“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah. From you a ruler of Israel will come, one whose origins are from the distant past.” * The words of Micah, the prophet, tumbling from the lips of the carpenter were nothing but a hoarse croak of awe. Silently now, but still entranced, he surveyed the hill before him with its many tiers of flat-roofed homes built close together so that one could step from roof to roof. This was the City of David - a citadel from which that great king of the past had ruled over Judea.
Holding the reins of Mary’s donkey, he began to climb swiftly and felt the ache of the day’s journey throughout his bones. At the summit he paused once more to drink in the scene below and saw now that some of the roofs were domed. The city lay before him like a sea of almond blossoms, bathed in the rosy glow of the setting sun. A sky that had shone like an endless blue sea now glowed in vibrant shades of orange and violet. The scene before him was even more breathtaking than the sight of Herod’s magnificent palace, visible for the last few miles, and guiding them like a beacon towards their destination.
Peace washed over him now, clearing away the weariness in his shoulders and washing through the rock-hard muscles of his arms down through the aching ankles that had born the brunt of the long trek from Nazareth. There was a certain purity, a feeling of holiness about the place, he mused. It reinforced the crispness of the winter night settling in around them. Even though the streets below still teemed with life, points of light began to glow in windows as oil lamps were lit. Through a break in the hills to the east, Joseph could make out the deeper blue of the Sea of Judgment, as well as the mountains of Tekoa. To the west, a winding road let to Hebron.
The gentle plodding of donkey’s hoofs coming up behind forced Joseph out of his reverie and he turned to his wife with a catch in his voice, “Look, Mary, isn’t it a wonderful sight?” But a glance at her face, pinched with pain, brought him back to reality. Fearful now, he tugged the donkey’s rope and hastened towards the only inn, a larger structure with arched doors below opening to the street.
* * * * *
They were housed now on the lower floor room of the inn which was nothing more than a stable, filled with animals left there by sleeping guests. Their little donkey slept nearby, oblivious to the drama going on behind him.
Sweat stood out on Joseph’s brow as he stood before a small basin lent him by the innkeeper’s wife. Pouring warm water into the bowl, he mixed it with salt and anointing oils, according to Hebrew custom. Was it true, he mused, that his young wife Mary had just given birth to the Messiah? It hardly seemed possible but, if so, how could he ever be deemed worthy of raising a boy who would some day rule over Israel? He was only a simple carpenter. Who was he to instruct the Messiah? Would he need to be disciplined or would he be entirely free of sin? His brow knit in perplexity while his heart beat with the weight of a heavy pendulum within his chest.
Completing the bathing ritual, he raised the tiny babe, still crying and trembling from the cold, and wrapped him in clean cloths. As he wound them tightly around the infant’s body, the crying stopped abruptly. Then Joseph lifted and carried him at arm’s length to his waiting mother. Mary held out tired arms with an eagerness that belied her recent ordeal. Cradling the babe, she lowered him to her breast to nurse. “You are Jesus, my son,” she whispered softly. The downy dark hair on top of his head was soft as a kitten beneath her fingers. His tiny cheeks were like ripe apricots, smooth and rosy. She wondered at his perfection, and her heart leapt for joy when she felt his tiny hands grope for a hold on her tunic as he began to suckle her breast. How perfect he was! When he’d finished nursing, she held him out for Joseph to hold.
The carpenter backed away. “No. This is your child, Mary. I had no part in this. I feel so unworthy to be even touching him - the son of God.” With a choke in his voice, he turned away, unable to meet her startled eyes.
“Oh, Joseph, don’t you see? The Lord has chosen both of us to raise this child, not just me. Didn’t the angel come to you and tell you to marry me? It’s my job to nurture the babe and yours to shelter and protect. It is you who will instruct him in the laws of our fathers. Who am I but the Lord’s handmaiden, unversed in the Scriptures. You, Joseph, will be our son’s earthly father and bring him up to be wise and just in the ways of God.”
Joseph stood still, digesting these thoughts. His mind whirled in confusion as the full impact of his responsibility knocked his breath away. Without a word, he turned on his heels and walked through the arched doors of the stable and into the stillness of the night. Overhead shone the bright star they’d noticed earlier. It glowed with a brightness that seemed almost unreal and Joseph fancied he saw a dove fly through the points of light descending from it.
Weak and overcome with awe, he sank to his knees. Bowing his head to the ground, he began to worship the God who had brought him to this fateful night.
Dolores, you beautifully captured this story and told it in an awe-inspiring. just think about it, God choosing unexperienced people to do the most wonderful work that can a parent can ever do--raising a Leader of leaders.
I also love kids more than I can describe--those little angels, they fascinate me.