Joseph and Mary faced incredible challenges to give birth to the baby Jesus. In celebrating this joyous time of the year and our search for that perfect gift for our friends and loved ones, we sometimes forget about those struggles.
Here’s a piece I wrote last year. I consider it my simple attempt to put the focus on what’s important, to turn my back on the commercialism of the season, and to say thank you. I hope you enjoy.
My beautiful, beautiful baby boy rests peacefully in my arms. We’ve both been busy. My husband-to-be Joseph and I welcomed him into the world tonight.
I’ve seen many babies born over the years. I’ve even helped my mother deliver a few babies in the village where I grew up, but none has been like this. When I gave birth to my little boy tonight, he let out a long cry, but when I whispered his name, “Jesus”, he quickly settled down, searching out my voice and my touch. Joseph let out a big joyful laugh and I wept tears of joy.
My baby is not just any baby. Jesus is the one the prophets have been calling for, the prince of princes, who will free us from our persecutors. An angel came to me earlier this year to tell me the good news. Can you believe it?
I’ve trusted in God throughout this journey. I’ve kept faith that He would watch over and protect us. I must admit that things didn’t look promising tonight. We came into Bethlehem for the census. Unfortunately, I’ve never seen so many people in one small town, the streets were overflowing. There were people everywhere. We arrived at night and every distant relative and inn we went to was packed. Joseph begged each innkeeper we approached to take us in. He pleaded for any extra space they could spare. He was so strong and upbeat for me. He never wavered or lost faith.
When it looked the worst though, I knew the Angel Gabriel would come through for us. I knew everything would turn out for the best. And finally, the nice man who owns this inn said we could use his stable.
Keeping warm into the night
Joseph set up straw and hay and set up blankets to keep me warm. I had everything I needed. God provided for my every want and need. The innkeeper’s wife came down from the upper mezzanine where she and the rest of her family live and gave me warm wash clothes. She stayed to help me through the birth. At first, she didn’t smile at me. I could see that I was keeping her from her family and guests, but when she saw Jesus’ face, when she saw our savior’s face, a smile leapt across her own face. She apologized for the sparse surroundings. My little baby has been on Earth less than an hour and he’s already melting hearts and touching lives. I know he will touch so many more in the hours, days, weeks and years to come.
The temperature outside is cold enough to send chills through your body, but I’m surrounded by goats and sheep in the stable and their warmth fills me with pleasant, happy thoughts. They’ve brought a peaceful calm to this glorious night.
I hold Jesus close to my chest. I can’t take my eyes off of him, his angelic face, his precious hands and arms that will one day grow taut with the muscles of a carpenter like his father, his legs scoot and wiggle and will one day walk these dusty, desert roads. His sigh matches my sigh. His little chest rises with the beat of my own heart.
The three of us are so blessed. We do not need much. Another tear trickles down my cheek as I think about our amazing journey and how it began earlier this year.
A surprise visit
The Angel Gabriel gave me quite a scare when he came to my hometown of Nazareth to tell me that I was going to be the mother to our savior. I had been betrothed to Joseph. We were making plans for our wedding.
I was helping my parents, doing chores when Gabriel surprised me. I could hardly breathe, I was so scared. He looked at me calmly and said: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.”
Favor with God. Conceive. Bear a son. I couldn’t comprehend everything he was saying. I was in shock. I’m a descendent of King David, but I’m just a poor girl.
And then he told me: “He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”
I stopped him. I was troubled by his words and told him that he had to be mistaken. I’ve always wanted a son. I’ve dreamed of it since I was a little girl, but I love Joseph and would never do anything to hurt him. I told him that I had been faithful to Joseph. I asked how I could be pregnant when I hadn’t been with Joseph or any other man.
The Angel Gabriel smiled, like he expected my question, and said: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”
I found those words, his words, so powerful. I barely had time to let them sink in when he told me that my cousin Elizabeth — who has wanted a child for so long and thought to be too old to have a child — was, in fact, pregnant and was going to have a son.
I was taken aback, but I knew in my heart that what Gabriel had said was true, that nothing is impossible for God, and that there was one true response, one answer to his announcement. I told Gabriel that “behold, I am the handmaiden of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
As soon as I said that, he disappeared. (Luke 1:26-38)
My mind raced. Gabriel’s news changed everything. I ran through town to find Joseph and tell him what the angel had said and how we were to be blessed. When I finally found Joseph, he listened, but I could tell he was angry. He tried hard to believe, he wanted to believe, but he had his doubts.
He grew quiet and pensive over the next several days. Finally he told me that he would stand by me for a few months and then divorce me quietly to reduce the amount of shame and gossip that the villagers would spread.
Our Jewish law permits men and women accused of adultery to be stoned to death, so I appreciated Joseph’s understanding, but I knew that I had to follow God’s call. When I thought about Joseph’s decision, my emotions welled up inside and I sobbed. I’m not sure how long my crying lasted, but I prayed and reminded myself that God had a plan. I resolved to put my worldly worries behind me. God would protect me. He would protect his son, our blessed savior.
When I saw Joseph’s reaction and that of others, I packed a few belongings and left to visit with Zachariah and Elizabeth. I knew she would need me now in her time of need. I knew too that she would understand.
Finding a believer
When I saw Elizabeth, I saw immediately that the Angel Gabriel had been correct; she was indeed pregnant. Before I could give her a hug, she said in a loud voice: “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”
I looked back at her in amazement. So she knew my good news, that I was pregnant too. And that’s not all ― she knew everything.
Elizabeth continued: “And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:41-45)
I burst out in tears. I felt so happy to be in Elizabeth’s presence. She too looked joyful. In fact, I’ve never seen her so happy. During my visit, I learned that Gabriel had made Zachariah mute when he expressed doubt that Elizabeth was going to give birth. Despite not being able to talk, Zachariah seemed to never be without a smile or a hug. I teased him that if only he believed then he would still have his voice. The angel took Zachariah’s voice, but it didn’t take his sense of humor. Zachariah laughed so hard at my joke that he knocked over a bucket of water. I was pleased for Zachariah when months later, shortly after the birth of his son John, his voiced returned.
Those were happy days for me staying with Zachariah and Elizabeth. I stayed with them for three months and then returned home.
Joseph’s change of heart
One night while I was visiting Elizabeth, Joseph had a dream. In the dream the angel of the Lord told him: “Do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy spirit that this child has been conceived in her.”
Joseph told me later that the dream felt unlike anything else he’s ever experienced. He said he could reach out and touch the angel. He was as real as “you standing here next to me.”
The angel went onto tell him: “She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
When Joseph awoke, he went to look for me. (Matthew 1: 19-25)
A long journey into the wild
As Jesus grew and grew inside me, Caesar Augustus issued a first-of-its-kind census decree that ordered Joseph and me to register in his family’s birth town. We knew the trip would not be timed well. We would need to travel from our town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David. We estimated that we would need to travel more than 80 miles and we expected with a donkey it would take us three to four days, maybe longer if the pregnancy tired me or if I didn’t feel well.
We packed only a few belongings for the trip. The one extra: We made sure to pack a manger that Joseph had made himself. He had etched our family name onto the side of the manger. It was a beautiful piece of furniture and I took pride knowing that Joseph had made it for our son.
As we mapped out the trip, we planned to stay with other Jewish families along the route or, if necessary, camp out. We hoped to travel as much as we could with others traveling for the census since robbers and bandits hide in the hills along the trail and prey on defenseless travelers.
The trip was long. It took everything I had. I walked when I could, but mostly Joseph worried about me and encouraged me to ride on the donkey. Joseph took on the brunt of the work. He looked so tired, but never complained.
Pilgrim after pilgrim passed us on the way to Bethlehem. Despite our slow going, however, we safely entered Bethlehem late on the fourth day. It looked like everyone in town had already bedded down for the night. Joseph and I both looked at each other concerned. As calmly as he could, Joseph told me that all would be fine, that he would find a place for us to stay for the night if he had to knock on every door in the town.
Silent Night, Holy Night
As soon as the innkeeper gave us permission to use his stable and we walked inside, I knew we were about to begin our next journey. I could feel the pressure building inside my body, then, finally, felt my water break. Whether we were ready or not, Jesus was coming. A few hours later, here He was! What an amazing night!
What do you say when you give birth to the savior of the world? How do you act? I wasn’t sure what to say or do. I simply thanked God for the glorious blessing.
I thanked Him for standing by our side.
After Jesus’ birth, I held my little baby boy for the longest time. He looked so peaceful in my arms. We had traveled so far over the past nine months. I wanted to cherish the moment and hold onto it forever. However, somewhere deep in my heart, I know that in a short while I will not have Jesus all to myself. He has a bigger purpose.
Finally after our quiet time together, I pulled out several warm blankets that Elizabeth had so thoughtfully given to us as a present, wrapped Jesus in a swaddled blanket, and placed him in Joseph’s beautiful manger.
I thought Jesus might sleep, but he stared wide eyed at the friendly animals in the stable. He seemed to gurgle and be amused at every sight and sound. My job now as his mother is to protect him, but tonight on this most glorious night, I feel safe with him. I love without hesitancy, without question. I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life for this one moment.
Soon after I put Jesus in the manger, we were greeted by several shepherds who had come down from the hills to see the savior. The shepherds told us their news. They said they were bedded down for the night, keeping watch over their flock, when an angel appeared in the middle of the night. They were fearful and grabbed their staffs, but the angel said: “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.”
They couldn’t believe the news.
“And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
And then they told us the even more wonderful news. After the angel spoke, there was a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest and peace on Earth to those on whom his favor rests.”
One shepherd, just a few years older than Joseph, bowed down and cried openly. I touched him lightly on the shoulder and he shuddered even more. Another one smiled broadly. He seemed to have a light shining from the inside out. I told him to come closer to touch and see Jesus, but he said he was blessed just from where he stood.
The shepherds stayed for a while and then left to share the good news with others. They wanted to glorify and praise God for all they had heard and seen. They thanked us for inviting them into our temporary home and were on their way. (Luke 2: 7-20)
A shining light for us all
I tire now and will soon try to get some rest. The exhaustion of this journey is catching up to me. My baby will soon need me. He’ll need to be fed and changed. I know in my heart that we all soon will need him too. I’m excited for his wondrous future. I know as the prophets have foretold: He’ll do great things.
I have faith in God and Him. I know that my job is to raise him and help lead him to his heavenly father . . . but still as a mother I worry. I would never think to change his destiny — I know that God only wants good things for him — but still as a mother I want to protect him.
Oh, yes I worry .for my son . . . but I put my faith in God the most powerful. His glorious and everlasting will be done.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my story. I’ve tried my best to stick to the details spelled out in the Bible. I apologize in advance for any errors or omissions. Thank you for reading and, most importantly, Have a Merry Christmas!