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Christmas night... the story of the innkeeper’s wife

2016-12-22 08:13

I knew I would not have to wait for very long before he came looking for me. That was why I told my husband not to send them away.  

 It was easy to see that the young woman was in advanced labour and that her contractions were coming more strongly and rapidly.  It was her first baby, which is always something of a frightening experience.   People try hard to give all the necessary advice, but when labour starts, that is a different thing altogether, especially when it is the first time.  That is when the company of another woman is such a comfort, especially when the other woman already has children of her own.  She knows what is likely to happen, you see.  Around here, most married women know how to help another woman in labour.  That is why I knew Joseph would be coming to fetch me for his wife.

 The man, Joseph was his name, was more afraid than his young wife, Mary, but that was probably inevitable.  Women are always more stoic in such situations.  The man suddenly starts to panic about the surroundings and what should he do or not do.  He wants to help and yet, at the same time, tradition (and often his own squeamishness) prevent him from being present at something that is, after all, a normal part of life.  

 Women are often afraid, but something happens to them as the time of birth approaches. They become very calm and entirely focussed on the event of which they are an indispensable part, but still only a part, however necessary.  However painful, most women become very attentive and inward-looking as the moment of birth approaches.  It is the time when it is easiest for the birth attendant to give instructions, knowing that she will probably be heard and her guidelines will be obeyed… but it is almost as if she had appeared from nowhere.  

At that instant, for a mother, the whole world is herself and the approaching birth. I have never seen any concentration as intense as that of a woman as she bears down, forcing her unborn child to emerge into the universe outside its warm and darkened womb.

 It is a mystery and something wonderful, to be sure, but babies are born every day and I have helped more women than I can remember to bring their baby into the world.

Whatever the situation, there is a moment of silence and then, please God, a tentative cry that builds up in volume and urgency.  There is a feeling of failure when that cry does not come.  For a couple of hours, the newborn is wide awake, staring at its new world.  There is that look, almost of adoration, as the infant is taken into its mother’s arms for the first time and she is able to gaze at the tiny miracle.

 So what if this baby was born in a stable?  That is not unusual.  In this part of the world it is the sort of thing that happens when people are travelling.  Our stable was warm, dry and comfortable.  Yes, there were animals there too, but so many people share their homes with their livestock, it was not a problem.

 I tidied up a bit after Mary gave birth and then called in her husband.  Joseph approached timidly and took hold of the Infant as though he would break. When will men learn that babies are not as fragile as they look?  They are actually quite tough little individuals and do not fragment just because they are held by large and unaccustomed hands.  Joseph reached out a finger to touch the outstretched fist of the baby and smiled as it was encircled by a tiny hand. They would be alright.    I bustled around, collecting my things and hurried back to the house.  The inn was full tonight and my husband would be looking for my help. I smiled to myself.  It was good to see a couple suddenly become a family.

 Inevitably, there were visitors who wanted to see the new baby, however, I had not expected to see shepherds coming down from the hills.  Shepherds are not held in high regard, staying, as they do, high up on the hills, often unwashed, regularly dishonest and not averse to drinking a flagon or two of wine whilst they sit watching their sheep.  Not that I blame them. Sheep are not the most interesting animals to watch, especially day in and day out. One animal looks pretty much like another in my humble opinion. I like the lambs, they are pretty, but after that, what is pretty about a sheep looking aimlessly at the activities of all the other sheep in the flock? Not that there is much activity, for that matter. They stand or walk or lie down. Occasionally they run, but without much enthusiasm. No wonder people talk about ‘silly sheep’!

But I’m digressing. The shepherds came down from the hills to see Mary, Joseph and the baby. They said they had seen a crowd of angels, singing and blessing the earth with peace. The shepherds claimed that the angels sent them in the direction of the stable, telling them that they would find a baby in a manger. Doesn’t that sound a bit far-fetched? It does to me. It sounds as though they had been drinking and were imagining things ... except that they did not smell of alcohol and did not speak as though they were drunk. They seemed very sensible, albeit rather smelly. I suppose that it is not easy to work with sheep and not smell like them. Still, I pointed out the stable and warned them to find Joseph before they barged in on Mary and the baby. After all, she would hardly want a crowd of strange men herding around her sleeping infant. I can’t imagine that Joseph would be too happy, for that matter.

Anyway, to cut the story short, the shepherds headed off to the stable and stayed there for a while. They were very different when they came back up the path. Somehow they seemed quieter and less brutish, for want of a better word.

What really happened last night? I thought I delivered a young woman of a baby, something I’ve done many times before, but I feel different about this one. Shepherds just don’t come to pay their respects to a baby.

Something has happened...

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