Stories can bring joy, comfort and learning. Today, I offer you this story from my newest short story collection, “Breakthrough Moments”. Hospitality is a major Biblical theme. Sometimes God calls us to welcome people into our home and into our hearts. Afterward we discover that we have welcomed angels and even the Christ child himself. As you read this story, think about the people who have visited you over the past year. What blessings have they brought into your life?
Before You Begin:
Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus wouldn’t have spent days, let alone weeks or months living in the stable. Where then did they go in Bethlehem? Hospitality has always been an important tradition in Jewish life. Surely there would have been a distant cousin in Joseph’s hometown of Bethlehem to offer shelter to Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. This is how it could have happened.
We Made Room
My name is Tabitha. I am Joseph’s third cousin. I’ll never forget the day he knocked on our door seeking a place for himself and Mary and their newborn child. They had spent the night before in the old stable behind the Bethlehem Inn. “Why didn’t you come to us sooner,” I asked. “Of course, we have room. You are family.”
Joseph told me how they had tried Uncle Elias, Uncle Thomas and several more. No one would have them. He said, “Mary’s pains started. We had to find somewhere quickly. The inn was the only public place for hire. They had no room, so they offered us the stable.”
I was horrified. How could our relatives have turned them away? Hospitality is part of our Jewish faith. God commands us to open our homes even to strangers. We must share what we have. Poor Mary, she had her baby in that dirty, dilapidated old stable among the animals. And she was alone, far from her mother. What would Joseph know about childbirth?
“How did you do it, Mary?” I asked.
“The stable was actually a good place, Tabitha,” she said. “I’ve always loved animals. Their bodies took the chill from the air. We had shelter, privacy and quiet. The innkeeper’s wife, Lois, is a midwife. She helped with the birth. Joseph was wonderful. He never left my side. I wasn’t alone. God took care of us.”
You’re so young and in love, I thought. Out loud, I said, “Of course God took care of you. I’m glad you’re here now. We have room, lots of room. You’ll need some time to rest and recover. Don’t hurry back to Nazareth. Here! Let me take baby Jesus. You go and wash up. There’s a water jug and towels in the second bedroom. Our servant Cassim will bring you warm water.”
I was so glad to welcome them. Jeremiah and I have no living children. To have a baby in our home felt like a special blessing. We listened to their story about the angel. We chose to believe them. Such a special baby in our home was an honour.
Mary and Joseph stayed with us for just over a year. They could have gone home, I suppose, but home was not welcoming. Joseph’s carpentry business had dried up. People had been so judgmental. My Jeremiah is also a carpenter. His business was prospering. He needed help. He was glad to have Joseph to work with him.
Jesus brought never-ending joy into our home. He was a cuddly, peaceful baby. Mary was so generous with him. Many nights, I rocked him to sleep. There’s nothing more beautiful than a tiny sleeping baby. Even then, there was something almost magical about Jesus. I remember the first time he smiled at me. His beautiful dark eyes sparkled. I sang him songs. He loved my singing. When he started to coo and babble as all babies do, he would try to sing along with me. Oh yes, we were blessed over and over for opening our home to Joseph, Mary and Jesus.
Mary and I became close friends. We spent many hours talking about the angel that brought her the news of her pregnancy. She told me all about the shepherds’ visit. I imagined that heavenly choir out on the moonlit countryside with the sheep. Those Bedouins must have been frightened. It took great courage to come to Bethlehem to see the new baby king for themselves.
I remember the night the Wise Ones came. We were all so excited. Bethlehem was abuzz with the news of the caravan encamped outside the town. Jeremiah had delivered some yokes for oxen to a farmer. On the way home, he stopped to talk with one of the animal keepers. He brought us back the man’s story. The caravan travelled many miles, almost always at night. Two kings and their servants had joined them along the way. They are all searching for an infant king with only a star as a guide.
“Maybe it’s Jesus they’re searching for,” I said.
Jeremiah scoffed at me. “These travellers are not Jews. It must be some other king they want.” At supper that night, our conversation centered around the travellers. Mary smiled. I thought, Mary thinks it’s Jesus they are searching for, too.
Darkness had descended when we heard a rap on our door. “Who would that be?
It’s getting late for visitors,” Jeremiah said as he jumped up from the table.
When he opened the door, he called to us, “Come and see. Oh my, there are kings, and at my door.” Joseph and I joined him. Mary stayed seated by the fireplace, holding the sleeping Jesus.
They left their servants outside. The man dressed in the richest robes introduced himself as King Balthazar from India. He touched the shoulder of the one with the jewelled turban and long black robe. “This is King Caspar from the Orient.” He pointed to the third man, much younger and looking a little more like one of us. “This is Melchior. He is an astronomer from Egypt. We have travelled far, following a star, which led us here. We seek an infant king. His birth was predicted in ancient scrolls.”
The other two just nodded as Balthazar talked. Then, together, they walked over to Mary and knelt down, bowing their heads.
“We have brought gifts for the little king,” Balthazar said as he drew a soft leather pouch from within the folds of his robe. “Gold, a king will need gold.” He handed the pouch to Joseph.
Caspar produced a beautiful silver bottle and handed it to Joseph. “Frankincense, for this king will be a priest of the highest order,” Balthazar said.
Melchior held up a bottle of the finest blue glass. A silver star gleamed on its side. Again, Balthazar spoke, “Myrrh, a bitter perfume. This king will have joy in life and sorrow in death.” Melchior removed the pointed stopper and passed the bottle beneath Joseph’s nose. Joseph frowned. Mary shook her head. A tear escaped from her eye.
The gifts given, the three men rose from their knees. King Balthazar talked of his journey, and how the others had joined him on the way. “We followed the star to Jerusalem. We talked with Herod. We thought the king would be born in a palace. But Jesus was not there. Herod’s wise men said the scriptures predicted the birth would take place in Bethlehem. When we left Jerusalem last night, the star went before us. It led us to your door. Look outside and you will see it. We must return to our camp now. We will leave in the morning. We have a long journey ahead.”
As the door closed, Joseph said, “Our Jesus is full of surprises. He was born in a barn, and now he is visited by kings who bring gifts. What will come next?”
Joseph and Jeremiah went to bed shortly after our visitors left. Their working day started early. Mary and I were still talking when Joseph rose from his sleep.
“We must leave immediately,” Joseph said. “I had a vision. An angel warned me that Herod is searching for our son. He is jealous.”
We helped them pack. I didn’t want them to leave. I loved our Jesus. He filled the place of my son who died at birth.
Joseph was adamant. The angel said, ‘It’s no longer safe here in Bethlehem.’ We will join a caravan for Egypt. We will be fine. I trust the angel’s message.”
“Take my donkey,” Jeremiah said. “You will both need to ride.
“Thank you, Jeremiah and Tabitha,” Mary said. “This last year has been wonderful.”
Joseph added, “We are so grateful for your hospitality and kindness. May God Bless you richly. I’m sorry to leave you Jeremiah with our work unfinished.”
Jeremiah nodded. “I will complete it. There will be an apprentice. He won’t replace you but he will help.” He clasped Joseph’s hand. “Go with God.”
I kissed my little Jesus on the forehead. “Goodbye, my darling. I love you.” I turned to Mary, “You are a lovely friend. Thank you.”
Mary hugged me. “My dear friend,” she said. “I give thanks to God for you.”
We walked out and loaded them onto the donkeys. The night sky was cloudy. No stars shone. It was nearly dawn when they left. In their dark clothes they were almost invisible. Little Jesus waved goodbye. One of the best things I ever did was open my home to Joseph and Mary and Jesus. I am so grateful we made room for them.
Prayer: Thank you Lord for hospitality. It’s a wonderful custom. Thank you for the times I have heard your voice and extended hospitality to others. Help me to see family, friends even strangers as Jesus come to visit. Amen
Questions for Discussion:
- Sometimes acceptance is difficult. To whom have you closed your door or your heart? What were your reasons for making that choice?
- When have you been accepting of someone? What surprises came from that acceptance?
- Why do you think God chose to begin Jesus’ life as a baby?