Below is copied from one of Ken Gire’s meditations in his book, ‘Intimate Moments with the Savior.‘ I absolutely adore this and read it several times throughout the Christmas season. I decided to read through it with Halle the other day and got even more choked up than usual. As I needed to explain the meaning of the bigger words to her, it just hit home even deeper in my understanding realities of the glory and wonder of the birth of our Emmanuel.
So if your heart is pining for a truly wonderful narrative of that first Holy night, then you’ll want to read on. Sit down, get cozy, and grab your cup of coffee (or your can of Dr Pepper or your glass of wine if it is in the pm and that is your thing…) and let your heart embrace these powerful words.
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. And everyone went to his own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of Danid, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firtborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
For the census, the royal family has to travel eighty-five miles. Joseph walks, while Mary, nine months pregnant, rides sidesaddle on a donkey, feeling every jolt, every rut, every rock in the road.
By the time they arrive, the small hamlet of Bethlehem is swollen from an influx of travelers. The inn is packed, people feeling lucky if they were able to negotiate even a small space on the floor. Now it is late, everyone is asleep, and there is no room.
But fortunately, the innkeeper is not all shekels and mites. True, his stable is crowded with his guests’ animals, but if they could squeeze out a little privacy there, they were welcome to it.
Joseph looks over Mary, whose attention is focused on fighting a contraction. “We’ll take it,” he tells the innkeeper without hesitation.
The night is still when Joseph creaks open that stable door. As he does, a chorus of barn animals makes discordant note of the intrusion. The stench is pungent and humid, as there have not been enough hours in the day to tend the guests, let alone the livestock. A small oil lamp, lent them by the innkeeper, flickers to dance shadows on the walls. A disquieting place for a woman in the throes of childbirth. Far from home. Far from family. Far from what she had expected for her firstborn.
But Mary makes no complaint. It is a relief just to finally get off her feet. She leans back against the wall, her feet swollen, back aching, contractions growing harder and closer together.
Joseph’s eyes dart around the stable. Not a minute to lose. Quickly. A feeding trough would have to make do for a crib. Hay would serve as a mattress. Blankets? Blankets? Ah, his robe. That would do. And those rags hung out to dry would help. A gripping contraction doubles Mary over and sends him racing for a bucket of water.
The birth would not be easy, either for the mother or the child. For every royal privilege for this son ended at conception.
A scream from Mary knifes through the calm of that silent night.
Joseph returns, breathless, water sloshing from the wooden bucket. The top of the baby’s head has already pushed its way into the world. Sweat pours from Mary’s contorted face as Joseph, the most unlikely midwife in all Judea rushes to her side.
The involuntary contractions are not enough, and Mary has to push with all her strength, almost as if God were refusing to come into the world without her help.
Joseph places a garment beneath her, and with a final push, and a long sigh, her labor is over.
The Messiah has arrived.
Elongated head from the constricting journey through the birth canal. Light skin, as the pigment would take days or even weeks to surface. Mucus in his ears and nostrils. Wet and slippery from the amniotic fluid. The son of the Most High God umbilically tied to a lowly Jewish girl.
The baby chokes and coughs. Joseph instinctively turns him over and clears his troat.
Then he cries.
Mary bares her breast and reaches for the shivering baby. She lays him on her chest, and his helpless cries subside. His tiny head bobs around on the unfamiliar terrain. This will be the first thing the infant-king learns. Mary can feel his racing heartbeat as he gropes to nurse.
Deity nursing from a young maiden’s breast. Could anything be more puzzling- or more profound?
Joseph sits exhausted, silent, full of wonder.
The baby finishes and sighs, the divine Word reduced to a few unintelligible sounds. Then, for the first time, his eyes fix on his mother’s. Deity straining to focus. The Light of the World, squinting.
Tears pool in her eyes. She touches his tiny hand. And hands that once sculpted the mountain ranges cling to her finger.
She looks up at Joseph, and through a watery veil, their souls touch. He crowds closer, cheek to cheek with his betrothed. Together they stare in awe at the baby Jesus, whose heavy eyelids begin to close. It has been a long journey. The King is tired.
And so, with barely a ripple of notice, God stepped into the warm lake of humanity. Without protocol and without pretension. Where you would have expected angels, there were only flies. Where you would have expected heads of state, there were only donkeys, a few haltered cows, a nervous ball of sheep, a tethered camel, and a furtive scurry of barn mice.
Except for Joseph, there was no one to share Mary’s pain, or her joy. Yes, there were angels announcing the Savior’s arrival- but only to a band of blue-collar shepherds. And yes, a magnificent star shone in the sky to mark his birthplace- but only three foreigners bothered to look up and follow it.
Thus, in the little town of Bethlehem… that one silent night… the royal birth of God’s Son tiptoed quietly by… as the world slept.
Though there was no room for you in the inn, grant this day that I might make abundant room for you in my heart. Though your own did not receive you, grant me this hour that I may embrace you with open arms. Though Bethlehem overlooked you in the shuffle of the census, grant me the grace, this quiet moment, to be still and know that you are God. You, whose only palace was a stable, whose only throne was a feeding trough, whose only robes were swaddling clothes.
On my knees I confess that I am too conditioned to this world’s pomp and pageantry to recognize God cooing in a manger.
Forgive me. Please. And help me understand at least some of what your birth has to teach- that divine power is not mediated through strength, but through weakness; that true greatness is not achieved through the assertion of rights, but through their release; and that even the most secular of things can be sacred when you are in their midst.
And for those times when you yearn for my fellowship and stand at the door and knock, grant me a special sensitivity to the sound of that knock so I may be quick to my feet. Keep me from letting you stand out in the cold or from ever sending you away to some stable. May my heart always be warm and inviting, so that when you do knock, a worthy place will always be waiting…