The Long Walk Home from Bethlehem—A Christmas Story
Mathew was tired. It was a long journey home from Bethlehem and the roads were so busy. Horses, donkeys, people everywhere! Most of them were heading in the opposite direction. His father said there would be another week of walking, and he was not allowed to moan.
They’d left two days ago—another week of walking seemed like forever to Mathew when he just wished to get home to hug his mother. He even wanted to see his baby sister—if she didn’t pull his hair all the time. They had made little progress in their two days of walking because everyone they met wanted to know what was happening in Bethlehem: where was the best place to stay, how expensive the food was and mostly what was the mood of the soldiers taking the census. Mathew and his father were amongst the few people leaving Bethlehem, so travellers were constantly stopping them to ask questions.
Here were some more people approaching now. Mathew whispered to his father, “They look like they’re bursting for news.”
“The lady looks like she’s bursting all over. She must be due to have her baby any day,” his father said.
Mathew glanced at her again. His mother had not seemed that big before Rebecca, his baby sister, was born. But his mother had sure looked a lot more tired and grumpy. This lady even smiled at him as she bumped up and down on her donkey.
“Excuse me,” said the man walking beside her. “Can you please tell me any news of Bethlehem?”
“Here we go, stopping again,” Mathew thought.
“It’s terribly busy, there’s only a few places to stay. Do you have someone who’ll take you in?” his father asked.
“No,” the man said. “I’m a carpenter from Nazareth. I don’t know anyone in Bethlehem.”
A carpenter! That would get his father’s attention.
“I’m a carpenter too,” his father said. “I’ve just finished doing some work for my cousin in Bethlehem.”
“What were you making?’
They were off, talking cabinets and tables, the merits of one sort of timber over another.
Mathew looked over at the lady; he could tell she needed a rest. He asked his father and the man, Joseph, if he could lead her donkey off the road to a shady spot nearby.
“What a good idea, let’s eat something,” Joseph said.
It wasn’t long before Joseph and his father were lost in conversation again. The lady smiled at Mathew and thanked him for suggesting they sit down in the shade.
“What’s your name?” Mathew asked.
“My mother’s name is Mary. She’s at home with my baby sister. Will you have a baby soon?”
“Yes, very soon. A baby boy.”
“How do you know it will be a boy?”
Mary paused, and then said, “An angel told me.”
“Truly?” Mathew asked. “What did he look like?”
“He was tall, and he had black hair and dark eyes, just like you. His face shone as if he had a candle burning inside of him and the glow was trying to escape.”
“Did he have wings?”
“I couldn’t see any.”
Mathew felt sad about that and it must have shown, for Mary quickly said, “Maybe they were invisible so I would think he looked normal and I would not be frightened.”
“Were you scared?”
“Only for a moment, but he was so kind. God’s angels are good. We don’t need to be afraid of them.”
“What did he say?”
“He said lots of things. But the main thing was that I would have a baby boy soon.”
“How exciting. I wish I could see an angel.”
“They’re all around. You might have already met one and not even known.”
“Oh no, when I meet an angel, I’ll be able to tell. He’ll have wings. And carry a great big shiny sword.”
Mary smiled at him and squeezed his shoulder. She made him miss his mother.
“You know,” he heard his father say to Joseph; “I really hope you find somewhere to stay in Bethlehem, what with your baby arriving soon. I’d hate to think of you wandering the streets with nowhere to go, as I’ve seen others doing last week. If you can’t find anywhere, please visit my cousin’s inn on HaGefen street. Tell him I sent you and ask him if you could stay. He may be full in the inn, but he also has a barn. It doesn’t sound much, but it’s comfortable. My son and I slept there while we were working, and we got by fine. My cousin’s wife has four children, I’m sure she will help you if your baby arrives.”
“Thank you very much,” Joseph said. “It means a lot to me to know there will be somewhere for us to go, even if it is a barn. You are very kind.”
“No trouble at all. We must leave now, and you need to keep moving if you want to get to Bethlehem by tomorrow.”
As they said their goodbyes, Mary said to Mathew, “I’ll pray that your angel will guard you with his sword and get you home safely.”
“Thank you, Mary. I will keep looking for him. Maybe I’ll meet him soon.”
That night, Mathew and his father shared their dinner under a cloudy sky with another stranger, travelling the road to Bethlehem. He was a tall man, with black hair and dark eyes. He said he was going to visit some shepherds.
As he rose to leave, the moon came out from behind a cloud and its light flickered on the man’s back. Mathew was stunned to see two translucent wings, and the hilt of a silver sword hanging from a scabbard at his side.
As Mathew called out to the man, he vanished.
Story by Karen Cossey
Copyright © Karen Cossey, 2014