The night was cold. Crisp and cold as Roman soldiers on horseback rode near the entrance at the main gate. It was time for the census and it seemed the earth, in our little square of the world, teemed with people from the entire globe. It was crowded as I lingered too near the officials’ table where everyone brought their coin to pay the tax. The soldier on the great stallion saw me but, he really didn’t. See I was just one of those Hebrews with whom those like him usually did not like to converse with. So, he looked at me but saw through me as though I was nothing. Still, I did not desire his attention any longer than necessary.
Gathering the sides of my long robe and pulling up the hem a bit, I was able to walk faster towards the stall where my friend and I were going to be selling jewels and beads. Passing among the many clusters of peoples in Bethlehem, I was delighted to see other sellers in the market who were ready for customers. I could smell the bread from the brick oven and I could almost taste the moist delicious dough. My mouth watered, of course. The Hebrew bakers were extra busy on a night like this one. I would be lucky if I could find even a morsel of their loaves left at the end of the night.
Smells of sheep mixed with dust from the road were also a pungent scent that the light winds carried towards our stall. The night air was getting cooler and I was grateful that our stall was near the towns’ fire pit. I could see many laughing ladies in the soft glow of the fire light. Their voices were loud enough for me to hear as I finished arranging the beads on our front counter. ” Have you seen the latest sandal from the tanner down the road? It has bright beads, like turquoise, on the side. He says he can add any color jewel or bead you like.” “Why, I simply must go by his stall tomorrow,” said another lady to her friends.
Hearing their voices blend in conversation was almost like a song being sung. Their laughter broke in at times like a chorus of birds. A true treasure to listen to as I worked.
The evening was really busy now. Many tourists and fellow countrymen continued to pass through our small corner of the world. Our beads and jewels were selling nicely. An impatient yet, caring voice drew my attention away from our stall. It seemed a young couple were in need of lodging for the night and this inn had no more room. The young groom urged persistently and gently; “But sir, my wife is near birth and we must find a dry place for this child to be born.” “I am truly sorry for you and your little wife but, I am booked solid. You know, there are a few caves just outside our city gate. This may be a place where your family can rest for the night.” His strong arm pointed towards the end of village; past the fire pit and a few stalls of sellers. Past them, lay open fields where shepherds would be hard at work watching over their flocks. The young man left with a handshake and gentle words to his wife; her body quite plump with child. Leading their donkey further down our dirt laden street, I saw them take a slow deliberate stride towards the caves. I prayed Jehovah would grant them a safe night. It may not be the best place to sleep but, it would be warm from the cold.
The night in Bethlehem continued to grow colder. I left my friend, for a small moment, to stop by the baker’s tents. I hoped I had not missed their breads. Seeing their basket of samples on their counter, I drew out a piece. The spongey bread had been drizzled on top with hot butter and warm honey. My favorite. Yum. My tongue enjoyed a party; all I could do was stand there and savor the sweetness and light saltiness of this creation. Yum. Glancing up from my snack, I could see how clear the night sky was. Stars twinkled and seemed to dance as they glittered around the moon. I cold not help but think of how great Jehovah is to have created such beauty.
The sights and sounds of Bethlehem continued along our street and though it was late in the night, many sellers had decided to keep their shops open. The census had crowded our town to its maximum and no one wanted to lose any customers at this time. I had to hurry back to Deborah, my friend and partner, in the jewelry shop. “Ruth,” called the baker. “Ruth, here take this to Deborah. Thank her for the necklace she made for me. I love it,” Anna shoved a small package of treats for us into my hands.. Anna was one of our best customers and we loved her breads and pastries too. I gave her our thanks and almost ran back to Deborah. She would be so surprised at such a warm, sweet gift as Annas’ breads.
Much later in the night; well after midnight, our little town of Bethlehem had grown quiet. The crowds had thinned now. A few stragglers and travelers still were awake and enjoying the embers of the fire pit. Even Deborah sat in the corner of our stall and had begun to snore slightly. Suddenly, our street was awakened by shouts, “Glory. Glory to God. Glory to God in the Highest.” Shepherds had come running from the fields and were exclaiming a miracle of a messiah who had been born that very night. In fact, they had seen him and his parents. Stunned, both Deborah and I were quite awake now and trying to grasp the witness of the shepherds. My friend and I could only stare at each other; “the Messiah? here? now?”, was all we could say as we stammered to speak to the shepherds. A crowd had begun to form beside our stall. We heard more of the shepherds story as they told of angels who sang to them about this child’s birth. All I could think was, “the Messiah? now? in my own lifetime?” Faces of dismay were all around us; in and outside of our stall. “Could it be? God had sent the Messiah?” Shock led us to surprise and surprise brought us joy. What a gift. We must tell our friends in the village here in Bethlehem.
Well, dear reader; did you catch that my journey to Bethlehem came from an experience at one of the best live nativities I have ever participated in? Yes, it’s true. My journey to Bethlehem that cold, December night about three years ago, was from a play; a live nativity called, A Journey To Bethlehem (Greenville, SC). This story is my simple attempt at capturing, in words; all I saw, heard, tasted, smelled, and touched during that wonderful experience. Yet, these words communicate only part of that extraordinary evening. So, what does Christmas mean to you?