don’t know why God would do it,” I said.
“The baby is going to be the Messiah.”
“Really?” Now I’d decided to believe him partly, I guessed I’d better believe the rest. “The Messiah, who’s going to save mankind, is being born right now in my father’s stable?”
“Yes. Do you believe that?”
And surprisingly, I did.