Have you ever wondered about the story of Jesus’ birth from Joseph’s perspective? I wrote this several years ago when pondering that many of the Christmas stories and songs revolve around Mary, and I wanted to understand more about the man who stands faithfully in the shadows of Scripture without a recorded word.
“May I help you, Miss?”
The young girl startled and looked up, and found herself caught by the countenance of an old man. His face, craggy like an ages-old tree trunk, gave the appearance of one who was part of the landscape itself. Perfect white teeth showed through his tender smile. His hair was jet black with scattered streaks of grey, wavy and falling luxuriantly to his shoulders. But it was his eyes that kept Mary’s face riveted—eyes that reflected the colors of the sky and sea with a hint of the depth of moods and emotions found therein. There was an intensity in his gaze that was almost fearsome, and yet something so familiar and warm and . . . knowing. No one had ever looked at Mary this way, and in fact in recent months, folks usually averted their faces or gave looks of contempt and judgment when the young woman approached.
This man looked as if he knew her—inside and out. Instead of feeling the shame of being undressed by the eyes, Mary’s heart and mind filled with a sense of regalness—as if he saw her as a princess and loved her with a holy and pure delight. This thought came in a rush that almost made Mary dizzy from its immensity.
As if coming out of a dream, the girl shook her head to clear her thoughts. “I must have cried out . . . ,” she began apologetically.
Instinctively, her hands cradled her protruding abdomen, and she realized that her contractions had begun in earnest. She had noticed periodic sharp pains and tightening of her belly throughout the day, and had hoped they could be settled in lodgings for the night before her time had come. Joseph was negotiating with the innkeeper at that moment after they had been turned away at three other places. Night was coming on, and they would still need to make inquiries about a midwife. So many thoughts raced through her mind! Behind the stranger, she could see Joseph’s shoulders droop with the discouragement of one more No Vacancy response.
Another intense wave of pain rose inside of Mary, beginning in her lower back, surging through her middle with tremorous force, and radiating through her back and into her thighs.
“Joseph, I . . .!” Mary’s astonished cry hung in midair as she felt herself slipping off her donkey. Instantly, she was caught in the arms of the old man, as Joseph began running, shouting back to the innkeeper, “It’s the baby! Mary’s baby is coming!”
The young mother-to-be was aware of the power in the man’s long arms, and she was amazed at the gentle and tender way he carried her. His clothing exuded an aroma of springtime—clover and lilacs and honeysuckle—(where had she smelled that before?). He placed her softly in a cart of hay and stepped back as Joseph came to her side, eyes wide with concern.
A few moments later, the innkeeper came running up. Mary almost laughed to see the way he kept nervously looking at his wife who was watching from the doorway with an air of determination.
“The missus and me, we felt bad turning you out in the cold, with the little one coming. We really don’t have any beds left inside, but we might find a warm, dry spot . . . “, his face reddened a bit, aware of the old man listening, and dropped his voice, “ . . . in the stable. We have clean straw, you’ll have privacy, and my wife can even help with the midwifery.” The last words were said in a rush, with a reckless look shot at his wife.
Mary saw the old stranger grin radiantly just before another paroxysm convulsed her body. The innkeeper looked flustered, aware of a curious crowd starting to form. This would not be good for business to have this woman in labor out in the street. He frantically looked around, trying to decide the best course of action. He saw the old man quietly giving directions to three young men—two began pulling the hay cart toward the stable and the third followed behind with the donkey. Joseph walked beside the cart holding his wife’s hand and biting his lip as she moaned with each bump.
Once the couple was settled inside the cave, the young men quickly departed. Mary caught a glimpse of the old man though the entryway, but her labor began to intensify, and she forced herself to focus inward. Tension lined Joseph’s face. He knew he shouldn’t remain in the room during the delivery, but he couldn’t leave his wife alone. He prayed inwardly that the innkeeper’s wife would come soon and prove to be capable. He looked outside, searching for someone he could send to the inn. Mary’s trembling voice drew him back.
“Joseph, don’t leave me. I think the time is very near.”
He held her small, slender hands in his large, work-hardened ones. “You are so beautiful!” he whispered hoarsely. She did indeed look beautiful, even with her face pale and beads of sweat forming around her temples and hairline. Her hands felt cold, so he pulled a blanket around her shoulders, and kissed her cheek.
Footsteps outside the cave announced Lilia, the innkeeper’s wife. Joseph rose, took the water kettle and the oil lamp from the stable boy who accompanied her, and ushered Lilia into the chamber. Mary’s face brightened to see her.
“The pains are getting closer and seem to be more intense. Mary thinks it will be soon.” Joseph was relieved to have the older woman present, but was anxious about what he should do next. “Is there anything you need me to do?” he asked, hesitantly.
A light, warm breeze with a hint of springtime and flowers wafted into the stable, giving a freshness to the air that nearly covered the animal smells. The hard, businesslike lines in Lilia’s face softened as she knelt next to Mary, and the young woman visibly relaxed as the breeze caressed her face.
The midwife smiled up at the anxious husband, and there was a light of joy in her face. “No, I think we will be just fine now. Why don’t you get some fresh air?”
The tall man looked at his wife, so small and fragile, yet when she opened her eyes and smiled her assent, he marveled again at her ability to give him courage and strength. He stepped outside the shelter and sat down against the wall to wait. Read Part 2
(c) 2020 Holly Craw