Thursday, December 24, 2009

Ride What? Where?

This is a detail from a painting called "The Annunciation," that lives in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. So picture this Mary, nine months pregnant, when she heard this:
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
I am thinking that she might have had a few choice words for Caesar Augustus, for Herod, and for Joseph and his entire lineage, all the way back to David. A bit of whinging, too: "Oh, Joe...can't you just go on without me? It's fifty freaking miles and I'm going to have this baby any day...!"

But no. She had to go. When Caesar decrees, he really decrees. So Mary was up on the donkey and the donkey was slung about with provisions for the journey, maybe four or five days worth. After all, Joseph was walking, and it wasn't safe to travel at night. So, fuel for cooking, food, blankets, maybe even water, certainly wine--all hanging off that poor animal. Never mind whatever they took to pay their taxes with. I wonder if there was a Roman road, or if it was a trade route. The story doesn't tell us if there were other towns, or if they had to sleep rough all the way to Bethlehem.

Can you imagine camping with no amenities at nine months pregnant? I don't even want to go there!

So, they finally dragged themselves (and their ass)(sorry---couldn't resist) into Bethlehem, but they were not the only descendants of David who had been ordered to present themselves and their goods for the inspection and accounting of Caesar's minions. A fairly small town to begin with, the place was full. The inn was full. Every household with a spot of bare floor had rented it out. There were folks camped out on every roof and under every tree.
And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
And Mary said, "Joe...I think the baby is back is killing me!"

I think Joseph might have gone back to the inn, and told the innkeeper what was happening. I always visualize the innkeeper's busy wife telling Joseph they could stay in the stable. He must have been very nervous. In those far off days, men did not participate in childbirth...he would have had no idea what to do. He wasn't a farmer, which would have given him some inkling...he was a carpenter! No midwife in female relatives...any there were would have been too busy settling their own families in the crowded conditions to spare a thought or an act for the poor girl moaning in the stable. No heat in there, either. Can't have a fire near all that straw and those valuable animals! The only warmth was that which was exuded by the creatures that shared their space with the frightened couple.

I bet they prayed. I would have prayed, and I'm not a praying person! I remember birthing my first child; the utter terror, being in the grip of such huge and painful forces...
And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
St. Luke tosses off that line like there was nothing to it! With no help, no hot water, no soothing older woman to say, "There, will all be over soon...just one more push." Just Joseph, tearing up something to make swaddling bands and filling the manger with clean straw.

I hope she had a chance to rest for a little while before the light show and sound effects began.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
The sky lit up like day, and the shepherds must have been totally terrified...especially when they heard thunderous voice of the angel, telling them something that could not have made a bit of sense! And then the chorus chimed in...oh, my gosh, I can almost hear the heavenly harmony filling the crisp cold air. I can almost see the tears freezing on the grizzled cheeks of those shepherds as the vision faded.
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
Oh, I'll bet they wondered! They didn't have the Baker Act in those days, or institutions in which to confine those who were seen to be acting erratically. People probably thought it was something in the wine.
But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
Having experienced the awe that follows the birth of a child, I can relate to that.

Surely, we can all relate to that!


  1. This is terrific! Thanks for putting it into perspective for me.
    On the humorous side,I saw the following at Jenny and Karen's on a plaque:

    What if it had been Three Wise Women instead of Three Wise Men?

    They would have asked directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, and brought practical gifts.

    Merry Christmas ...t

  2. Happy Christmas, Nadine...como estas?

  3. Don used this in Sunday School today
    there were lots of knowing smiles and some blushing.
    Thanks Hope you and the cats have had a wonderful Christmas.

  4. I am so very glad it could be useful, Betty! All the best for the New Year!

    As you probably guessed, this is the sort of stuff I started writing in high school....