That Holy Night
By: Debbie Ross
Imagine, if you will, that it is the night of the Savior's birth and you are there in Bethlehem experiencing this night with Mary and Joseph. What would you see, hear, smell and experience on this night of all nights? Come with me to the manger and imagine what Mary might have experienced......
Mary moved wearily as she stepped foot into the stable the inn keeper had provided for them to sleep in for the night. Her feet ached and every bone in her body seemed to cry out as she gingerly lowered herself to the ground. The smell of hay, animal droppings and human sweat was pungent and mixed with the coolness of the air that surrounded her. Joseph had gone to fetch water and she took this moment of privacy to listen closely to her body. The hours of walking had tired her and the heaviness of the baby she carried within her belly caused her back to ache fiercely as it had several times over the last few weeks. Something felt different today, however. She had noticed the sharp pains several times on the walk today and had asked Joseph to pause long enough for her to catch her breath. He had been in a hurry to get to Bethlehem and find shelter for the night. She could not help but notice the worried expression on his face as he stopped to let her rest. He knew that their late arrival in the small town might mean difficulty in finding shelter and that had certainly been the case. His face held a deeper worry, however. As if he knew that her time was near. And now, as another spasm of pain racked her abdomen, she knew it too.
This was not how it was supposed to be for a woman about to give birth. Where were the midwives, the gentle hands of other women rubbing her back, wiping her brow, comforting and encouraging her when the time came to push? Who would prepare the straw beneath her and place the bricks for her to squat on? Would she be able to catch the infant when he came forth? And how would the cord be cut? All of these questions bothered her as she struggled to find warmth and a comfortable position. Closing her eyes for a moment she fell into a fitful sleep.
The hours seemed to move slowly as the night progressed and these questions came and went in her mind as she struggled to get through each spasm of pain and then find a comfortable position to rest. Joseph did his best to calm her but he was a man out of his element in a makeshift birthing room. He had tried to coax the inn keeper's wife to come, but there were so many people to attend to in the inn and her responsibilities were there, not here. She had supplied him with water and some food and had given him bands of cloth for when the baby came. He had a basic idea of what must be done and would do his best. He gazed at his wife as she slept for a few minutes. She was so young and this was her first child. How long would this take? He must have faith that the God of Abraham would care for them. Had an angel not appeared to him in a dream telling him not to fear and to take Mary as his wife even though she was with child? Had Mary not told him of her own visit from the angel telling her that her pregnancy was of the Holy Spirit and that the child to be born would be called the Holy Son of God? Mary had faith and he, Joseph, must continue to have faith that God would not forsake them.
Mary's eyes fluttered open and for a moment gazed deeply into the eyes of Joseph. She knew that he had been thinking of all that had happened these last few months. He was a good man and had been willing to treat her kindly even when he thought this baby was from another man. Their God had spoken to each of them, though, sending angels to explain that this child was to be Holy. Joseph believed this and knew that Mary had not dishonored him. Joseph himself was a man of honor. He had not tried to know her after their marriage and would not until the birth of this child. Of this she had been certain. This man she loved was a good husband. Her mind tried to focus on this goodness as another spasm wracked her.
The pains were coming more often now, almost continuously and Mary's instincts brought her to her hands and knees to moan and rock as each contraction tore through her leading her to wonder if it was possible for a woman giving birth to break in half. Why, oh why, had Caesar Augustus ordered that a census be taken now of all times? But she knew there had been no other choice. Joseph was a descendant of David and they had to go to this, the ancestral hometown to be accounted for. What good did it do to wish otherwise? She thought, once more, of the words of the angel's visit and they became her mantra as she rocked and moaned. "Don't be afraid, don't be afraid, don't be afraid."
And then, instinctively she knew it was time. This child was ready to come forth. Sweat poured from her brow with exertion and her moans became cries. The lowing of the animals seemed to increase in volume as they joined Mary in the making of this most gutteral of all sounds. White light encompassed the stable and Joseph gasped at this moment of miracle.
Mary leaned back in exhaustion and cradled the infant closely to her breast. Her eyes told her all she needed to know in this first moment of motherhood. Her son was beautiful and healthy and perfect in every way and she felt overwhelming spasms of love in her heart for this baby that was almost akin to the pains she had just experienced in birthing him. She pondered this as she gazed deeply into her son's eyes. How was it possible to feel love as pain?
Joseph busied himself with removing the soiled hay and replacing it with clean. The sweetness of the hay filled the stable and he placed some extra in the manger so that his wife could place the sleeping infant there to rest. The animals were calmer, now that the birth cries had stopped, and they were settling down to sleep fully aware that all was well. But, what was this he heard? Voices and the sounds of feet running, pounding the ground, coming closer to the stable? Protectively, he moved in front of Mary and the baby his worried eyes scanning into the darkness for danger. And then, he relaxed as he saw not soldiers, but shepherds running towards him. He tried to quiet them as they entered the stable but they were overflowing with excitement as they gazed into the manger and saw the sleeping baby and looked over at his mother, exhausted but smiling and proud as they admired her child. The shepherds could not contain themselves as they told Mary and Joseph of the visit they had received from an angel announcing the birth of a baby who would be their Savior, their Messiah, and they would find him lying in a manger. And there had even been a choir of angels who had joined with the first angel in singing praises to God. These words tumbled forth from the shepherds as they gazed with delight at the family before them. At last, realizing that Mary needed rest, they departed determined to tell everyone along the way home what they had seen and heard and experienced that night.
Quiet and calm had returned to the stable now. Joseph helped Mary to get as comfortable as possible on a bed of hay and prepared a bed of hay for himself to rest on, as well. Tomorrow would be busy and they must rest and be ready. But, for Mary, sleep did not come easily. Tired and sore as she was from her labor, she found her mind would not rest. So many miraculous things had happened to her these last months! Who would believe all of these events? Visits from angels, the joy of having this child-her son, the words of the shepherds tonight. It was too much to take in. She rose to check on her baby in the manger and felt the love swell within her heart again as she gazed on him. Her son....her holy son....as the angel had foretold. She decided, in that moment, that perhaps these miraculous events should be kept safely in her heart, where she could ponder on them and learn from them. She had been told to not be afraid. And, for now, she would hold onto that. She, Mary, would raise this child with Joseph. They would have faith in the God of Abraham. And they would not be afraid.
Her infant stirred in his manger bed and his tiny eyes opened to gaze at his mother's face. Mary looked upon him in adoration and as their eyes met, Mary felt within her that she was looking into the face of God.
Blessings and Merry Christmas Dear Readers,
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