Jeff Green | Dec 15, 2005
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ChristmasEditionDecember 15, 2005
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The woes of the inn-keeper's wifeby Antonia Chatson
It was the worst and yet the best year I have ever put in. Well, not quite, last year had to be the worst with my husband being so sick and a run of bad luck to go along with it. At least Felix is feeling better this year and we will just have to pray that our luck improves.
But why Caesar Augustus had to issue that decree about a census beats me. Quite between you and me, I think that Quirinius (governor of Syria at that time) had some say in the timing of the decree. Sometimes the men they appoint to be governors are a little light in the head department. Oooops! I'd better watch what I say - these Romans don't take too kindly to a little friendly criticism.
Well, to return to my saga. You see, my husband and I run the inn at Bethlehem. Now there are a few other places of abode here in this little village but quite frankly, I wouldn't refer to them as “inns”, although they see themselves as a little higher class than they actually are. Well you know what it's like - hustling and bustling and rushing hither and thither at the best of times; then this numbskull decides to take a census. We really did hustle to get in extra provisions for the guests and feed for their donkeys.
Now, it is difficult enough to get good reliable help, but why is it, when you need it the most, it dissipates in this air. Lydia, who is our most reliable help here at the inn, came down with pneumonia. Dorcas, she fell and sprained her ankle so we propped her up in a chair in the kitchen where she made bread for the invading masses, which left me and my daughter Junia to tend to the rooms, make up the palettes, clean the floors, to say nothing of helping in the kitchen and serving the meals.
Felix too had his troubles as Titus was off for a few days when his brother took sick. That meant he had to tend to the animals in the barn plus newcomers.
We were totally booked up, and as people were even begging to sleep in the hallways, we had cots strung out in the corridors -- difficult to get through. Might sound silly, but everyone knows that it is just too risky to spend the night in the open and if you really want to have your cash off-loaded, just try staying in the caravansaries.
We finally got everyone fed and watered and bedded down for the night when about 10 o'clock there comes a gentle rapping on the door.
"Who the blazes is this?" I said aloud as I rolled over sleepily, waking Felix up.
"What's up?" he asked groggily.
"The jig, that's what," I says, "What business do you think we are in anyway? Somebody's at the door. That's what".
I'm afraid I was a little tetchy-like being wakened up after such a hard day. Well, we both got up and went to the door and opened it a little, just in case the person or persons were up to no good. But instead we saw standing there the gentlest looking couple I have ever seen. The man stood protectively in front of his wife. And it didn't take the credentials of a Roman governor to see that her baby was due at any time. But despite the concern of the man for his wife, he gently apologized for waking us up and enquired if we had any room where they could spend the night. If they hadn't been such a sweet looking couple, I would have told them that it was a daft question to ask under the circumstances. My heart went out to the woman - and what alternatives there might have been, barring the census, where she might bear her child. As I stood there cogitating, Felix spoke up. He too always had a soft heart where kids were concerned.
"I'm afraid we have no room left in the inn itself but if you wouldn't mind bunking in the stable out back, it would be a safe place to be and cozy. My wife and I will get you some bedding and a few extras, just in case, you know."
Now some people might have been uppity about such a suggestion, but these folk showed such gratitude and said that if it didn't put us out too much, they would be privileged to spend the night with the stock.
So Felix ushered them out back while I went for the bedding and an extra blanket and sheets, just in case, you know. I took them out and got them nicely settled in a spare stall and told them to ask if they needed anything else during the night. Then we hunkered down for a bit of shut-eye before the break of day.
We must have dozed off lightly when we were awakened by the clop of camel hooves coming down the street and stopping outside the inn. Not more late-comers, I thought as I waited for their knock upon the door. But there was none, so I drifted off to sleep again. The next time Felix woke me. He was standing by the window and reported that five of our local shepherd boys had just passed the inn and were heading for the stable. He thought we should check up on our cozy couple out there and see that nothing untoward was happening to disturb them. We stepped outside the back door. The sight that met our eyes took our breath away. The heavens were lit up by the largest star we had ever seen. It seemed to be right above the stable and its rays came down from heaven to earth and bathed the stable in a radiant light.
Dumbstruck, we made our way cautiously to the stable door. The three camels we had heard earlier were quietly munching hay - our hay no doubt - to one side of the door and a couple of sheep dogs were curled up by the path waiting for the return of their masters.
As we opened the door a crack, we heard the cry of a new born baby. Think I don't know when a baby's due? At first all we could see were the backs of three majestic men in gorgeous robes with crowns on their heads. I thought they looked a little out of place myself. Then there were the backs of the five shepherds. I recognized them for they sometimes came to town for supplies.
Felix and I tip-toed up to the little scene and peer over their shoulders to see the most beautiful sight we had ever seen. There sat the man and woman on a bale of hay. The woman was holding her new-born baby, wrapped in the extra sheets I had brought for them. There was no lamp in the stable and yet a soft light enveloped all three of them but around the baby's head, there was a luminescent halo. None of us said a word. We just stood and stared. I don't know how it was with the rest of them, but my whole being was flooded with the greatest peace and joy.
I guess my prayers were answered and our luck did change for it didn't seem to matter what went right or wrong with us from that time onwards. This feeling of peace and joy that we felt from seeing that beautiful baby has never left either of us.
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