It was all they had. They had no other choice but to offer it up, not for a room or a shack, but a donkey’s slot in a manger.

As the grouchy elderly innkeeper counted the money, certain it was all that the couple coughed out, he beckoned on the lady who sat meekly behind his make-do counter. She looked slightly younger than the innkeeper; probably was his wife, or maybe not. That was not their concern. All they needed was a place for Mary to rest her back after a gruelling six-day journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

The innkeeper’s lady led them toward the manger which was a few meters away from the busy bustling inn. “Could you move any faster?” the lady asked Joseph in a stern but gentle voice having noticed Mary’s colt was slow.

“My wife is heavy with child. She will be due in two weeks. She and the colt are tired, and I need to be gentle with them.”

The lady turned to Mary and gave her a slightly pitiful look and picked up her pace as she continued ahead of the couple. She arrived at the manger two minutes before the couple just in time to get the donkey’s trough ready as a bed for the expectant mom.

As Joseph and Mary arrived at the manger, the noise of the busy inn area faded completely, and they were welcomed with gentle bleats and bellows from the sheep and cattle. The donkey whose manger they were taking possession of was quietly led away to the side of the manger by the innkeeper’s lady.

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As Joseph gently helped Mary descend her already tired colt, there was a sudden gush of water- her dusty legs and sandals were soaked wet. Mary gasped as she stared down her feet and stared again at her husband who at this time looked confused and afraid.

The innkeeper’s lady saw what had happened and quickly walked to Mary and laid her gently on the trough full of freshly drawn hay. She got more heaps of hay and propped it as a pillow for her back and then she turned to a mesmerised Joseph. “I will need you to watch her and keep her breathing gently, in and out while I go to get some things for the delivery.”

“The what?” Joseph asked in surprise.

“Your baby is coming tonight and obviously you were not ready,” she replied giving him her stern look as she walked hurriedly out of the manger.

“Mary, my dear, how do you feel?” Joseph asked as he quickly went to kneel by his wife, unsure of what to do or say to calm her nerves.

“Uncomfortable,” Mary replied shifting uneasily. “Do you think she will be back to help us or at least get help from a midwife?” she asked revealing the fear in her eyes.

“I don’t know, Mary, I don’t know.”

“I begged my Aunt Rebecca to come with us, but she was so sure the baby would not be due until two weeks. By then we would be back home so she would take the delivery. We did not carry things for the baby. What will happen now?” Mary sighed almost in tears.

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“How do I birth the Son of God among animals?”

“Yahweh knows and sees all. Remember the 66th writing of His prophet Isaiah- it is written: “Do I bring to the moment of birth and not give delivery?” says the Lord. “Do I close up the womb when I bring to delivery?” says your God.”

This child belongs to Yahweh, He will take care of Him…and us,” Joseph said, reassuring his wife and himself.

—————————–

It was almost 30 minutes since the innkeeper’s lady went to get help or things for the delivery as she said. She had not still returned. By this time, Mary’s contractions had increased to an interval of five minutes. The pain was excruciating as the contractions increased. As she groaned, the cattle and sheep mooed and bleated in response. It was surreal. Did they feel her pains? Did they sense something about the birth?

Joseph became fidgety. Unsure of leaving his wife to go get help himself or trust and wait for the innkeeper’s lady.

Arrghhhhh!” Mary’s scream shook him and woke the sleeping donkeys that laid by the entrance to the manger.

“What is it?” Joseph asked in a panic.

“I want to push…. I need to push….”

“Hold on my dear, just hold on, let me see if she is almost here.” Joseph rushed to the entrance of the manger, looked, and saw no one. In confusion, he looked up to the bright night sky. It was an unusually bright night sky with just a lone star. Then under his breath, he prayed: “Yahweh, please send help! This is the coming of your Son, our Saviour, the Saviour of mankind. Come to our aid to bring forth Your Son. We are helpless and confused.”

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He hurried back to Mary kneeling by her side and said, “Help is coming. Yahweh has sent help.” As he said those words, Mary squeezed his hand so tight they turned red and then blue. And suddenly she gave a deep grunt and pushed. Almost immediately, the innkeeper’s lady rushed in panting like she had just run a marathon. She was holding a clean white flannel, a flask of water and a basin containing what seemed to be a small sharp knife. She quickly pushed Joseph aside before he saw or knew that the baby’s head was already out.

———————————

In the middle of the night, when a lone star shone its brightest, when all was still and quiet, Mary’s firstborn gave a sharp cry as he took his first breath of air. The sheep, the cattle, the donkey, and the night owls all kept silent as the Son of God announced His arrival on earth.

But the LORD is in His Holy Temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him.”- Habakkuk 2:20

Iboro Tonye-Edet