Even as the three not so wise men frantically gathered themselves to leave Jerusalem; their loads much lighter for all their treasures that Herod had taken from them; along the streets of Bethlehem, Joseph was even more frantic. He had run from house to house, inn to inn, but while many were sympathetic, they had no space available for a pregnant mother to deliver her child in any sort of privacy. It was only when he was racing back to Mary, who was sweating and breathing heavily, as he heard the gentle lowing of a cow settling its calf for the night-time, that he had an idea. He ran again to the inn nearest Mary, and pleaded with the owner for permission to bring his wife into the hollowed out cave carved into the rocky hillside behind the inn. The innkeeper, startled and worried at the request, finally agreed when he heard Mary’s groans grow into loud cries. ‘I’m afraid it’s not that clean,’ he explained as he pulled back the heavy stone that leaned over the entrance to the cave. Joseph assured him of their thanks, and asked if the innkeeper knew of a midwife who could help them. As the innkeeper rushed off to call one, Joseph was about to call after him to leave his lantern, when he noticed for the first time a bright heavenly light resting in the sky above him; its strong beam reflecting off the stones outside, giving a strangely calming glow to the inside of the cave. As he helped Mary into the animal shelter, they shared a rueful smile. He marvelled at the sheer strength of character that shone from the face of his young bride. Even as another contraction gripped her, she seemed so much calmer than him.
A middle-aged woman barged past him, tutting at the smells and sounds of their new home. She was brusque and efficient with Joseph, getting him to move the animals back from where the light from the star was brightest, right beside the stone hollow that served as a feeding trough. ‘This cave may feel like a tomb,’ she muttered, ‘but new life will begin here, and soon if I’m not mistaken.’ As Joseph rushed to his task, he listened as the midwife calmly and gently comforted Mary. ‘Now my dear, you are doing so well. My name is Miriam, and you and I are going to deliver your baby,’ she turned with a meaningful look to Joseph, ‘While your flittering husband waits outside and makes sure we are not disturbed!’
With another rueful look between husband and wife, Joseph took the hint and made his way outside. The enormity of everything that was happening hit him hard, and he staggered, steadying himself by leaning back on the large stone that had lain across the entrance to the cave. It rolled slightly and then, almost in slow motion, toppled over cracking loudly as it hit the stony ground. ‘I’m ok, I’m ok,’ he called out meekly to Mary’s cry of alarm. ‘I’m sure you are dear,’ muttered the midwife, ‘Now Mary, is it? If you just lie yourself down here on this straw, we’ll let your husband look after himself!’
Mary’s giggle, followed immediately by a gasp of pain, lifted Joseph’s heart. Gabriel smiled as he watched the scene unfolding before him. He noticed that the world went on about its early evening business as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening. ‘We’ll soon see about that’, he smiled, as he prepared to deliver his next message, ‘and it will be glorious!’