(A contemplation of Luke 2:1-20 from the perspective of Joseph)
Initially, Joseph’s frustration and concern were to the fore. He didn’t want to make the journey to Bethlehem mainly because of how close Mary was to giving birth to this child. Every time he thought of the coming child he wondered what it all could mean. His old fears and embarrassment wandered through his mind. But deep in his heart he had a sense that there was something quite remarkable, quite wonderful about all that was happening. He surprised himself at how, deep down, he was both comfortable and confident about this coming child. That’s why he had taken Mary to himself.
Quite apart from Mary’s condition, Joseph really didn’t have enough money or connections to make sure that when they arrived in Bethlehem they would have adequate lodgings. Despite his unease, he set off with Mary and with a sense of hope that seemed quite a contradiction given the reality.
The journey took longer than expected. It was, however, as uncomfortable as Joseph had expected. The closer to Bethlehem they came, the more worried he became – about Mary, and about possible lodgings.
Well, his worst fears were realised on both counts. While searching high and low for accommodation, and nearly at the end of his tether, the young woman with whom he had left Mary came and told him that Mary had begun to have the child. Overhearing this, the innkeeper with whom Joseph was negotiating (unsuccessfully), made the offer of a cave on the edge of the town where he kept his own livestock during the winter. Joseph was ashamed, irritated, angry and frustrated but there was nothing else offering. He kept apologising to Mary. She was deeply serene as if these little issues were as nothing compared to the wonder and magnitude of what was about to happen – the birth of this child.
Joseph fussed around the stable and raked together some, more or less, clean straw into a place where Mary could rest. He tried to convince himself that this wasn’t too bad in the circumstances but the smell and the dampness and the dinginess of the place left him totally unconvinced.
The young woman helping Mary fussed around her while Joseph sat down beside her allowing Mary to lay back into the strength and security of his strong arms. He gazed into her eyes and was deeply touched by her gratitude to him and for him. His attention was also drawn by something else in these eyes – a profound wondering at what was happening.
Mary entered into the struggle of labour with courage and serenity. Joseph never once heard her scream out, yet he felt the spasms of her pain through his arms as he held her. She clasped his hand – never letting go of his strength, his loyalty and his love. Joseph realised how much he loved Mary. He knew, too, how much Mary loved him.
After all this labour and struggle there was, suddenly, a baby boy child before them. Joseph’s heart leapt as he saw this tiny parcel of new life. He saw Mary’s quiet tears fall from eyes filled with an immensity of love impossible to describe. The young woman helping Mary asked Joseph to cut the cord as she lay the child on Mary’s breast. What moments of indescribable joy and hope and love.
After washing the baby and clothing him and laying him in the manger-come-crib, Joseph let Mary rest once more across his strong chest. She looked up at him when she felt the pounding of his heart, full of joy, full of love. She said to him, “he is your child as much as he is mine; you have given him birth as much as I have.” Joseph went to protest but Mary gently stilled his thoughts and his words. Yes, Joseph had said yes to God’s call. His yes had in no small way brought about the reality of this birth.
Together they looked upon this tiny, helpless baby with a love so deep that neither of them could ever find words to describe it. As they looked upon Jesus with this love, they had reflected back from those half open, glazy eyes of the newborn, an ancient love, utterly whole and yet a love so new, so rich it made their hearts dance. What child is this?
Both Mary and Joseph wondered what this whole experience could mean but they knew, deep in their hearts, that somehow God was in their midst. A flash of deep sorrow crossed Mary’s face. What had she thought, Joseph wondered? Perhaps like him, she thought that this incredible new life would ultimately know great suffering.
Whatever the future would be, Joseph knew in his heart of hearts that God was with them just as he had been with them so far on this incredible journey. Joseph gazed around the stable. The miserable little cave seemed to be radiant with light and warmth. The glory of God shone around.