This comes to you from chapter six of REFLECTIONS: A PONDERING HEART, the story of Jesus Christ from the journal of his mother, Mary.
Is there a better way to spend Christmas than with the Christ?
The sun’s last rays kissed the walls of Bethlehem as our group straggled within view of the city. Rather than heading toward the gates, Joseph followed a well-worn path to the east. His uncle lived outside the walls, near the shepherds. He spun cloth from the sheep’s wool and grew a supply of linen on a small plot of ground. Most farmland stretched further to the west, away from the meandering sheep. Or maybe away from the shepherds, who weren’t considered the cleanest of people.
We parted from the other travelers, including the grumbling man and his donkey. My feet protested against walking. I rubbed my lower back, stretching my shoulders to relieve the pressure. It would be good to sleep on a mattress again. The hard ground hadn’t done any favors for my already stressed muscles.
Joseph lessened his stride so I could remain beside him. Bleating and the familiar odors of sweat and dung eased my anxiety. These were smells and sounds of home. A group of keepers milled around the low walls of a sheepfold. Three stood in the doorway.
One goat rubbed its head against a shepherd’s leg. A twinge of sadness poked my heart. I missed my goats. My sister Mary cared for them, but she had given up the cheese-making. My mouth watered at the idea of spreading the soft, fresh goat cheese on bread. Perhaps Joseph’s uncle would invite us to join his table for dinner. Anything other than stringy dried meat sounded appealing.
The pathway widened into a well-traveled track with deeper ruts. I stumbled on a rock, too busy gazing at the shorn fields to watch my step; the advancing twilight didn’t help matters. With a strong hand on my upper arm, Joseph steadied me. Our pace slowed even more. I yearned to arrive at his uncle’s house, but my legs rebelled against moving any faster.
The smoky odor of cooking meat made my stomach rumble. I pressed my fingers over it and earned a kick from the babe. Out of the shadows, two buildings emerged beside the road.
From the larger of the structures, candlelight flickered invitingly. It was a flat-topped adobe building, common in Nazareth for merchants and shop owners. It was strange to see one outside the city walls.
I stood behind Joseph when he knocked on the door. It seemed a long while before the man appeared in the doorway. He had more gray hair than Joseph, but otherwise didn’t seem much older.
“Joseph,” the man said. His eyes slid toward me and he stepped outside, joining us in front of the house. “Your cousins arrived yesterday.”
“Travel was difficult,” Joseph said.
Uncle Biram nodded. “I have no room left in the house.”
He seemed embarrassed to admit this, looking toward the ground rather than directly at Joseph.
“The roof would be fine. Something for Mary to sleep on is all we really need.”
His uncle’s gaze rested on me, sliding down to where my hand rested on my distended abdomen. His eyebrows drew together. Would there be no escaping the judgmental scowls? We were miles from home and the untimeliness of my motherhood still garnered speculation.
“The roof is where we put Nadab and his family. They arrived two days ago.”
Joseph nodded. Were we being turned away by his family? Trembling started in my lower legs. I leaned into Joseph’s broad back. Behind his uncle, the door to the house opened and a woman emerged, holding a candle in a shallow pottery dish.
“Biram? Oh, it’s Joseph. Hello.”
“Aunt Leah.” Joseph nodded his head in respect.
“I was just telling them about our full house,” Biram said.
“This crazy census.” Aunt Leah shook her head, corners of her generous mouth turning down.
“I can find other accommodations tomorrow. If you could at least spare some floor space for one night—”
I could see Uncle Biram opening his mouth to deny this plea. Shame and anger clashed in my gut, making the empty organ churn. The baby kicked against my ribs.
“The barn,” the woman said. “We’ve room in there for you.”
I turned to gaze at the other building, stone and wood, shabbier than the adobe structure. It would be out of the wind and cooling night air. Perhaps I would find clean straw to mound into a pallet. It would be an improvement over sleeping beside the road. My back cramped at the thought of another night on the sun-hardened earth.
“I’ll bring some food out,” she said. “I see you have blankets.”
“Sorry I couldn’t offer you something more.” Biram sounded apologetic, and his gaze didn’t stray toward me this time.
“Times are hard for everyone, Uncle,” Joseph said.
He turned to me, face in shadow. His fingers closed around my elbow. We moved toward the barn. Behind us, the door to the house closed.
“It’s because of me.”
Joseph draped his arm over my shoulder, pulling me against his side. My head nearly fit there.
“My cousins came to register. You heard them.”
“The way he looked at me . . .”
“I’m sorry.” His lips pressed against the top of my head, reminding me of something my father did when I was a much younger girl. When would we have a normal husband and wife relationship? Maybe never. Nothing was normal for me now. It never would be.
I swallowed away the tears. The dark doorway into the barn loomed before us. Stepping inside, the familiar scents of animals and manure embraced me. Tension drained from my shoulders.
I would be more comfortable here than in a house full of condemning relatives.
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