A Midwife’s Night in Bethlehem

     The air is becoming balmy as the sun rises in the sky. I wipe my forehead with my sleeve as I cook the midday meal. “Miriam, I need you to clear some more space for our guests, get your little sisters to help and then come back and help me with the food, please.”  Ten-year-old Miriam looks amazed. “More guests, Mama?” How can we fit any more?”  “I don’t know, darling. Hopefully, this is the last of the guests or we will have to start placing our bedding outdoors!”, I tease as I pat her small head. Though she is young, I am grateful to have her help.   It has been a crazy few weeks as relatives and strangers come pouring into our small town to fulfil the census requirement. Every home in Bethlehem is packed to overflowing.  Bringing much extra work but also a sense of excitement to have so many in one place. The music, the dancing, and so much food!

 

    The meal is nearly ready when my cousin Rachel rushes into the kitchen. “Eliana, you are needed at the door. The next caravan  of people is arriving looking for somewhere to stay.” She takes my spot over the cooking pot as I start for the doorway and try to think of a polite way to turn people down. There simply is no more room in our small home to accommodate more people.  As I stand in the doorway, I see how bright the star is in the sky. Almost as bright as the sun itself though smaller.Some say it is a sign. But of what, I’ve no idea.   First is a family with 4 children. “I’m sorry, We have no more room.  Try the next road over?” Another large group follows and I find myself repeating the same thing over and over much to the tired travellers dismay. I felt terrible turning them away, but what could be done? Just as I was ready to turn around and give someone else this difficult task, I see a man, covered in dust and sweat, walking slowly in front of a tired looking donkey. On the donkey was a young woman extremely heavy with child. His weary eyes found mine. “ My name is Joseph. Please, do you have room for us to stay? As you can see my wife is nearing her time. “ I look again at the young woman. She looks ready to fall off of the donkey.Poor thing. “ We really have no more room.”  The girl looks up in desperation and I feel my resolve weaken. “ well, unless you would want to stay in the back with our animals. That is all I can offer you.”, I say apologetically.  They both thank me profusely as I turn to head back in and get ready to serve food to the hungry mass of people in my charge.  

 

    Several hours pass before I even have a moment to think about the young couple.  I am weary and ready to find my sleeping mat. Miriam comes running into the room brimming with excitement. “Mama, guess what! The girl in the back is going to have her baby soon! Auntie Rachel says so! I’m supposed to tell you to bring some cloths and other things that they may need!” I gather my supplies and rush out to the back passing a distraught looking Joseph. I give him a reassuring smile.  Rachel is by the young girl’s side talking soothingly and offering her a sip of water. “Mary’s pains are still pretty far apart. It will be a long night.” Mary, so that’s the name of this young soon-to-be mother. I glance over to her. She is half leaning against the rock wall, rocking back and forth, she has her eyes closed and is humming determinately while holding her large abdomen tenderly.  I come closer to her and take her hand.   “Mary.”, I say softly, “My name is Eliana. Rachel and I will take good care of you and your baby.” She looks up at me with beautiful brown eyes that show a combination of pain, fear and yet also a large amount of peace and calm. She gives me a small smile and goes back to humming.

 

     As the night goes by,  Rachel and I take turns supporting Mary through her pains. At last, it is time for the baby to come.  Rachel stands behind Mary supporting her as she squats over the blankets on the hay. “It’s time to meet your little one, now, Mary. It’s time to push.” Maybe it’s the rush of helping to bring a new life into the world but my senses seem to intensify greatly.  I hear the animals lowing, restless as if they too are waiting to greet the babe. A dove overhead is cooing. The smell too of the earth and rock and animals in the night air is pungent but not overwhelming. The bright star is bearing a path nearly right overhead so that we hardly need the candles we’ve lit. “Push, Mary!”  I hear the sounds of music playing down the street. They mix with Mary’s cries as she bears down.  I am squatting down on my heels looking into her eyes as I feel first the baby’s head and then the rest of its body sliding into my waiting hands. Rachel gently leans back so Mary can rest and I pull the baby, a boy, who is crying lustily,  to his Mother’s waiting arms. “He’s a beautiful healthy boy!” Mary is aglow with joy as she stares down into her little one’s eyes.  “Jesus”, she whispers. “What?”, I ask.  “His name is Jesus.”

nativityscene

    After swaddling the wee babe up in cloth and making Mary comfortable, We bring Joseph in and let the couple have a moment alone. Dawn is breaking and the sky is ablaze in a glory of reds, pinks, and oranges.  A soft breeze blows as I walk towards the main living quarters. My husband, along with several men who have spent this night watching the sheep come breathless, their eyes wide in amazement, into our courtyard. “Has the baby been born? Is it as the angel told us?” Angels. Have they been drinking while watching the sheep? No, their eyes are clear. What is this lunacy that has taken hold of the whole lot of them?  They tell me the story of how the angels told them to come here and see the new babe who is the Messiah. Joseph has apparently overheard this ruckus because he comes out.  “What the angel has told you is true. Please, come and see for yourselves.”  My husband along with the group of shepherds young and old follow Joseph.   I  am feeling amazed and a bit confused by all this especially after such a long night. I follow to see what Joseph has to say. “Both Mary and I were visited by angels as well. This is not an ordinary baby, but indeed the Messiah.”He holds Jesus up so that we may all get a closer look. The baby chin quivers and his face scrunches up as he begins to whimper. Joseph hands the baby back to Mary. “He is a miracle indeed”, says my husband as he falls to his knees. A few of the others follow suit.  I look down at the babe which is now laying next to his mother in the straw nursing contentedly.  Could this really be the long-awaited Savior that I have just helped bring into the world? A holy hush has come over all of us. Even the animals seem to be in awe of this precious life that seems destined to change the world forever.

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