Leah and Naomi headed toward the inn, happy as they thought about their little “prince” back in the stable. Suddenly they heard voices and shouts out front. Then a loud pounding on the door.
“Drunken men!” said Naomi in disgust, “All that noise! Mary and the baby will be sure to wake up!”
She turned and headed for the front of the inn.
Leah ran after her. “Naomi! Wait!”
She knew that if the drunken men became angry, Naomi might be hurt—and Father would certainly do nothing to help.
But when they reached the entrance to the inn, they realized that the voices were not raised in drunkenness but in excitement. The men were familiar to them, common working men, shepherds who should have been out in the hills, not in town at this time of night.
“What are they doing here?” Leah wondered aloud.
“Who’s taking care of the sheep?” added Naomi.
They listened as their father angrily opened the door.
“What is it! Can’t you see the sign on the door? We have no room! Why, Jacob! And Aram! What are you doing here? And why all this noise? I have customers sleeping.”
One shepherd reached out and grasped his arm. “Answer us this! In your stable! Is there anyone in your stable?”
“Is there a baby there?” burst out a boy about Leah’s age.
Someone shushed the boy. “Tell us quickly. We’ve been all over town and no one knows of what we speak!”
“What are you speaking of? Yes, there’s a baby out there. Travelers came at sunset and they agreed to stay in the stable. There’s no room anywhere else. You know how it is.” The innkeeper shrugged his shoulders, as if suddenly fearful of his reputation.
Leah wondered how these men had ever found out. Did they know the baby was a newborn and that her father had allowed it all to happen in the stable?
“What is this about? I demand to know!”
But the shepherds were already heading for the stable, oblivious to the innkeeper’s shouts. They were talking among themselves.
“Just as they said!”
“A baby in a stable! Who would have thought it?”
“Is he in the manger, I wonder?”
“Who said?” shouted Leah’s father. “How could you know this?”
One shepherd called back over his shoulder, “Angels told us!”
“Angels! They have gone mad!” said the innkeeper to several of his customers who had come out to see what was happening.
“What’s this about angels?” asked one.
“I don’t know!” shouted the innkeeper. “But I’m going to find out!” He rushed after the shepherds with his customers trailing along behind.
Leah stopped her friend Eliud, one of the younger shepherds.
“Eliud.” She grasped his arm, “What is it! What happened?”
Eliud was just a year or two older than Leah. His dark eyes were wide with excitement. “Angels, Leah! They filled the sky!
We were terrified but they told us not to be afraid. They told us they had good tidings for us. That a Savior had been born!”
Leah interrupted excitedly, “A savior! Why, that’s what his name means! They’re calling him Jesus!”
“They said we’d find him lying in a manger! That’s why we were looking in the stables! Come on! I want to see him!”
She hurried after him to see what was going on at the stable. She was surprised that the baby wasn’t crying, what with all the commotion.
When Leah reached the stable, everyone had already crowded in. They were all very quiet. They hadn’t awakened the baby. The men were just watching him sleep, looks of wonder and reverence on their faces.
Mary was awake, however, and was sitting up, her robes drawn around her. After a few minutes, the shepherds told Joseph, in low tones, what had happened. Mary listened closely.
The shepherds stayed a long while. Eliud talked to Leah, telling in glowing terms about the multitude of angels who had been praising Jehovah and speaking of peace.
“Peace, Leah!” he told her excitedly. “The Messiah who will bring us peace. No more Romans! Israel will have freedom at last!”
Leah’s father and a few of the more drunken customers left before the shepherds did.
“Don’t ya want something to warm ya up, eh?” he had asked hopefully. “Angels! Sounds like you need a little wine.”
“No! No! We want to spread the good news. Isn’t it wonderful?”
“Wonderful! It’s foolish! He’s just an ordinary little baby. And look at the parents. Poor and shabby as any of us. Angels! Bah!”
The innkeeper stalked out, angry that the shepherds weren’t going to give him any business, but some of the customers stayed and listened to the talk.
Finally, all was quiet. Leah watched as Eliud and the other shepherds left the courtyard, going through town and telling the good news to everyone they met.
A few people did come to see the baby, but not many, for after all it was after midnight.
When they were alone again, Naomi brought more food.
“Have some more soup, Mary,” said Joseph.
But Mary didn’t answer. She was watching the baby, obviously lost in thought.
Joseph turned to Naomi with a grin. “That is my dear, wise wife. Always thinking about things. Just like you, I believe.”
Mary, realizing that they were all looking at her, asked, “What was that you said, Joseph?”
He just smiled. “Here’s some more soup. Eat.”
She was stronger now, able to hold the bowl herself and also to eat a chunk of bread. Then, at last, the infant woke and the girls heard his lusty cry for the first time.
“I hadn’t heard him cry before,” said Naomi.
“We heard him, didn’t we, Mary? He has a good, strong voice.”
“You may get tired of his good, strong voice,” Mary laughed. “He’s hungry. Naomi, bring him to me.”
“Oh, please! May I?” Leah begged. “I know how to carry a baby.”
“Yes, bring him,” Mary consented.
Leah approached the manger. She picked up the squalling baby. For just a moment, as Leah cradled him, he quieted, content with being held. Then he cried out again and Leah carefully placed him in the arms of his mother.
I have held the Messiah, she thought. I have held the Messiah in my arms. In that moment, she believed with all her heart what Eliud had said. Angelic messengers had proclaimed it. She didn’t understand why he was here in this stable as a tiny baby and not a grown man come from heaven to drive out Caesar from his palace. But she knew she didn’t need to understand.
“He’s the Messiah, isn’t he,” she whispered.
“The Messiah!” exclaimed Naomi. She had missed much of the discussion in the stable.
“Eliud said so,” Leah replied. “He told me that the angels called him ‘the Christ.’”
Naomi turned to the couple, her eyes wide with wonder. “I don’t understand. The shepherds were talking too fast and there was so much confusion and then my mother called me. I believe that angels came to them. They are honest men and wouldn’t lie but…is he really the Messiah?”
Joseph nodded slowly. “Many strange things have happened. You girls will understand, though most people wouldn’t. Mary was visited by an angel and I was spoken to in a dream. Yes, he is the Messiah. There are things we don’t understand either. We only know that Jehovah has given us his son to take care of.”
Naomi nodded thoughtfully. “Why, it’s prophesied, isn’t it? As we were speaking of before. I remember my uncle talking about a very strange portion of the Scriptures. He was working on the manuscript by Micah. It mentioned this town, Bethlehem, as the place that the Messiah was to be born. They were sure they had misinterpreted it. Yet the Messiah is here. The prophesy has come true.”
Joseph smiled at her. “Yes it has, Naomi. And I believe that you both, with your believing hearts, will someday be greatly used by Jehovah. Indeed, you already have been.”
They all watched the wondrous infant as he lay, asleep again, in his mother’s arms, and wondered what it all meant.
Later as the sisters lay beside the fire, trying to keep warm, Naomi said, “I’ve been trying to think who might be able to help Joseph and Mary. They can’t travel with a newborn baby, yet they can’t stay in the stable either.”
Leah was almost asleep as she murmured, “What about Aunt Salome?”
Naomi sat up excitedly. “Of course! Why didn’t we think of her before. She could have taken them in and helped with the birthing. If only we had thought. Leah, you must go first thing when we rise and tell Aunt Salome about them. I hope that Uncle will agree.”
“He won’t object.”
Their uncle, the scribe, did not concern himself with the affairs of the household, as long as his meals were on time. Pretty, kindhearted, Aunt Salome could have a house filled with travelers and he wouldn’t care. The house was big and spacious and beautiful, as an important scribe like him could afford.
“It’s nearly time to rise now. I might as well go right away.” Leah knew she would get no sleep with Naomi so excited.
They were outside their uncle’s home. Leah kissed the tiny face one last time. Mary was up on the little donkey with Jesus in her arms and Joseph held the rope to guide the animal.
The couple were heading into the city of Jerusalem to visit the temple with an offering as the law required. They would then go home with a caravan of other travelers.
Leah knew she would probably never see her little prince again but she believed that he was a true prince — the Prince of Peace, as the Scriptures proclaimed. And she would be loyal to Him forever.
By Carol Bennett