When the sounds of the scuffle in the entryway of the inn surpassed that of the ruckus of the inn guests, the innkeeper knew he had to intervene. He was beyond exhausted, having worked two days without sleep to set up accommodations for travelers on a property that was not designed to be an inn at all, more of an expanded fruit-stand-way-station extension of his own home. He could hear a woman’s shrill hysterical crying, and the sound of a man’s head thumped like a melon against the stucco. “Great, another fight over a stupid whore. Not in my inn,” he vowed as he jumped down the stone steps ready to throw down on anyone. Well, almost anyone. “God don’t let it be a Roman soldier,” he swore under his breath. His wildest dreams never prepared him for the scene unfolding in his entryway. The huge stinking man looked like a highway robber. He held the innkeeper’s servant up off his toes, pinned with a muscled forearm against the wall. But that’s not what held his attention. What held his attention was a little girl, no older than his own 16 year old daughter, swollen with pregnancy and pain. Her pale hands grasped the door frame in a desperate attempt to stand while the blood and water gushed down her legs.
“No!” He shouted, “There is no room in the inn! She is unclean!” The Innkeeper had received large payments from prominent members of the Jewish Sanhedrin, their scribes, and their families. They would want their money back if they knew a girl was bleeding all over the floor. His guests would become unclean by association under the Mosaic law.
The desperate burly man was nearly crushing his servants throat. Spittle frothed into his black beard as he spat the words, “There is no room in all of Israel!”
The girl was on the floor now, a trail of tears cutting through the dust on her face. She rolled on her back in the puddle of blood on the floor the urge to bear down was primal, uncontrollable. The abstract shame of total exposure was nothing compared to the real fact of her dilated cervix.
The innkeeper was a passionate man, but he was also a businessman, and he knew he had to find a solution to the problem before it engulfed him, before his paying guests witnessed the bloody scene. “Ok, Ok, I have one more room,” and to his servant he said, “Get a large blanket from the dirty laundry. We will carry her out in it and still be able to wash in time to serve the guests the evening meal.”
Mary felt the horribly unpleasant sensation of being carried out back into the dark lonely night. She shrieked. Joseph helped to carry her. What else could he do. Images of what the Roman soldiers would do to his Beloved if they were roused from their gambling and whoreing in order keep the peace, danced in his head like a bloody nightmare. The three men set her down as gently as they could in the dark. The servant hurried back with a dim lamp and a flask of water. “Sir, I am sorry, but considering these irregular circumstances…’” the servant trailed off mid sentence as he averted his eyes, shook his head, and backed away.
Joseph was vaguely aware that he was in a hastily assembled shack for housing beasts. The creatures who bore the weight of man’s burdens. This symbolism was lost on him until much later in life. In the dim light, he could see a pallid crown of curls emerging from the mother’s pain. This was the first he had seen Mary’s nakedness. Her utter vulnerability reminded him of his own failure to provide, and one last guttural sob escaped his throat as he called out to a God that he felt sure was so very very far away.
The red screaming baby flopped unceremoniously into Joseph’s hands with a tangle of organic glossy umbilical cord. He knew he was supposed to cut it. Would it hurt Mary even more? Maybe he should wait. “God what do I do?” He cut the cord. She did not notice. Good.
Mary took the baby from Joseph. She was flooded with endorphins after the relief of completed labor. She tried to nurse him. She was so scared that her milk was not coming in. What if it never did. The darkness pressed in around her, like a yawing dragon maw seeking to swallow her whole family. The baby bounced its open mouth against her breast, he did not seem to understand how to latch on. Finally, he seemed to figure it out, but Mary was so tired. He breasts stung like fire from the effort. Joseph tore strips from the Innkeeper’s blanket and Mary wept as she wrapped the baby in the filthy rags. She put him down to rest in the food trough. There were mice in this shed. She could feel them writhing in the fodder. Joseph was so quiet. “He must be angry with me for making a scene. I’m so sorry.” As Mary tried to think of what she could say to smooth things over between them, she heard excited voices speaking in a country dialect. “Y’all boys come over here. It’s a shed. I think there’s a light.”
Joseph could make out the straight back form of five men. They looked like working men. Joseph could tell by their surefootedness in the dark that they were outdoors men like himself. “Now what?” he wondered. Joseph was a quiet man by nature and he had in this night had to speak with more people than he would have liked to in a month. Wasn’t it bad enough to be sitting in this infested straw without having witnesses to the fact.
“We are looking for a baby.” The sheppard was a rough looking character. Joesph considered his own appearance. “We were told we could find the savior of the world lying in a food trough.” Joseph kept a straight face for about five seconds before the ridiculous irony of the situation overwhelmed him with queer relief. “And you believed that,” He started laughing. The motley crew of sheppards started laughing too. Comradery settled on the world-weary men like softly falling snow.
When the shepherds saw the exhausted girl huddled in the straw still bleeding from the legs, they were all business. Years of striving with the flocks in their seasons of lambing had taught them postnatal care better than the best midwife that money could buy. The shepherds could see the terrible risk for infection if the dirt was allowed to remain in her birthing parts. They worked as a unit, building a fire and boiling water. These men were no stranger to the blood and organs of birth. They were already unclean under Mosaic law, and gave no second thought to scouring away the dirt with their own hands. Joseph made no protest until Mary balled in pain when the shepherd began to massage her stomach. “This will stop the flow,” the shepherd explained. As Mary’s pain eventually slipped away in their capable hands, her heart fell into a peaceful sleep where in the silence of her soul a still small voice said, “ The darker the night, the brighter the stars shine.”
In the cold night, the brilliant stars fought bravely for the territory that was rightfully theirs by the Law of Creation against the fallen third of the stars who threatened to claim the power of the air which was rightfully theirs by the Law of Conquest. The bright morning Star had infiltrated enemy territory and neither side was seeking a truce. Game on.