A god who loves his creation just isn’t common. When you think about who we are and how much we mess up, the question could be asked, “Are we worth loving?” Even though we don’t deserve it, against all hope, our God reached out to us and became one of us to heal our relationship with him. It isn’t possible to fully wrap our minds around that concept.
Last week we posted a chapter from The Second Christmas by Jeff Boesel (yet to be published) where Mary is visited by Gabriel and learns about God’s plan. She commits to obey, and our Christmas story becomes reality. This week we will look in on Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem as seen through the eyes of Omi (short for Naomi), the young daughter of the “innkeepers.”
There was another knock at the door. Puzzled, Sarah surveyed the crowd and realized everyone they had invited was already there, plus a number of acquaintances they hadn’t invited but who had happily shown up anyway for the free food and entertainment. As Sarah finished her inventory of guests, Josiah was opening the door to a slight woman, hooded against the cold. At first, the stranger made no move to enter the house but seemed to be searching for someone in the crowd. Suddenly, as if discovering some wonderful treasure, she shrieked and rushed by Josiah and Sarah, stumbling over other guests, to kneel at Mary’s feet, grasping her legs as if that act would save her from drowning.
The rush had caused her hood to fall back, revealing a frizzy mop of black hair crowning a woman in her late thirties. Mary, in mild shock, looked at Sarah and shrugged her shoulders, not knowing what to do. Sarah had motioned for Josiah to come to the rescue when she heard Mary exclaim, “Omi!” Sarah turned back toward the living room to see Mary and the woman embracing, laughing and crying at the same time. She motioned for Josiah to wait. He picked up the broom by the door and began to sweep up the dirt tracked in by the new visitor.
Joining in Celebration
When the excitement had subsided, and the woman had been appropriately welcomed (coat and sandals stored and feet washed), Mary apologized for her guest and said, “This is Naomi from Bethlehem. It was her family who gave us shelter in their stable the night Jesus was born. I haven’t seen her since Jesus was almost two and we had to leave Bethlehem.” Turning toward the newcomer, Mary asked, “Omi, what are you doing here?”
“Jesus’ birthday!” she said. “One of your cousins at home told me about the celebration tonight. It seemed that, since I was at his first birthday, I should be at this one too.”
Izzy was kneeling at the two women’s feet. “What was it like that night so long ago, when Jesus was born?” she half squealed.
Omi looked into Mary’s eyes as if, in that moment, they were sharing minds. Then she smiled at Izzy and began her story. “I was only a little older than you, my dear, on that night.
Bursting at the Seams
“Bethlehem was buzzing with life and bursting at the seams. The tax census sending people to their ancestral hometowns for registration had made it so. Everyone seemed to be meeting family they had never met, and possibly never heard of. Some reunions were happy, some were not. When it was possible, of course, people stayed with relatives, but not many homes in town could fit more than an extra family or two. As a result, the two inns in Bethlehem were full and had been for weeks. People were sleeping in every available space, and of course, everyone was forced to pay extra.
“My parents are not originally from Bethlehem, so they had departed, not a week before, to go to Bethel to register for the tax. I was left at home with my older brothers, and we had strict instructions from our parents that we were to take no one into our home while they were away. It helped that our house was at the end of the street, butting up against the hills that border the town, but there were still many inquiries.
No Room at the Inn
“Evening was coming on and I was leaning against the front windowsill watching the lights of the town being lit. It was my favorite time of day. Even with all the busyness, things were settling down and people were moving inside. There was one couple, though, who seemed to be rejected at every door.” She squeezed Mary’s hand. “I remember wondering why their relatives were not caring for them, since the woman was obviously very pregnant and in pain. They knocked at the door to the inn just up the street from us. Good luck! I remember thinking. It was only moments before they were forced to move on. Wait, I thought. Not here. We can’t help you here, but we were the only house left, so onward they came.
“My brothers were first to the door, staves in hand in case things got dangerous. ‘No, we’re sorry. We have no room here,’ I heard them say from my hiding place around the corner.
“Just then the woman groaned. I don’t think I had ever heard someone experiencing that much pain. I disappeared further into the house as I heard the door shut. It felt as empty as it was dark. I ran to the side window to watch them leave, only they didn’t. The man was just standing there bending over his wife, who appeared to be doubled over next to their donkey.
“This cannot happen! I thought. I must do something, but what? Disobeying my parents never ended well.
“At that moment, watching them and trying to figure out what to do, their donkey brayed. As if in response, Balaam, the donkey in our stable, brayed as well.
“‘The stable!’ I shouted.
“‘What was that?’ one of my brothers asked.
“‘Just going out to check on Balaam,’ I answered, only half lying; caring for the donkey was my responsibility, after all.
Perfect, yet Imperfect
“I rushed out the back door and approached the couple cautiously. “‘There is room in our stable,’ I whispered so as not to alert my brothers. The woman looked me directly in the eyes. There was a light there, like a spark of fire, only pure white. It was as if the brightest star I had ever seen was shining out of her and into me.
“‘The stable?’ I heard the man ask, bringing me back to the urgent present.
“‘Yes,’ I answered. ‘Come with me.’
“The stable was the perfect, yet imperfect, solution. It was not in the house, so I wasn’t disobeying my parents, but it was still shelter—and not bad shelter at that. I loved my donkey and kept her place clean; well, clean for a stable. Our ‘stable’ was actually a cave set into the hillside behind our house, and because of that location, it stayed warmer than most other shelters, even on the coldest nights.
“I led them to the back of the house, took fire from the lantern on the porch, and lit the torch in the stable. I grabbed blankets from the wall where they were hanging while the man arranged some of the hay bales. Balaam stamped and snorted as I led their donkey into the next stall. There was still fresh water in my bucket from the trip to the well earlier that day. I poured some into the man’s container and then watered their beast. The woman groaned again. I glanced back at the house, but seeing no signs of movement, focused on offering whatever help I could give.
Unto Us a Child is Born
“As darkness completely consumed the outside, I watched my first birth. It was scary, messy, and obviously painful, but beautiful all at the same time. The man instructed me to sit, placed a blanket in my lap, and handed the crying newborn to me before attending to his recovering wife. I wiped the little boy off as best I could, tore off the bottom layers of my outer skirt, and wrapped him as warmly as I was able. He had just settled down and I was beginning to wonder how I would explain my bloodied and torn clothes to my mother when the man turned back to me and lifted the boy from my lap, placing him gently against his mother’s breast to nurse for the first time. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply.
“The man turned to me once again. ‘Thank you …’ He hesitated, realizing he did not know my name.
“‘Naomi,’ I prompted, bowing my head.
“‘I am Joseph. This is Mary, my wife, and that new little one is Yeshua. Are these two your brothers?’
I jumped up, startled, and turned to face my older brothers, who were standing just inside the light, mouths wide open and silent. That may have been the first time I had ever seen them so; but my gaze drifted past them to movement in the darkness. A lamb was bleating.