Maybe you passed them on the highway. They were a couple trying desperately to get to the town that they called home – at least Joe’s home. Their car was on its last wheels, coughing and sputtering its way into, at last, the outskirts of that town. It had been many years since Joe had attempted the journey. But now that he was (sort of) married, he felt the inner pull to go “home” and introduce his lovely, and very young, wife to those of his family who still lived in or near the old home place. Mary was a sweet girl – he had loved her all her life, he thinks, and this was possible because she was much younger than he – more than a dozen years his junior. (He had already become bar mitzvah before she was born.)
And now, she was also pregnant, and close to the time of delivering the child. Being only “sort of” married had caused some uncomfortable feelings and long, sideways glances accompanied by barely audible whispers made by neighbors around their current home, and a trip away from it all seemed like a good idea at the time. Once the child was born, they could return to their home and his workplace. Surely the gossip would decrease when they returned and presented with a beautiful child – a new-born. A baby changes everything, after all. Or so they hoped.
Joe barely recognized the town of his birth. It had grown, or diminished, or aged beyond its years, somehow, and the streets and paths he had walked upon so often as a youth, seemed somehow to have disappeared, or merged into a maze of mystery. The car was running on fumes, and he began seriously searching for the gas station he remembered as being in this part of town, but as Mary had just informed him that her water had broken, he realized that perhaps any station would do. He really had to get home, or better yet a hospital, or a midwife’s place – anywhere or anybody who could help him and his patient wife, moaning (just barely) in the back seat, where she had settled herself into a somewhat more comfortable position.
The immediacy of their situation gave him the opportunity to block out of the forefront of his mind and thoughts, the events that brought them to the “fix” they were in. Events which no one except perhaps a crazy man or woman would believe, and indeed, he most probably would not have believed it, had it not actually happened, and still be happening, to both of them at that very moment. As much as his knees shook, as frightened as he felt – especially fear for Mary and her child – he also found a curious sense of calm come over him, and that feeling seemed to be taking over at the most opportune time. “Lord, you sent us here, surely you can send us a gas station, or a person we know, or anyone who can help – someone maybe to take charge – someone who will know what they are doing. “Hurry, Joe, please, hurry!” Mary urged. He took only a brief moment to wonder what in the world she thought he was doing if not hurrying. Did she think he was sight-seeing? But he knew better, really. She was in need, great need, and now.
Just ahead, he saw a blinking, only partially functioning light, that appeared to be shouting out the message:
Joe rubbed his eyes, and then rubbed them again. Even if they had no gas, at least there would be a place to stay and a place an ambulance could find, or maybe someone on the premises who could be of aid in their time of need. He pulled the car in, which came to a rumbling stop before he could even get to a marked parking place. He left the car and ran to the door – “always open,” the sign said, and almost broke his arm when he pushed against what turned out to be a locked door. He couldn’t believe that God could place before them, so obviously (and quite humorously), the place of their rescue, and then have the doors shut to them. Refusing to accept the locked door, he pounded on the half wood/half glass door. He pounded until his hands and arms ached. Finally, he heard a noise from within, and coming into view he saw a somewhat elderly man shuffling towards the door, turning on lights as he went along in an effort to see who was attempting to break into his establishment.
Seeing the obvious panic on the young man’s face, the old man, named Homer (Joe was later to learn), grappled with the locks on the door, and opened it just wide enough to allow him to speak to and hear what the stranger wanted. “Please!!” Joe fairly shouted. “We need a room! My wife is in labor, and we need a room for her, for us – right away! Any room with a bed will do. Can you help us?” Homer peered through the glass, and beyond the stranger’s face he could see, even on this moonless night, a face of a woman, clearly in distress, peeking out through the car window. “Poor thing! She’s just a child!,” he thought, and opened the door to allow Joe’s entrance before he realized that he was, for the first time in his memory, completely “full up” at his inn. “I’m sorry, sir, but all our rooms are filled! We have no room available! It’s the same all over town – some big convention going on.” Joe almost collapsed into Homer’s arms, and hoarsely wept out, “Have you nothing? No bed, no couch, no place of any kind? Someplace where we can lay the baby?” Homer was about to tell him that they had nothing when Sofia walked in and said, “We have the caretaker’s shed out back. It’s empty right now. You fired him last week, remember? He refused to fix our sign, and you got angry.” There is no longer a bed, but there are some old blankets lying around, and I believe that if you give me a moment, I can clean out that old half an oil drum quickly enough to make it suitable as a temporary cradle.”
Sofia ran to the car, and helped Mary out of it, in mid-contraction, and walked her back to the shed, located around the back of the inn. Sofia knew there would be no time for an ambulance, so with the help of Joe and Homer, she gathered together what blankets and soft rags as she could, shook them out, and created a make-shift bed for Mary on the cold hard floor. A couple of stray dogs had taken up residence in the shed, and they were shooed out to make room for the people who had encroached upon their territory. They seemed curious, but not dangerous, and Joe and Mary mostly ignored them.
Although there were no lamps in the shed, there was a curious light that softly lit the room, and allowed Sofia, Joe, and a reluctant Homer enough illumination to help Mary deliver the child: a beautiful, healthy boy, which she and Joe named Joshua. The dogs soon slinked back into the shed, followed by a couple of homeless men – well-known in the neighborhood – who had been drawn to the noise and the light that now poured brightly from the once darkened place.
Joe and Mary did not notice. They were completely absorbed, body and soul, in the aura of this child. This child that they had been told, in vision and dream, would be born as God’s son, a light to all generations. They were caught, transfixed in awe, between feelings of belief and astonishment. It all was coming to be, just as they had been told. But what could they say? The homeless men fell to their knees at the sight of this child, and began to weep, blubbering out a tale of angels and music, and prophecies. Mary listened, but made no comment. After a time, Homer and Sofia ushered the men out of the shed. Try as they might, they could not get the dogs to leave, but at Mary’s behest, they left them be, and watched as they huddled near to the mother and child, emanating warmth. making not a sound.
Standing outside the shed, after making certain they were no longer needed, Homer looked up to the sign and saw that it was now completely lit, as though it had always been that way, and he stopped, wondering if it had ever been broken. But then again, had not their inn become a Home of God’s miracle of birth, and an Inn of Rest? Slowly, Homer and Sofia walked back to their inn. They would never forget this night, especially the lights in the sky, and the curious music, coming from nowhere and everywhere, that seemed to fill the air.
Gloria in excelsis Deo! We have all been gifted with the abundance of enough. . .