This is the second installment of The Midwife’s Story, a Christmas tale told from the point of view of a midwife, Judith, who assists Mary in bringing Jesus into this world.
Check back Wednesday for another installment.
Sarah went to the inn to get Joseph and bring him to see the baby, that was now wrapped in clean cloths and lying on a bed of sweet hay in the feeding trough. When she came back, Sarah came with them and brought more cloths for the infant, several blankets for the family and two for Judith and Susanna.
Judith watched closely as the man—who she thought was the father of the baby—came in. After all, he had correctly said that the infant would be a boy. There were fifty-percent odds that he would have guessed properly on that. But, he had said that he’d been told the child would be an “exceptional man.”
Told how and by whom?
Many men who were new fathers she’d watched, approached their newborns with a kind of awe, as if they were astonished that the child before them was theirs. This man, Joseph, was different.
He regarded the infant boy, with what appeared to Judith to be reverence. The exact words he’d used were, “…Please take good care of Mary. Her son, I have been told, will be an exceptional man.”
Her son? Not our son? And, ‘an exceptional man.’
Judith was sitting on one of the wool blankets Sarah had brought. She’d spread it on the hay the innkeeper had provided, and covered her shoulders with another blanket. Her knees and ankles were still flexible and felt strong. There was no pain.
“Mother, I’m going back to our house to brew some herbal tea for Mary and I’ll bring some food and tea for you, too,” Susanna said.
Judith nodded and then reminded her daughter which herbs she used in the tea she prepared for new mothers.
After Susanna left, Judith leaned back into the soft hay, wrapped in her blankets. The hour was late and she was weary. Sleep began to embrace her like an additional blanket.
Then there were voices and more light. When she sat up, looking toward the feeding trough where the infant lay, she saw four strangers. They were dressed in the rough clothes of shepherds. Even in the confines of the stable, the scent of the sheep they guarded rose from their robes.
Judith started to order them away from the newborn boy, but Joseph welcomed them, and Mary smiled, but said nothing as they drew close. The men were all talking at once, their voices rising as they told their story. Their eyes were gleaming as they approached the trough where the baby slept.
Then, they dropped to their knees.
After long minutes, they rose and turned to Mary bowing in humility. One of them assumed the role of spokesman. Judith listened to his story, watching the other shepherds, as well as Joseph and Mary.
This is the story he told.
“ We have been living out in the pastures with our flocks for weeks. We were sitting around our campfire when suddenly a creature of the most brilliant light appeared. We were terrified, it was like nothing we’d ever seen before,” he said.
Another shepherd, unable to contain his words spoke.
“But the creature spoke to us in a voice that calmed our fears. The angel—that’s what it must’ve been—told us not to be afraid. He said that a child had been born who would be our savior, The Messiah,” he said.
The first man picked up the narrative again.
“The angel said that, when we looked for the newborn Christ child, we would find him, wrapped in baby cloths and lying in a manger. We searched the stables until we came here. Now, we are blessed men to be in the presence of the Messiah.”
A third shepherd added more to the story.
“The angel had hardly finished telling us about the baby when an army of angels joined him. They were praising God and telling of peace on earth and good will to mankind,” he said.
The fourth shepherd had been silent. Now he could no longer hold his voice.
“We came here as quickly as we could, leaving our flocks with only a boy to guard them. We couldn’t wait. Now that we have seen the Savior, we will go back to the fields, telling everyone we meet what we have seen and heard,” he said.
After the shepherds were gone, the only sounds in the stable were those the animals made as they snuffled and grunted.
Mary was drowsing, recovering her strength, with the baby boy held close to her breast.
In the yellow, flickering light of a single olive oil lamp, Joseph sat in the hay beside his wife, his gaze locked on her and the infant. For him, sleep was still far away.
Susanna returned with the tea she’d brewed according to Judith’s instructions.
“Shhh. Wrap the pot in some cloths to keep it warm. The young mother is resting, as she needs to do. When she awakens, she’ll have her tea. Now, where’s our tea and food? I’m hungry, even though the birthing went so easily,” Judith said.
“Since everything is so peaceful here, let’s go to our home, have our breakfast and return at dawn. I think the mother and child will be safe with Joseph, until we return,” Susanna said.
Judith offered food and tea to Joseph. He accepted them, smiling, and resumed his vigil, all attention centered on Mary and the baby.
The midwife and her daughter went to their house, washed themselves and had a quick breakfast; dawn was just beginning to glimmer over the eastern mountains when Judith returned, alone, to the stable. Susanna would come, by midday to check and relieve her.
Judith was surprised to see a young boy in the stable. He was obviously accepted by the family and was dressed in robes common to shepherds. Mary touched his hair as he knelt before her and the baby. There was something curious she noticed later. The boy seemed to be listening to a voice that only he could hear.
The midwife dismissed her curiosity about the boy as he retreated into the shadows of the stable. She focused on the mother and baby.
After Mary drank the herbal tea and ate a light breakfast, Judith suggested a brief nap after the baby had nursed. The new mother was peaceful, but weary and agreed.