I stepped in as the angel had commanded.
A single delicate flame struggled to illuminate the darkness that dominated the recesses and corners of the grotto. The room flickered with muted tones, softening the coarse timbers and hewn rock. Like thieving children, shadows on the wall stretched and bent to avoid the light spilled for us.
Hopeful, promising, the fire drew me further in.
The pungent aroma of straw rolled along the dirt floor and rose with the telltale remnants of manure and urine. It was familiar to me, throaty, the fragrance of mortality.
A donkey, small and gray, nodded and stomped nearby. An ox turned toward me and lowered its big head, displaying wide horns, as though guarding the other occupants of the cave. It moved with power from the stall, muscles rippling beneath a leathery hide. Black orb eyes, inches from my face in the close quarters stared unblinking. I stumbled back, bumping into the other shepherds who’d followed me. My heart flailed and I became suddenly weak.
A woman's voice called from the dimness. “Come, it’s alright. Don‘t be frightened.” She reclined among fresh hay on a bed of blankets and cloaks. A smolder inhabited her eyes, star light captured and buried to be released when she glanced at me. Her chin was raised, the foundation of a smile that seemed to contain the joys of heaven. Lying among the stuffing, her body rested, gently cradling the child that nursed at her bosom.
Peace and goodwill. The angelic words echoed.
The baby kicked and cooed in his mother’s arms. A shaft of moonlight fell at an angle through the tiny doorway and graced the infant’s face. An aura was painted about him, highlighting round cheeks and dark lashes. Each breath fluttered his body, subtle and rapid as the beat of a butterfly’s wing. His mouth suckled strong and fast against his mother. Reaching, his tiny hand clasped her finger.
From angels to Messiah, magnificence to perfection.
I was speechless, my words stammered and caught in my throat. “M-mother.“ I babbled, not knowing her name. “We brought you gifts.” I said. “To help you through with your child.” I peered at the father who knelt at her side. “Food for you both.” I laid goat cheese and meats out before them. “And a wrapping for the infant, a blanket of sheepskin. I tanned it with care for my own children.” I stole a fleeting look at the child in her arms. “But your need is greater.”
“Bless you.“ Her words were warm and my spirit leapt at hearing them. “Bless you all for your generosity.” She raised her hand toward us. Affection flowed through me.
Her face beamed. Taking the blanket from me, she wrapped the Christ child. “With this he’ll stay warm through the cold nights ahead.” She smiled. “It will be put to good use. Thank you for this gift of love.”
I sat in the grotto and gaped at the image of the Holy mother and child. The newborn Messiah, savior of the world, cuddled, sleeping in earthly arms. I wept at the beauty and bowed my head in reverent worship.
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