NARRATOR: The birth of Jesus Christ happened this way, as found in Luke 2:1, 3-4: “And it came to pass in those days that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed…And all went to be taxed, everyone into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David.)”
By this time, Joseph and Mary were married and were preparing to travel to Bethlehem. Joseph and Mary’s family feared for her safety as she was heavily pregnant and traveling so close to her time. But Mary calmly reminded them all that God had promised to be with them through everything. She looked shyly up at Joseph, and with his help confidently mounted their little gray donkey. Waving their goodbyes, they headed for Bethlehem.
Every innkeeper in Bethlehem was overjoyed by the prospect of so many coming into the city. More visitors meant more money, and each tried to make the most of the space they had, so as to fit more people in. Joshua, an innkeeper close to the city, made his rooms as clean as possible, and made sure that there was plenty of food prepared ahead of time, His wife, Abigail, bustled through the back door with her apron full of fresh bread.
Abigail: “I’ll say one thing about this taxation foolishness—every inn in the city will make lots of money. And if I have anything to say about it, ours will make the most.”
Joshua: Now Abby dear, you can’t make people come here. Our rooms will be filled, I have no doubt…..I’ll leave you to finish up in here, and I’ll go put fresh straw in the beds.”
Abigail: “What for? The straw already in the beds is good enough. People don’t care as long as they have a place to lay their heads!”
Joshua: “I care, Abby. Most of them will have come a great distance and we can at least make them comfortable.”
Abigail: “Comfortable?!” We’ll never see them again!”
NARRATOR: Joshua looked at her sadly, and left. Although he loved his wife dearly, it hurt him to see how hard she had become following the the death of their only son, Samuel. Sometimes he felt it was as if Samuel had taken all the light and happiness out of their lives when he died.
Born to them after nearly ten years of marriage, he was their most precious treasure. He was full of mischief and joy, and kept the house filled with laughter and boyish mayhem. How many times had he smuggled a chicken or a small piglet into his bed at night, thrusting it up at Abigail when she went in to kiss him good night?
Joshua smiled to himself, remembering the inevitable chase that followed—-the frantic squawking chicken or the squealing piglet running for the door, with Samuel close behind, followed by a red-faced and shouting Abigail, trying hard not to laugh.
Samuel also loved to help Joshua feed the animals in the stable. Even when he was a little boy, he demanded to help milk the cows and comb burrs out of the horse’s tail.
All that had ended much too soon when Samuel died suddenly of an infection from a small cut on his foot. Abigail, skilled in gathering and using herbs for healing, could do little for him but ease his pain. Even as he weakened, he knew them both, smiling at them and telling them not to be sad. He told them that he knew where he was going and was happy. He also said that he knew he would see them again someday.
Even in the crushing grief that followed, Joshua remembered those words and was comforted by them. But Abigail would not be comforted. She blamed herself for not being able to heal her son, and before long became embittered and sarcastic. The only times she smiled now was when they stood a chance to make more money, as with the taxation.
Bethlehem was rapidly filling with new people coming into the city. As dusk came, latecomers went from inn to inn, desperate for rooms. One of these was Joseph. He and Mary had had to travel slowly, for, although Mary wouldn’t complain, he could tell by her white face that each joggling step of their little donkey hurt her. He took off his cloak and put it on the grass near a tree and made her sit down and rest while he hunted for a place to stay for the night. So far, he had been turned away four times. With a heavy heart, he walked into Joshua’s inn.
Abigail was sitting at the long table by the door, tying off bundles of fragrant herbs. She looked up quickly at Joseph as he entered; noticed his poor clothing and looked pointedly at her husband.
Joshua: “Welcome, friend! Are you here for the taxation?”
NARRATOR: Joseph nodded and smiled wearily as he introduced himself. “I hope you have a room left,” he said. “My wife is expecting our first child soon and is very uncomfortable. If you can find a space for her I’ll gladly sleep outside.”
Joshua’s face fell, because he knew that they had just filled their last room.
Joshua: “I’m so sorry, but we have no more rooms at all. Every bed I have is taken; in fact, there are even people sleeping on the roof! Your first child, did you say?”
NARRATOR: Joseph smiled and said, “yes; we’re very happy about it, but we’ve been traveling for a long time, and it’s been hard on my wife, Mary.”
He looked down at his dusty feet in their tattered sandals and said, “I’ve never been a father before, and it’s, well—do you have children?”
Abigail drew in her breath sharply, and abruptly left the room.
Joshua: “You’ll have to excuse Abigail, my wife. Yes, we had a son, Samuel, our only child. We lost him last year.”
NARRATOR: “I’m sorry,” Joseph said, his kind face sad.
Joshua: “He was fourteen, and so full of life! The stories I could tell you…he was fishing with his friends, and cut his foot on a shell. By the time he came home, his foot was red and swollen. Abby knows how to use herbs for healing, and she did everything she could for him. I never saw her sleep for three days. I know that she still blames herself because she couldn’t save him.
“But you know, something strange happened the night he died. I’ve never told anyone this, not even Abby. She had gone to get more water, and I was holding Samuel, singing a little song he liked. Suddently he sat straight up in my arms, looked at a spot over my head, and said ‘Father!’
But there was nothing there. He face literally lit up with joy; and then he was gone. I wish I knew—”
NARRATOR: There was a sharp cry from outside, and Joseph startled. “It’s Mary! I must go!”
Joshua: “Wait—take your wife into our stable. It’s clean and warm and the animals have been fed and will be quiet. I’d be glad to have you stay there.”
NARRATOR: Joseph thanked him and ran out. Joshua knew his stable was well kept and snug, and would at least be shelter from the wind. He remembered well the night that Samuel was born. When he picked up his new son from a peaceful and smiling Abigail, he felt as if he held the world in his hands. That sweet, fresh new baby smell! The silky golden-brown hair, already curling into ringlets, and eyes the color of seawater that seemed to take in everything, looking into his father’s eyes.
Joshua’s eyes filled with tears, but his grief was mingled with joy at the thought of Joseph and Mary, about to experience all this for themselves. Abigail came in, and Joshua told her about the coming baby, and where the little family was staying.
Abigail: “Well? I hope you charged them.”
Joshua: “Abby, their baby may be coming right now! You could help her; you know what to do.”
NARRATOR: At this point, Joseph ran in, shouting for Joshua. “The baby’s coming—I need help!” Joshua looked pleadingly at Abigail. She glared at him, then at Joseph.
Abigail: “You—go back to the stable. I’ll be there in a minute.” Joseph bowed to her, his eyes full of thanks.
Joshua: “Thank you for doing this. I know that this is hard for you, but I know you can help.”
NARRATOR: Joshua saw her face work as she bent to pick up the soft bag in which she carried her healing herbs. He put his arms around her and held her, and whispered in her ear.
Joshua: “Abby, my heart, my life—it was Samuel’s time to leave this earth. You could have done nothing to stop it, and you have to stop blaming yourself. But you can help this girl and her baby.”
NARRATOR: Abigail put her hand on his arm for an instant, and nodded her head as she went out into the night. As she walked toward the stable, her eyes were drawn upward to a soft light. It was an enormous star, right overhead! It glowed and danced and almost seemed to throw off sparks; she had to tear herself away from staring at it. She had work ahead of her, and opened the door to the stable.
Joshua too saw the star. It seemed to him as if it bathed the entire building and land around it with light. He remembered a night long ago when he and Samuel had sat on the roof of the inn, watching the stars and telling each other stories about them. Samuel had pointed to a large star that seemed to shimmer in the night sky.
“Father,” he said, “that star is special. It’s bigger and brighter than all the other stars, and it’s coming closer. In fact, one day it will sit right on our roof with us!”
Joshua began to chuckle at the memory. Samuel could make up the best stories—but wait! What of the star shining in the sky tonight? It couldn’t be—could it? He walked slowly outside and looked up. There it was—Samuel’s star! Shaking his head at the lurch in his heart, he slowly climbed up the ladder to the roof. The handful of travelers who had made their bed on the roof were looking up at the great star as well. Joshua could hear murmurs around him, but no one seemed alarmed or afraid. He felt strangely comforted by the sight of the big bright star above, and felt Samuel’s presence in his heart.
He and the other men began talking, and, as time passed, the star seemed to drift lower, closer to the roof as if to hear what they were saying.
Suddenly Joshua saw Abigail walk out of the stable. From his perch on the roof he could see that her step was light and her head was thrown back. He scrambled down the ladder and ran to her.
Joshua: “Abigail! Is the baby here? Is Mary all right?”
Abigail: “Yes, the baby’s here, and Mary is fine. I never saw a faster or easier birth. It’s a boy, and they have named him Jesus.”
NARRATOR: She wiped her eyes with a corner of her apron and turned to Joshua.
Abigail: “He’s beautiful, Joshua—you should see him. He looks so much like our Samuel when he was born. Do you remember? All that curly hair and the sweetest eyes—!”
NARRATOR: She began to cry, and Joshua held her close. Abigail felt the stone around her heart soften, and for a long moment the searing grief of losing Samuel took her breath away. Then, just as quickly, her heart was warmed with quiet comfort.
Suddenly they and all those within earshot heard a beautiful voice singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!”
Joshua: “Angels! Look, the sky is filled with angels!”
NARRATOR: They fell to their knees, clutching each other, as their eyes took in the wonderful, impossible sight. The angels were indescribably lovely. They were afraid to look upon them, but they could not look away. The singing angel was in front of all the others; fair, with golden-brown curls and eyes the color of sea water. He looked straight at Joshua and Abigail as they crouched there on the ground, and he smiled at them.
Abigail: “Look! It’s Samuel! My boy!”
NARRATOR: Joshua saw that the singing angel was indeed his son—tall, strong and very much alive! As angels surrounded the stable, Samuel told them who the baby named Jesus was, and why He had come to earth. He told them that they, Joshua and Abigail, were an important part of this most holy of all nights, and that their life’s work was just beginning. Many would come, he said, who would want to hear the story of the birth of Jesus and record it for all time. They must remember, he said, all that they had seen and heard, and prepare for those pilgrims who would pass through their inn in the years to come.
Joshua and Abigail, still holding each other, heard the marvelous words and promises. The great star above now hung so close to the roof it seemed to perch there. The voices of the angels grew fainter as they began to drift toward the hills. Samuel smiled at his parents once more, then turned to go with the others. Abigail started to her feet, and put out her hand as if to stop him, but Joshua took her arm and pulled her back to him. Wordlessly, they clung to each other and wept tears of joy. Hand in hand, they walked to the stable.
As Joshua opened the door, they saw Mary peacefully resting in Joseph’s arms, and in her lap lay a tiny, perfect boy, his hands open like stars against her robe. All around the three was a soft golden light, and the various contented sounds of the animals in the stable made a counterpoint to the little tune Mary hummed to the baby.
She looked up as she saw Abigail, smiled and said, “How can I ever thank you? You’ve been like my own mother to me. Here, Abigail, hold him—he knows you.”
To Joshua’s great surprise and gratitude, Abigail took the baby from Mary and cuddled him close.
On that same night, in an uncharted land on the other side of the world from Bethlehem, Samuel and the angels appeared to others as foretold by the great prophets of that land. This event is recorded in Helaman 14:5-8: “And behold, there shall be a sign unto you. And behold this is not all, there shall be many signs and wonders in Heaven. And it shall come to pass the whosoever shall believe on the Son of God, the same shall have everlasting life.”
May we all remember the reason for this season.