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I'll Never Forget That Day - in Bethlehem

(The Daughter's Story)

I don't think that I have ever worked so hard as I did that day - that week really -
when the census was ordered. The whole thing just didn't make sense to me at all.
Oh, I could understand why the governor would want to know how many people there were
living hereabouts - but why make them all travel back to their home towns to be registered?
All those needless journeys - upsetting lives and routines and to what purpose?
The number would be the same at the end of the day!

Dad said it was good for business - and he was right there for the inn was packed out for days
beforehand and for days afterward.
We seemed to be fitting in travellers in every available space -
those who had to register here and those who had to travel on even further.
But the headache it caused me just to feed all those people - hardly knowing from one day
to the next how many there would be or how much food to order,
or if I would be able to find it for sale in the market anyway.

That morning I was out and about early - again - and went out into the yard to collect the eggs.
Some of the hens like to lay in the old stable - they seem to feel quite at home there in the straw.
Sure enough, that's where I found most of the eggs that morning and as I turned to go,
I had the strangest feeling just to stop and look around. Things seemed pretty much as usual -
the donkey and the ox were there - those two old beasts that Dad hasn't the heart to part with.
The donkey is almost as old as Dad. It was given to him when he was a lad and you know how long donkeys live.
And the ox is past his best too - they still do a little work for us - but not much -
they are more like members of the family...

So I looked round and the stable was in a bit of a state - untidy and cluttered.
"Well" I thought," it will only take a few minutes to tidy up - spread some fresh straw round -
and I will escape from the chaos in the kitchen for a little while longer".
And that is what I did, putting the fresh straw down last after I had swept the floor.
But I had brought too much and I had an armful left over.
I have no idea why I did it, but I put that straw in the old manger over in the corner.
And it's not straw you put in a manger anyway - but hay to feed the beasts!
Then it was back to the real work of the day and I forgot about it.

It was late in the afternoon that they arrived - the man, the woman and the donkey.
Our last bed had been taken hours beforehand - and there they were asking for lodgings.
Said they had travelled from Nazareth and if they came by that road our inn was the last one
they would come to - so they must have tried all the rest. Dad could see the poor souls
were exhausted and it was obvious that there was a baby due soon.
The donkey's head drooped and it looked so worn out.

"I'm sorry," said Dad, "but we don't have any room here either." As he said it I remembered!

"Yes, we do, Dad! there's the old stable out the back. They could sleep there -
it's better than nothing and I even gave it a bit of a tidy this morning!"
You should have seen the relief on the man's face but the woman - girl really,
for she wasn't very old - just smiled and said,
"There, Joseph, I told you everything would be all right!"

So to the stable they went - and I slipped across with some fresh water
and linen towels and some food before I served the evening meal.
It was the least I could do - and once again, I was struck by the quiet confidence of that girl.
Her name was Mary.

It seemed like that evening would never end but at last everyone was fed and settled for the
night, the clearing up was done and Dad and I could lock up and try to get some sleep ourselves.
"That star's still there, " said Dad " but it hasn't moved this evening.
It looks as though it is shining right over the stable."

" The Stable," I gasped - for I had completely forgotten the folk over there.
"I'll just slip over and check that everything is all right there. You go on up to bed,"
Dad was only too glad to leave it to me - we'd both had a very long day.

I wasn't going to disturb Joseph and his wife - just peep in to see they were comfortable enough.
And what I saw was something wonderful!
That old stable seemed to be full of the softest, gentlest light you could ever imagine
- and there was a new born Baby in the manger -
the one I had filled with that extra straw earlier!
It looked like the linen towels had found another use too.

I thought all new babies were red and crumpled looking and cried a lot.
This one wasn't - and He was awake - and it was as though He knew exactly
what was going on all around Him.
It was so strange......
and the animals were all awake too and just standing
and gazing at the manger - so steadily and so intently.
There they were - the two donkeys side by side;
the old ox and even the chickens were all sitting along a rafter -
not a single head under a single wing - all wide awake and focused on that Baby.

Just then there was a noise behind me - someone at the yard gate.
I went over quickly to tell whoever it was that we were long since closed for the night
and to be quiet, for I didn't want them to go disturbing that little scene in the stable.
And what do I find? A whole crowd of shepherds - and no respectable inn likes to encourage
their sort as customers! But before I could speak, the oldest one doffs his cap and says
"Beg pardon, Ma'am, but is there a new Baby hereabouts?"
I was so surprised by his politeness that I had said "Yes, over there in the stable"
before I remembered that I had come over to send them on their way!
"Then we must come in, lass, for we have seen angels tonight
and they told us that we were to come here and find a Babe."

And they did - so quietly - and those rough, unkept men
went right over and knelt down before the manger -
and, yes, worshipped that little Scrap lying there.

They were only there a few moments - spoke to Mary and Joseph - and then left.
As the old shepherd passed me I asked what was so special about this Baby.
"The angel told us that this Baby is the Saviour - and we were to come here. We would know
that we had found the right Baby for He would be lying in a manger here in Bethlehem.
And when you've seen what we've seen tonight - not just one angel but a whole host of them
- you do what they tell you!"

The shepherds tiptoed out - but when they reached the end of the street I could hear them shouting
at the tops of their voices - praising God they were - and the doors were beginning to fly open
as people complained about the racket they were making!
Sound carries a long way on a still night like that!

I turned to close the gate - still listening to the noise - and was almost knocked off my feet by a
Camel !!!

I got such a fright for those big beasts can really creep up on you.
"This can not be happening!" I thought, "I'm asleep and all this is a dream!"
But there's no mistaking the smell of camels - and the yard seemed full of them now.
I had about as much success keeping them out as the shepherds!

So there they all were - camels - big ones, small ones - and camel drivers -
and men in rich robes reading scrolls and looking at the sky and then at the stable.
They took boxes from one of the drivers and went in and, like the shepherds, knelt down
by the Baby. The boxes they left behind - these men didn't stay long either -
came out again , remounted and, after a short discussion as to which road to take,
they were gone again into the night.

Then the stable returned to the way it had when I first peeped in
- the little family, the quiet animals -
the feeling of peace and that strange star shining.
This time I did manage to close the yard gate and find my way to bed - at last.

Will Dad ever believe me when I tell him what I saw and heard here?

But I know what I saw!
Copyright (c) Elizabeth Tolson 1999

This story was written at the request of a friend , Linda Broadley,
who is the minister at Caputh in Perthshire, Scotland.
Until she asked, I had no intention of writing a "Christmas" story and was reluctant to tackle one.
But Linda can be persuasive - and "The Daughter's Story" materialised.
I would like to dedicate it both to Linda and the folk to whom she ministers.
19th August 1999

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