We were still several miles from Bethlehem when my pains began. At first I said nothing, the last thing I wanted was to give Joseph something else to worry about; he had taken so much upon himself already, and I knew that my advanced pregnancy had already made the journey slower than he had expected. And after all, what else could we do but press on? Giving birth by the side of the road was definitely not what either of us wanted. Besides, like a chord of strange music playing in the back of my mind, alien and disturbing, yet marvellously harmonic, were the ancient prophecies that I had heard since childhood, (never guessing that my own life would be bound up in them), and the prophecies clearly stated that this child would be born in Bethlehem, the city of his forefather David.
Joseph soon realised, and I saw the concern in his eyes, but we had to continue, so he tried to ease my discomfort, knowing that there was very little he could do, except find me somewhere safe as soon as possible.
But nothing was going to be easy that night, and it crossed my mind to wonder why God, who had so marvellously engineered our presence in Bethlehem through Caesar’s decree, could not have organised a room in an inn as well. I did not yet understand how totally the Messiah was going to be identified with the outcast and the overlooked. But in the end someone took pity on us and offered us room in their stable. It was a frowsty, smelly sort of place, but the straw was fairly clean, and at least it was safe and private.
I remember surprisingly little about the birth – I was in a place so overcome by weariness and the painful forces of my own body that normal thinking and perception were suspended. But I remember that Joseph’s hands were gentle, and surprisingly capable, and I remember how my child’s first cry woke something inside me, something so deeply maternal that I felt compassion for the whole world.
Yet even then our night was not over. It was the deadest hour of the night, yet, seeping through the cracks between the planks was such light, as if the stars themselves had caught fire with the glory of heaven. And music, too faint to hear clearly, but the merest note of it lifted my heart in wonder and praise, The strangeness of it all should have been disturbing, but nothing was normal that night. The veil that normally separates the things of heaven from our earthly sight and been pulled back a little, and as I held the newborn child I could feel that I was in a place where the presence of God was no longer a thing of terror, such as the prophets of old had known, but as close and as necessary as the breath of our own bodies. And all was wondrously well.