Her legs felt like lead as she struggled to climb up on the bony back of the donkey, and another strange feeling gripped her abdomen as she tensed up to set steady. Holding on to the animal with one hand and cradling her heavy stomach with the other she nodded silently that she was ready. And taking a deep breath, as the animal shifted her weight he began to walk unevenly and side to side, his body rocked hers as he lumbered along. She sighed inwardly as the journey began already uncomfortable and painful in her lower back. There was no need to complain, there was nothing that could be done about this circumstance but to control her mind and try to think about other things. Look at the slowly passing dry rocks, the dusty olive trees, the average little grey birds that flitted by overhead. Think about the supernatural visitation that changed her life forever, just try to focus on the warm sun….. anything but the reality of what was going on right now within her.
Soon the baby kicked and she gasped as the pain tore at her in one flash moment of disbelief. “ No… I cannot walk it’s too far I have to …… I have to set here” she thought to herself watching her husband’s back as he walked head first along the pathway. “I can’t ask him to stop but if that pain comes back I will have to ask him to stop and help me down, but then what will I do? I might not be able to get back on this lumpy back!” she worried to herself. But soon the rocky pathway became too much for her to bear and she cried out, “please can we stop? I really need to stand up for a minute”.
Stopping abruptly Joseph turns back to hurriedly help her slid off the little donkey’s back and as her feet touched the ground he held her gently asking, “are you okay?” “No not really…. I guess so… I mean I don’t know,” she said with a worried tone in her voice. “It’s just so hard to keep setting and bracing myself with every step, I think I might try walking,” she looked anxiously at her new husband not quite sure how he would react to her slowing their progress down. Slowly she straightened up and holding her back started walking while he watched her with great concern.
“I have been given the responsibility to protect this child and her”, he thought to himself. “It’s my responsibility to protect this holy child”, she mirrored his thoughts with her own. Both of them not secure enough to share their concerns about each other and their own ability to manage this trip and get to back home before the baby would be born. Quietly he watched her gait and knew she must be feeling the baby’s weight heavily as she was waddling along ahead of him now.
Before long she had to stop as she tired quickly. He knew this trip would take a toll on her and tried to find a tree for her to set under to rest a while. And helping her down he thought through the rest of the trip and how he would have to manage her needs and the donkey’s when they would finally arrive.
She shifted side to side on the rocky ground as she tried to get comfortable setting on her only blanket. Noticing the shadows lengthening, Joseph encouraged her to try the donkey again, and agreeing they both struggled to get her back up and settled as animal and women tried to adjust to each other with the growing child cradled within her body. Bone to bone without, pressed to bone to bone within brought pain at every changing movement. Trundling along again slowly as to not bump the fragile body of his young wife, he wished that there was more he could do. Wondering why on earth this had happened to the two of them, knowing it was impossible to tell anyone about their experiences, he bowed his head and walked on leading the donkey, his wife and the unknown destiny of a coming child.
After what seemed a nightmare trip and long hours of travel they arrived only to find overcrowding in the town and no place to stay! Mary had become more and more uncomfortable and he knew that the dreaded hour of birth could be brought on by the constant jiggling and bumping, riding on the little donkey’s back. She wanted some water and was longing for a place to lay down, but simply had to stand against the rough stone wall and wait on Joseph to go find a place for them to stay.
Looking for a place for the night and finding none he went back to Mary only to discover that her water had broken and she was in labor! Her skirt flooded with fluid and her embarrassment was palpable. Fear overcame him as he turned away and he urgently began to walk the streets asking everyone he came to for help. No one was sympathetic to a women in pain and in the throes of childbirth. Joseph sensing panic, feeling torn to stay by her side on the street, and the urgent need to find a place for her to lay down. Mary stood alone in the worst hours of her young life and tears began to flood her cheeks not knowing what to do and having no woman to lean on in this strange place. The pains came quicker now and she wished for home and her bed, it was hard to stand in a public place while experiencing such a private agony.
It was the worst of conditions and Joseph felt so out of control because he could not provide a decent place for Mary who was now sweating and grimacing trying to not make a sound. What to do! Finally deciding to force his way into someone’s kitchen he walks in the back door of an Inn and demanded to see the owner. The cook smeared his hands with a dirty cloth and pointed through an open door. Joseph hurriedly found him and pleaded with him for help. “Please please…. She cannot have the baby in the street” he begged him for help.
The Innkeeper wiped his brow and tried to think what to do… he needed the money, but every room was already full. She can’t lay in the kitchen, too crowded serving food to all of his guests. Finally he decided to offer his animal stable as a private place to put her. Not much, but better than the open street he figured. And Joseph jumped at the chance not thinking what it could possibly be, considering Mary could be in serious pain by now. “I’ll take it, I’ll take it…… can we go right now?’ he urged knowing he had to get back to her immediately. “Ya sure” the owner said gesturing backwards through the open door, “you will find it yonder” and he headed back into the dining room to serve ladles of steaming soup to his paying customers.
Joseph rushed back to find Mary’s bowed head and gritted teeth to tell her he had found a place to take her. She hardly heard him in her haze of pain. And when the pain abated, he helped her stand and walk ever so slowly stopping each time to match the rhythm of the contractions and her strength to lean on him through each one. “I can’t believe this is happening right now” she said to him. Joseph felt terrible feeling helpless and scared to know he alone was responsible to help her now. People pressed rudely ignoring the painful looks and pushed past them in a rush to get to their appointments.
Finally reaching the stable Joseph wished he had had time to go in before her and get a place ready for her to lay down. Maybe she could lean against the donkey if he could get the animal to settle down amongst other animals. But there was nothing to do now but go in…. Stepping over the threshold they entered into the darkened shadows filled with the thick smell of urine and manure. The muddy clods stank on the ground as they picked their way into the space, Joseph was horrified that he had to bring Mary into this place. She was moaning now and holding her stomach bending over with each painful wave. Realizing there could be very little time, he ripped up the blanket to try and make it long enough for her to lay on without her feet touching the dirty ground.
She cried out as she laid down, Joseph pushed away the curious sheep who ambled over to see what was going on. Holding his arms out to keep the animals away from her, his knees sank in the soft droppings as he swore to keep her safe and the coming baby clean from this mess. Hooves had chewed up the ground till the ground had become saturated with broken clods of filth. Mary twisted her head away trying not to breathe the tainted air while getting her breath for the next wave of crashing pain. She closed her eyes lost in the fight for life in the battle of birth.
Joseph realized that he had brought her to the worst of conditions to have a Holy Child and in his horror felt the need to fix all of this, but he could not. Flashes of angels appearing and animal breaths, the supernatural and the humble earthy surroundings merged together in confusion and fears felt by both of them. The night bore on and Joseph managed to get her to drink some water as she struggled to climb above the cresting agony within her body.
Finally in the mercy of birthing, the massive urges to push began and Mary pulled on Joseph’s coat and bared down to fight the sliding bones opening her body and peeking without. Joseph was desperate, Mary was crying out in agony, the animals were shifting and lowing sensing the intensive struggle happening beside them. A dog barked outside, the donkey moved his legs, a sheep peed and the cow shuddered as the final drama unfolded and Mary gave a final gasp of release and pressure. And the destiny of humanity forever changed…… God became a baby.
Into Josephs arms slid the Wonderful Counselor and the Mighty God. His heart overwhelmed and tears poured down his face as he wiped the crying baby from the blood and water. And the Everlasting Son opened his baby eyes and saw his earthly father with tears on his face holding him, He raised His tiny hand and touched Joseph bringing instant peace into his heart.
Mary saw Him and closed her eyes against the fading pain and in her exhaustion she whispered, “You shall call His Name Jesus…..” As she fell asleep and lay helpless surrounded by the terrible conditions of dirt, bacteria and poverty, yet she was finally at peace free from the massive pain. Joseph wrapped the naked baby inside his vest and rummaged inside their knapsacks to find another cloth. Mary awakened, hearing the baby’s noises and held her arms out for Him. Wrapping Him as tight as she could in the cloths, her arms cuddled the Son of God.
Heaven and earth, animal and man, witnessed the unfolding All Glory born in the worst of conditions for the worst of mankind. At this precious moment in time, a baby a mom and a dad were surrounded by Love. And Joseph drew in a deep breath of air, feeling like the worst was over and he would get them out of here in the morning….. he could do this…. he could protect the Promise.
Until his dreams began again…..