Today, the news from those returning from Bethlehem was not encouraging. All rooms were taken. Many Bethlehemites, too, like Joseph and Mary, had been obliged to leave for their ancestral towns for the census. In fact, it appeared that all of Israel was traveling to someplace else in this mass, chaotic shuffle. Many shops and markets were temporarily closed, leaving a dearth of available supplies and services. Joseph had inquired, but had gotten no information, about the availability of midwives. He was trying so hard to focus on the joy, on the promises, on the prophetic assurances and Divine interventions, however troubling, but despite his determined efforts, he was nearly nauseous at the thought of having to be alone with Mary when ‘that time’ came. The good news was that there was only one more day of travel then they would arrive and he could finally pull together the details for the baby’s arrival, secure the services of a midwife, get this registration over with, and as soon as Mary was well enough to travel again, they would begin the long journey back north to Nazareth, to home, to family, to everything familiar, to peace and tranquility. As he settled in for the night’s sleep, shivering at the unseasonal chill in the air, Joseph’s mind lit up again seeking to figure out how this madness, this terrible timing, could possibly accord with God’s plan for His people, how anything good could result from this upheaval. And yet, didn’t the angel make it sound as though it was for now, through them, even with this dreadful, unanticipated uprooting of families everywhere that God had chosen to act, to intervene, to alter the course of history? As sleep stole in, his thoughts morphed incongruously into mismatched pieces of wood in his shop that he had to repair for a demanding customer …

Mary had never known such discomfort. It seemed everything ached. There was no position to lie in that helped. Even the extra, thick blanket that Joseph had sacrificed for her tonight couldn’t provide the cushioning her body needed from the cold hard ground beneath her. And it was so cold! Each day the challenge not to complain mounted. But she dared not add to Joseph’s concerns, his worries, his fears about the baby, which despite his stoic stance, she could discern in the slump in his shoulders, the faraway look on his face, the resolute set of his jaw, the fewer and fewer words shared between them. She felt like she was a millstone around his neck. This journey would have been so much easier if not for her, if not for this pregnancy, this baby that wasn’t even his, this baby that wasn’t really hers either, at least not in the normal way of things. And just like that, in the middle of these spiraling, wayward thoughts, a sudden inrush of this strange new bubbling up of joy in her soul so intense she had to stifle the urge to giggle, to sing, to get up and keep walking through the night to get to Bethlehem. She was laughing silently now, shoulders shaking, remembering, so random, that time when their baby goat had gotten snarled in briars. The look of indignance on his face! And his bleating sounded like he was scolding the bush for daring to reach out and rudely interrupt his wandering. Mary had burst out laughing at the sight, and all the harder when the poor, trapped animal looked up at her like she had grievously wronged him with her laughter. Still smiling, she floated off into a deep sleep filled with hope and happiness for whatever tomorrow might bring.   PD

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