Business was good. Too good. Every room in my inn was occupied, some doubled up, and I had taken from storage all the tents I owned and they were occupied. Some people were staying with local relatives; others imposed on strangers. Bethlehem was overflowing with visitors.
Our town is smallish; not a major tourists destination. We are situated a few miles south of Jerusalem. Most road traffic went north of Jerusalem ... no need to go through Bethlehem.
The reason we were swamped with visitors is that the chief tyrant of our times, Caesar Augustus, required all the Jews in his empire to return to the place of their birth to be counted and registered. The local occupying Roman garrison and their civilian counterparts, were not staffed to handle the numbers of people so waiting in line was inevitable. What should have taken an hour or so took days because people had to wait their turn. Sound familiar?
This particular afternoon a stranger came into the inn and asked for lodging. I shook my head no. "I'm sorry", I said. "The whole town if filled up. I have not left a room or even a tent you can use. Did you not come prepared with your own tent?"
He told me he didn't. He had no idea that the City of David would be swamped with visitors who had been born here. We talked and commiserated. I learned he was a carpenter from Nazareth ... over one hundred miles away. His name was Joseph. He walked here, as did all but the wealthy, leading a donkey carrying his pregnant wife. He said her time was close. He implored me help him somehow.
What could I do? I went outside with him to explain to his wife, whose name was Mary, about the situation. When I saw this lovely young woman, about sixteen years of age and great with child, I felt my heart sink. I stood quietly for a moment then, overcome with sympathy, said, "Look. There is no room in the inn or anywhere else. You can go back to Jerusalem and stay there a few days then return here when it quiets down.
"Or, I hesitate to mention this, but if it is not beneath you, you can spend the night in my stable." They agreed they would be glad to sleep in the stable and I showed them the way and helped set up some straw and hay so they could lie down.
A couple of hours after dark Joseph came in all flustered ... panicked actually. He said, "My wife's time has come. I don't know what to do. I've never seen a baby born. Can you help me?"
I calmed him best I could and sent him back to Mary with assurance that I would get him some help. Close by my inn was a family who had a midwife and daughters. I sent a boy to ask for their help. They came. Close on to midnight Ruth, one of the midwife's daughters came and told me all was well. Mother and baby boy were fine. Father was a bit of a wreck but calming down now the birth was over.
The daughter, Ruth who came to tell me, struck me as different from other time I had seen her around and about. She virtually glowed. Her face and eyes were radiant as if she harbored some inner joy she could not communicate. She said, "Sir, you should go and see for yourself this beautiful child. There is none like him."
I asked what she meant but she only repeated I should see for myself. So I went. I knew I was intruding on a very private time for Joseph and Mary but Ruth's insistence spurred me on. I entered the stable. There sat Mary on a hay bale; Joseph standing beside her. He had pulled one of the feed troughs close by. It was lined with straw. In the manger was a tiny baby wrapped in cloths they had brought along.
I have seen newborns, such as my own when I was young, but never had I laid eyes on a child as beautiful as this boy. I don't know what it was about him. He somehow seemed to glow. While I stood looking there came a little tumult when some shepherds came up to the stable. They should have been in the fields with their flocks. I asked what they were doing here.
They all spoke at once; babbling about a great light in the sky and a chorus of angels praising God and one of the angelic beings told them, "Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger."
So they had forthwith come to see for themselves. And they went from the stable glorifying God and telling anyone they met what had happened. People streamed to my stable to see for themselves. It was a magical night.
Joseph, Mary, and the baby whom they named Jesus, stayed on with me for about two weeks. They made the journey up to Jerusalem to present the child at the temple and for him to be circumcised, then they returned to Bethlehem.
A week or so later a large caravan came to us through Jerusalem. There were three nomadic kings of great wealth, along with their entourages. Many wives, children, servants, flocks and herds. They set up camp in the fields a little way off. The kings themselves came to my inn and spoke with me.
They told me they were philosophers who studied the scriptures, searching for the sign of the coming of Messiah. They studied the skies and identified a great star ... a conjunction of planets shining more brightly than any star ever seen by man. It led them through Jerusalem where they had an audience with Herod, the king of us Jews under Roman rule.
By this time I had found room in the house for the family. The kings wanted to see the newborn King of the Jews as foretold in scripture. They meant the child Jesus. I showed them where he lay with his mother. They bowed before him in worship and presented to his parents gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh worth a small fortune.
Oddly, when they left, they did not go north through Jerusalem as they had come, but struck out to the east. The next day Joseph came to me and said he had a dream in which an angel of the Lord appeared and told him to take the child and flee to Egypt and remain there until the angel returned to tell him it was safe to journey to Nazareth where they lived.
All of this was incredible to me. Nothing like it ever happened before and I doubt ever will again. Just days after Joseph, Mary and Jesus left, a platoon of Herod's soldiers arrived in town. Herod had sent them to find the child the three kings had told him about. Like others, I thought Herod wanted to come and worship the Messiah. Not so.
They went about town murdering male children under two years of age. This was a most horrible time. Blood and tears flowed freely in Bethlehem but thank God Jesus was not among those killed. I've heard he went on to do great things.
Written by © Wayne Hepburn, December 2012
Based on the Gospels of Matthew chapters 1 &2 and Luke chapters 1 & 2 with my elaborations.