They think I'm some kind of cruel, heartless landlord. Someone must have told them that. But they're wrong, just plain wrong, and it's time to set the record straight, once and for all.
People say I'm an innkeeper. I suppose you'd call it an inn. To us it's just a big house. My grandfather, Joshua ben-Yahoudi, built it back when his trading business was at a peak. And he built it big enough to fit all fourteen kids.
Well, a few years ago, the missus and I were just rattling around in that big house--kids grown up and all--and we were thinking, maybe we could take in a few travelers. Rachel has always been mighty good in the kitchen, so we just let out word that we'd take people in, and they started to come. Every night we'd have a person or two, sometimes more. People would always come back when they came to town again, intent on another bowl of Rachel's lamb stew.
Then came that blankety-blank census the governor thought up. Taxation, pure and simple! People from all over the province flooded into town that week. Filled us clean up. Rachel and I slept in the main room where we always do, and we started putting guests in the other three rooms. They kept coming. Then we doubled up two or three families to a room. They kept coming. Finally, when we had filled the main room with four families plus Rachel and me, we started turning people away.
I must have gotten in and out of bed ten times that night, stumbling over bodies to get to the door. "No more room, sorry folks. No more room. Come back in the morning. We have a couple of families leaving then." They'd mutter something and head back to their party, and sleep somewhere next to a house under the shelter of a blanket. I just couldn't make any more room. That's the honest truth.
But I did make room for one more couple. Joseph was a burly man with big arms and strong hands, down from Nazareth, I think he said. He wouldn't take "no" for an answer. I would say, "No, I'm sorry," and he'd tell my about his "little Mary." Well, when I saw "little Mary" she wasn't very little. She was just about as pregnant as a woman can get, and awfully pale. While Joseph was pleading, I saw her grab her tummy in pain, and I knew I couldn't let her have that baby outside in the wind and sleet.
The barn. That would just have to do, I told myself, and led them and their donkey out back. Now it was pretty crowded, so I shooed several animals into the pen outside to make room in one dry corner. Joseph said, "We sure are grateful, sir." Then with a serious look, he asked me, "Do you know where I can find a midwife in these parts? We might need her tomorrow or the next day."
That man didn't know much about having babies, it was plain enough to see. I ran to Aunt Sarah's house and pounded on the door until her husband came. "One of the travelers is having a baby," I told him. "I'll wait while Aunt Sarah gets dressed." I stopped a moment to catch my breath. "And tell her to hurry."
By the time we got back to the barn, Joseph had "little Mary" settled on some soft, clean hay, wrapped up in a blanket, wiping the perspiration off her brow, and was speaking softly to her as she fought the waves of pain. Aunt Sarah sent me to get my Rachel, and then pushed Joseph and me out of the barn. "This ain't no place for men," she said.
We waited just outside in the shelter of the barn for hours, it seemed like. Well, all of a sudden, we hear a little cry. "You've got a baby boy," Aunt Sarah was saying as we peeped around the corner. She hands the young-un to Rachel, and she wraps it up in those swaddling bands she had saved. Cute little thing, I tell you.
Well, Joseph goes over to Mary and gives her a big hug, and a kiss on the cheek, and Rachel hands Mary the baby, and then comes over to me and takes my hand. "Remember when our Joshua was born?" she whispers. The lantern was blowing almost out, the cattle were lowing softly, and baby Jesus was asleep in his mother's arms. That's how I left them as I walked Aunt Sarah home. Chilly wind, though the sleet had stopped.
By the time I got back, Rachel was in bed, and I was about ready to put out the light, step over sleeping bodies, and get under the warm covers, when I heard some murmuring out by the barn.
I'd better check, I told myself. When I peeped in, I saw shepherds. Raggedy, smelly old shepherds were kneeling down on the filthy barn floor as if they were praying. The oldest one was saying something to Joseph about angels and the Messiah. And the rest of them just knelt there with their heads bowed, some with tears running down their faces.
I coughed out loud, and Joseph looked up. I was almost ready to run those thieving shepherds off, when Joseph motioned to me with his hand. "It's okay," he whispered. "They've come to see the Christ-baby."
The Christ-baby? The Messiah? That was when I knelt, too. And watched, and prayed, and listened to the old shepherd recount his story of angels and heavenly glory, and the sign of a holy baby, wrapped in swaddling bands, to be found in a stable-manger.
My Lord,, it was my stable where the Christ-baby was born. My manger he rested in. My straw, my lamp, my wife Rachel assisting at his birth.
The shepherds left after a while. Some of them leaned over and kissed the sleeping Christ-child before they departed. I know I did.
I'll always be glad I made room in the barn for that family-- that holy family. You see, I'm not some mean inn-keeper. I was there. I saw him. And, you know, years later that boy came back to Bethlehem, this time telling about the Kingdom of God. Oh, I believe in him, I tell you. I was there. And, mark my words, if you'd seen what I've seen, you'd be a believer, to.
by Ralph F. Wilson