Shifra’s Story is a story of advent, written through the lens of a birth assistant. It is unique in that it is an attempt to retell the Christmas story through a female lens, focusing on the very real, very messy parts of the story that the gospels skip over. This is chapter 6 of 6.
As we began to doze off, thankful for a few moments of rest before the day began, a brilliant bright light appeared in the sky that seemed to last for several minutes at least. It was very strange, as it was a clear, cold night – and it was nothing like lightning, which is here one moment and gone the next, but was everything like it in its brilliance.
Finally the light was gone and we again settled down to rest. Before we knew it, though, there was a clatter of feet running through the streets, and then a rag-tag group of shepherd boys appeared in the courtyard panting. At first they looked at our small group in confusion, and Jacob rose up and asked them what they wanted. “We came to see the baby!” was all they seemed to be able to say.
Well, that was the weirdest thing.
How could these shepherd boys, not much older than my Samuel, know that there had been a baby born here tonight? They hadn’t been here when we arrived – they must have already been in the field when we got to the inn – and they couldn’t have heard this new baby’s cry from outside the city gates, it was impossible!
But they were insistent that they see the baby, and so, reluctantly I led them around our group and held back the blanket so that they could peak into the stall. There sat Joseph, watching Mariam from the edge of the straw. Mariam was almost asleep, with her hand on the baby in the manger.
Then the shepherds – who had almost been speechless when they came in – suddenly found their ability to speak would not leave them! They started yammering and chattering about angels and lights, and a Savior, and they were pointing at the manger, and the swaddling cloths, and saying “see? It’s just like they said!” Then, without pausing to offer any explanation they ran off out of the courtyard door and into the streets, just as I heard the end of the fourth watch called. I groaned, knowing the day would start before any real sleep could be had, and wondered what had gotten into those shepherd boys – what they had eaten the night before to give them such strange and terrifying dreams?
And then I remembered what Mariam had said about all of the angel visitations that had surrounded her and the birth of Elizabeth’s son. I thought about her claim that she was a virgin, and the great challenge we had experienced in getting her to be able to push. It certainly sounded more possible now than it had even yesterday.
And I thought about her claim – that this baby that I had caught with my own hands was God’s son. That he had come to bring down the rulers from their thrones and to lift up the humble. That he had come to give the hungry good food, and to send the rich away empty handed. That the time of God’s mercy to Abraham and his descendants had finally come. And I was in awe that I had been privileged to serve in this way.
Maybe it wasn’t the shepherd’s dinner that had given them such odd ideas after all.
We stayed together as a group the first few days we were in Bethlehem, and then we went our separate ways. Joseph was eventually able to secure a room for Mariam until the day of circumcision, so that she could rest properly for a few days. The last I saw of them was when I came to say goodbye before we left. The baby (who I knew would be named Jesus when he was circumcised) was now five days old. He and Mariam had had a rough go of breastfeeding to begin with – probably because she was so tired and dehydrated by the time he was born – and then her nipples had gotten cracked in the process – but it now seemed to be going well. My desire to head to Jerusalem with my family now overruled my determination to make sure this little baby lived. So I looked in on them before we left, and there lay Mariam with the baby tucked into the crook of her arm, both of them fast asleep. I knelt beside them, and kissed them each gently on the forehead, praying a blessing over them both:
May the Lord bless you and keep you
May He make his face to shine upon you
May He grant you peace.
And I tiptoed out of the room, and was on my way.
Photo Credit: © Toni Nichole, All Rights Reserved