“Leah! Go to the door! Whoever it is, tell them there’s no more room!”
Leah ran quickly to do her father’s bidding for she knew he would cuff her if she hesitated even a moment. As she dried her sudsy hands on a towel, however, she wondered why her father couldn’t go to the door for once. All of the women were scurrying around busily and he had only to refill a cup of wine now and then and chat with the customers. But Leah knew better than to argue. The thick door had been locked and barred to discourage new customers. Leah’s father, the innkeeper, was tired of explaining that the inn was overcrowded — that there just wasn’t any room anywhere.
Even the tiny room where Leah and her sister slept had been taken for guests.They would be sleeping downstairs by the fire tonight. But travelers still kept coming, pounding on the door, begging for lodging. Whoever was out there now had been knocking for so long that the customers were becoming annoyed.
“Open the door, girl! Lazy — that’s what ya are!”
Leah struggled with the heavy wooden bar and finally succeeded in swinging the door inward.
“I’m sorry, there’s no room….” she began.
“Please,” The man’s quiet but urgent voice was such a contrast to her father’s harsh tones that she gazed up at him curiously. “We need a place quickly. Anything. It doesn’t matter. My wife needs to lie down.”
“We don’t have any place, sir. Every room has been taken.”
The stranger seemed to be a kind, gentle man. Leah wished they could help.
“Might I see the innkeeper? It’s very important.”
Leah hesitated, knowing that her father would be furious if she let the man in. Then Leah saw the woman on the donkey. Even in the dim light, Leah could see the weariness in her face. In the seconds that Leah was preoccupied with watching the woman, the husband slipped by her into the building.
“Wait!” she gasped.
“She told you there is no room here!” roared Leah’s father.
“Please. It’s nearly dark and we have come a very long way….”
“We all have come a long way!” shouted one man.
“But my wife is pregnant,” the stranger pleaded.
Many of the customers had turned to listen. Leah’s mother was making her way between the tables with a tray of food. She thrust the tray into Leah’s hands, then placed her hands on her hips.
“Pregnant! We don’t want the woman here! We’ve got all we can handle now!”
Leah listened to the conversation as she served the food. She wished that someone would be willing to double up for the sake of the pregnant lady but nobody offered.
“What about the little shelter that I saw in back? Is it the stable? Couldn’t we stay there? We’d be no bother and I will pay, of course.”
“No!” Leah’s mother exclaimed. “I’ll not have the woman here. What if she has her baby?”
But Leah recognized the greedy look that came into her father’s eyes. She had seen it many times before.
“Well….” the innkeeper said thoughtfully, “I suppose I could let you stay out there if you’re willing to pay. But we can’t wait on you. We’re too busy as it is.”
The stranger’s face showed his great relief as he turned to go. “Thank you. We won’t be any trouble.”
“Wait!” Leah’s father shouted. “I want my money now! I don’t want ya sneakin’ off in the night without paying.”
The stranger wearily opened his pouch and handed over the coins, then went out.
Leah was glad that her father had agreed but she felt that it was cruel to take so much money for the use of the stable. Her father had demanded an outrageous price.
“Get back to work!” Leah felt her mother’s large hand gripping her shoulder and she was shoved into the kitchen.
Leah, knowing that her mother was furious with the arrangement, ducked out of her reach. It wasn’t unusual for the woman to take her frustrations out on the girls.
“If she has that baby, they will get no help from us. We have enough to do. And they needn’t think they will get service out there either,” the woman muttered as she picked up a tray of bread and disappeared into the main room.
Leah pounced on her older sister with the news. “Naomi! There’s a pregnant woman outside! In the stable!”
“I know. I heard.” Naomi was a slender, pretty, sixteen year old. She stooped before the fire, stirring the stew that was cooking in a large pot. “They certainly paid enough to be able to have a little food. I’ll give you some to take out later.”
“The woman looked very tired. I’ll get some blankets for them. It’s cold tonight.”
Hours of work loomed ahead. There was plenty to be done with so many customers in the inn. There was meat to be roasted, bread to be set, meals to be served, dishes to be washed. But Naomi’s fingers flew to make up for Leah’s absence.
The younger girl made her way to the stable, arms piled with blankets which she had taken from other customers’ beds, one from this room, another from that. They had plenty. They wouldn’t miss them. Or if they did, she didn’t care. The inn was drafty but certainly much warmer than the stable. She even brought cushions from her own pallet. The cushions were old and shabby but she was sure that the couple wouldn’t mind.
Leah found the man trying to make his wife comfortable. He had arranged a pile of hay and covered it with a blanket that they had brought from home. The woman was shivering as she lay wrapped in another blanket. Apparently, they had only brought two, not expecting to have to sleep in a cold barn.
Leah struggled to close the door against the wind and the man came quickly to help her.
“Here are blankets,” Leah said, moving to the corner where the woman lay.
The woman was very pretty and not much older than Naomi.
“Thank you,” she whispered as Leah lifted her up and placed a cushion under her head.
The man covered her with the blankets that Leah had brought and tucked them in securely.
“You should keep one for yourself, Joseph,” the woman said, weakly.
“I’ll be fine,” her husband told her. Then he turned to Leah. “Tell your father we are grateful.”
“He doesn’t know, sir. Nor my mother. I will bring you some food later.”
The man understood immediately. “Then we are grateful to you. But any food you bring, I will pay for.”
A slight groan brought their attention back to the woman. Leah saw that her face was distorted with pain.
“Joseph,” the woman said quietly, “It is time.”
Joseph’s eyes widened in horror. “Now?” he exclaimed. “Here?”
Leah stood frozen to the spot. The woman was going to have her baby in their stable! Joseph dropped to his knees beside his wife.
“This can’t be,” he murmured.
Another spasm of pain caused her to squeeze his hands tightly. “You should get some help, Joseph,” she whispered.
“Yes, of course!” He sprang to his feet and addressed Leah. “Is there a midwife?”
“Yes, there are two in Bethlehem. I’ll get my mother. She can tell you where to find them.”
Leah dashed back to the inn and burst through the side door. Her mother and sister were busy making meat pastries.
“Where have you been?” her mother snapped.
“Mother! The lady is having her baby!”
Leah’s mother placed her hands on her hips, her usual stance when she was angry. “There! Didn’t I say this would happen? They can fend for themselves.”
“Oh, but Mother! Please….” pleaded Naomi.
“Can’t I run for the midwife?” asked Leah.
“No! You’re needed here. Don’t you see that crowd out there? Besides, old Deborah is ill and her daughter is away. And of course we have no doctor.”
“There must be someone somewhere!” cried Leah, hysterically.
Naomi calmed her little sister with a look. “Please, Mother,” she said quietly. “The woman is away from home in a strange town. It isn’t her fault that Caesar decreed the registration now. And they did pay very well.”
But Naomi was wasting her time. Their mother set her lips stubbornly and continued twisting the dough and plumping it up firmly. Help, however, came from another source.
“What’s all the noise in here! And where is the food?”
“Father!” Leah said, quickly. “The woman is having her baby!”
“What’s that to me? Go out there and serve the customers! They’re waiting!”
“Father,” put in Naomi, “They are customers and they’ve paid well. What will our reputation be if the baby dies?”
Silence filled the room as the greedy man mulled that thought over. Leah wondered what their reputation would be if people knew they had put a pregnant woman in the stable but she said nothing.
Leah wasn’t sure if girls were important enough to be heard by God but in her heart, she prayed anyway. Oh, Jehovah God, please, please make Father help the lady….please….
“Babies die all the time!” Leah’s mother finally broke the silence. “It is not our concern.”
But the innkeeper had made his decision. “Go help her.”
“Go.” He walked out of the room, back to his wine and customers.
Naomi received a stinging blow across the face for her efforts toward the little family in the stable. Leah knew it hurt but as their mother headed out in a huff, Naomi sprang into action to collect what was needed.
“Go quickly with water,” said Naomi. “I’ll heat some more.”
Outside, Leah looked up at the stars for just a second. How beautiful they were tonight. And there was one that was so very bright. “Thank you, Jehovah! Oh, thank you! I don’t know if you did it because I asked or not but I am grateful. And oh, what a beautiful night you have made.”
She didn’t linger long for, as beautiful as it was, the night was very chilly and the wind whipped her robes. And the lady needed her help.
She hurried on to the stable with the bucket of water and several towels that Naomi had given her. She handed over the supplies and paused a moment at the sight of the pregnant woman’s pale, twisted face.Then her mother bellowed at her to “get back to work” and she headed out.
Joseph paced just inside the door, stopping now and then to pat the handsome horse of a wealthy customer or feed his donkey a handful of hay. Then he would wring his hands and pace some more.
Leah hesitated, knowing that a little girl shouldn’t address a grown man. Most men didn’t even acknowledge women in public but she thought that such a kind man wouldn’t mind. At least she was sure he wouldn’t cuff her for it.
“Sir, what is your wife’s name?” She had been wondering ever since the couple had arrived.
He stopped pacing and smiled at her. “Her name is Mary,” he answered, as if the very thought of his beloved wife brought joy.
“She will be well,” Leah assured him.
Hours later, Leah and Naomi crept out to the stable. Their mother had gone to her room, blustering that it was finally over and that she was ready for a good night’s sleep. She had told them that no one was to disturb her for anything.
Naomi held a bowl of broth carefully and Leah carried bread and meat for Joseph. The man had refused to eat, refused to leave the stable throughout the long birth. The innkeeper was disgusted for he had hoped that the man would come into the inn and buy much wine in celebration of his newborn son.
“May we see him?” asked Leah as they entered.
Joseph nodded happily and motioned toward the corner.
In the shadows they saw Mary lying in her hollow of hay and blankets. Her face was white and pinched but she smiled weakly. Nestled in her arms was the tiny baby, wrapped tightly in swaddling cloths so that only his little red face could be seen. He was sound asleep. Leah knelt down and touched his cheek very lightly.
“Let Naomi hold the baby,” said Joseph to his wife. “You must drink this while it’s hot.”
Naomi took the baby so gently that he hardly stirred.
“He’s so beautiful,” she crooned as she cradled the infant. “I’ve never seen a newborn before.”
Joseph lifted Mary up while Leah held the bowl of broth for her. The woman was so weary that she couldn’t even finish.
“We’ll bring you some more later,” said Leah as Joseph gently eased his wife down again.
“What shall we do with the child?” he asked. “You need to sleep.”
They thought for a moment. Then Mary murmured with a weak wave of her hand, “The manger. Put him in the manger. He will be safe there.”
“A good idea.” Joseph carried the wooden trough over.
Leah helped him clean it out and went to fetch fresh straw. They arranged a blanket so that the prickly straw would not even touch the baby. Then Naomi laid the infant in the trough. They all watched as his mouth pursed as if to cry, then close again. His eyes never even opened.
“He is so wonderful,” murmured Naomi. Then she shook her head angrily and turned to Joseph. “What a place for a baby! How I wish it could have been different. We would gladly have given our room if it hadn’t already been taken. It’s very small but at least it’s clean.”
Joseph stopped her outburst. “We are not angry with your father. We are grateful even for this stable. Mary was sure that Jehovah would provide a place.”
He lifted his hand toward the bruise on her cheek. “Your sister tells us you convinced them that we needed help.”
Naomi turned back to the manger, embarrassed now. Then she smiled as she watched the baby sleep. “He looks like a little prince, doesn’t he? Even in this dirty, smelly place.”
Joseph and Mary glanced at each other, as if startled by the remark. Leah wondered about it. It was as if they knew a secret. But the idea of pretending that the baby was a little prince appealed to her.
“He’s our prince,” she exclaimed. “Our very own little prince! Please may we think of him as ours since he was born in our stable?”
Mary smiled. “Of course.”
“What is his name going to be?” asked Naomi. “Joseph, I suppose?”
“His name is Jesus,” said the father.
“A beautiful name for our little prince,” said Naomi. “Why it even means ‘Savior.’” A sudden thought came to her and she added wistfully, “wouldn’t it be wonderful if he really were a prince…our Messiah…come to save us from our captors? But how foolish…the Messiah born in a stable. Though the Scriptures do say he is to be born in Bethlehem.”
Joseph stared at her, listening to her musings. “That is true. He is to be born in Bethlehem. And how do you know that?”
“Oh, Naomi knows many things!” Leah exclaimed. “Our uncle is a scribe and sometimes Naomi listens and our cousin, Samuel, tells us the things he learns in school. I don’t understand most of it but Naomi does!”
Leah wondered why Naomi looked so embarrassed and even ashamed. She knew that Naomi felt such behavior was dishonorable for a woman, but she had never understood why.
But Joseph’s voice suddenly penetrated Leah’s thoughts. He was speaking to her sister. “Naomi…It’s all right.”
Leah saw that the man did not seem shocked. Instead, there was a ghost of a smile on his face. It seemed to give her sister the courage to ask a question that Leah knew had been bothering her for a long while.
“I fear it isn’t right for me to do such things,” Naomi confessed, shyly. “It’s just that I have such a thirst for knowledge. When I am serving in their home, it’s such a temptation to listen to the discussions.And Samuel loves to tell all he knows. Do you think that Jehovah would give such a longing for knowledge to me, a girl, if it were wrong? I suppose that I should tend to my work and refuse to listen.”
But the answer that the man gave was most surprising. “I believe,” he said thoughtfully, “That Jehovah is pleased with women who are wise and think on his ways and want to understand the Scriptures.”
Naomi looked very much relieved. She ventured timidly, “In our past history there were women who served Jehovah, like Ruth and Esther.”
“There were many who served wisely and well.”
“Sir,” Leah was excited now. “May I ask a question?”
Joseph smiled at her. “Of course you may.”
“Do you suppose that Jehovah would listen to my prayers? When Naomi was trying to convince Father to help your wife, I prayed and it seemed as if He answered!”
“I believe that Jehovah hears all of His people. The prophetess Deborah called upon God and a mighty battle was won. And what about Hannah who wanted a child so badly and was heard by Him. And so many others.”
Leah couldn’t help clapping her hands together happily.
Joseph suddenly looked very weary and Naomi and Leah remembered their duties as hostesses.
“We must go,” said Naomi. “But thank you, sir, for answering our questions.”
“I am weary,” he admitted. “It’s been a very long day but I am thankful for Jehovah’s great care for Mary and I and the little one. And God has used you to help us. We are grateful.”
He looked over at Mary and they saw that she was sound asleep.
The girls tiptoed out. All the way across the courtyard, Leah felt such happiness in her heart because she was important to Jehovah, too.
Suddenly, they heard a loud commotion. It seemed to be coming from out on the street, right in front of the inn….what was going on?
To Be Continued….
By: Carol Bennett