Morning broke and Mary heard rustling inside the cavern. She sat up and looked where Joseph had slept. He was not there, but she heard him speaking with someone outside. She didn’t move from her spot, but hoped he would return soon with some water to quench her thirst as they had drank what they had brought in the night before.
Joseph stepped back inside and approached her, seeing her sitting there. “It looks like this is where we will be spending our time while we are here. The city is overcrowded with visitors registering and no one has spare room anywhere. The innkeeper was gracious to me and said we can sleep here for as long as we need.” He tried to sound grateful, but Mary could tell he was displeased. She didn’t blame him, but she knew there was nothing either one of them could do about it now.
She rubbed her back a little and attempted to stand up. Her ankles were still swollen from the journey and her knees felt flimsy. She knew it would be a full day of standing in line, waiting to register their little family-to-be. She had no idea what to expect and looked to Joseph for guidance.
“Do you know what we have to do and where we must go?” She asked him, trying to get his mind off of the current surroundings.
“We will go to the city and hopefully be seen quickly to have ourselves registered together. Today we must observe patience as we are among many people seeking to do the same thing quickly.” He answered. “I know you do not have to accompany me, but I would prefer to have you by my side today, to keep you safe from any possible harm.”
“I had already planned to be with you. I will be patient and not get in your way.” Mary replied. “What about our belongings?”
“They are safe here,” he answered. “Let’s prepare and go while it’s early.”
They fetched a new pail of water and ate quietly after they washed their hands, feet and faces. Yes it was going to be another long day, but it was a sign that the journey was reaching its end.
Registering turned out to be the easiest part of the entire trip. Few questions were asked as Joseph had his information in order and lineage all ready for examining. Since Mary accompanied him, with her delicate appearance, she helped to facilitate expedience in the process. Mary suspected Joseph had counted on that blessing and was grateful to be of help.
Almost immediately upon arriving at the stable, Mary felt a warm liquid sliding down her thigh. She said nothing, but sat down in private and examined herself. The liquid was clear and had no smell. She didn’t feel like she had to eliminate, but there it was. It was around midday and most of the animals stabled there were gone. She knew they would be back, or others would come, so she hastily found a set of cloths she had brought to try to keep as clean as possible. This was almost an impossible task, for as soon as she started moving about more, she felt more dripping down her leg. More than that, she began to feel a sharp twinge of pain in her lower abdomen. Realization hit quite suddenly then.
“Joseph,” she called timidly.
“Yes, Mary?” he answered.
“The baby is coming,” she announced quietly.
Joseph, looking bewildered momentarily, walked over to her and said, “Are you sure?”
She nodded, looking up into his face. She knew what she was about to experience and she felt a pang of fear before remembering how Elizabeth had told her everything to expect. Oh, thank God for giving her such a wise and supportive cousin! She laid the cloth she had used to try to clean herself with on her lap after she sat back down. She took the other cloth she had and folded it neatly next to the bale of hay by her side. All that walking she had just done. Did it contribute to this? She didn’t know but she was grateful to be here and not still on that arduous journey right now.
She instructed Joseph to get a fresh pail of water so they could clean the Baby when the time came. She didn’t know how long it would take, but she wanted to be prepared. She was not quite prepared for what she was about to experience, no matter how many stories she had heard.
The only words she could hear in her mind were “Breathe, blessed child.” She didn’t know if it was her own mind thinking them or the Angel who had visited her before speaking comfort to her quietly. It didn’t matter. It was comforting. Joseph stood by, holding her hand and caressing her forehead. She felt pressure, but she could feel something similar to what Elizabeth had described. Yes, it hurt in a way, but she couldn’t pinpoint it to the exact description she had been given. Her back was hurting and her legs were hurting and she felt intense pressure, but not the intense pain she thought she would feel “Breathe, blessed child,” she heard in her mind again. She took a breath, it was long and drawn, and it felt good. It gave her strength.
The pressure built and her need to push increased. Joseph apologized before he looked and said, “Oh. I think I see Him.” That was all she needed to hear. She took another breath and gave a push using her abdomen. Joseph grabbed the cloth and laid it down so the Baby would be on something soft. She gathered her breath again after a moment and gave another push. The pressure seemed to ease at the end of that push and Joseph looked up into Mary’s eyes. He smiled and said, “You’re doing it!” The final push was easy, she thought, and knew it was done. Joseph picked up the Child, still attached to His mother but moving and gurgling. And then she heard it, His cry.
“Oh thank you God!” she exclaimed. Joseph laid Him on her stomach and she wrapped Him in the cloth. She took the wet cloth to wipe His face and body, but He was not unclean. He looked into her eyes while she cradled Him next to her bosom. He rooted for her breast and she provided His first earthly meal. She was tired. Joseph was tired. The Baby gave them both comfort and they cuddled together for a moment.
The day was ending and the owners of the donkeys were returning to the inn. They tied their animals and left joking with one another about the trials of the day, completely oblivious to the tiny family in the back corner. Night was falling quickly but there was an extraordinary brightness to the sky. They laid their precious Baby, whom, according to God’s plan they called Jesus, in the only thing they could find, a manger. It was right after that that some shepherds entered the cavern, carrying lamps of their own and walked straight towards the manger. Their eyes widened when they saw the scene and they smiled enthusiastically at each other and cried out, “Praise be to God! We were told by an angel of the Lord that we would find this sign, your Baby wrapped in these swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
Mary looked at Joseph and then at the men standing over them. She said nothing as she could see that they already knew the truth. They took a brief moment to worship on their knees and they stood up. They looked at the young couple, turned and walked out. Mary could hear their cries, “The Messiah is born! Come and see our glorious King!” She smiled, looking down at the Blessed Miracle in her life, listening to the praise being lifted to God and knowing that her life was forever changed.