My name is Yakov. I think you would call me “Jacob”. It’s an odd name; it means ‘heel holder’, but Yakov made good – with the Lord’s help. I am in the hospitality business; a ‘hotelier’, you would say. In my day, we didn’t think of it like that. I owned and operated an inn.
Business was good at the time. As it happened, the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus – may he rest in peace! – had ordered all people to ‘register’ for the Roman taxation. Always in my pocket, he was. This ‘registration’ meant everyone had to return to their ancestral homes. Why Caesar couldn’t have just registered them where they were? Don’t ask me; I’m not a Caesar. But it was good for my business; I was full. And then some.
I ran an inn in a little town called “House of Bread”. Apparently at one time, there were some serious bakers in the area. Or perhaps the town planning commission thought it sounded good. About the only thing ‘famous’ about the area was this was from where came David, King of Israel. His father’s land was just out of town a ways. Where? Hah! There are six different places all claiming to be ‘Ranch Jesse’ within walking distance! My father – who lived here during his life – Bless the Lord! – told me it was the one north east of town. He said his father told him that. I’ll take his word for it.
So the place – my inn, that is – was full. Every room was full, people were sharing rooms, people were sharing sleeping mats, beds, chairs and one hammock. The dining room was so full – how full? Well, fat people had to take turns breathing!
So then the new couple showed up. They were really tired. From Nazareth in the north they came. Probably the better part of a week they had traveled. They were tired. And pregnant. My children are all grown up, but I remember when my Hannah was with child. I could tell when I saw her, she was ready. Some women are ready and some are ready; this girl was READY.
And like I said earlier, I was full. Besides, they – the new couple – did not want to be part of that grumpy bunch in the inn. The people in the inn were out of sorts about the taxation and travel. And the new couple were going to be rather busy later that evening. I could tell the signs; she kept rubbing her stomach and stretching, trying to make the little aches go away. Hah! They only go away when the child is born!
There were two other inns in town. One of them – David’s – had sent ME the last two customers who tried to get a room from him. The other inn – run by a scalawag called Nabul. Nabul was a ganav – a thief – who overcharged and his place was so filthy mules and horses run off.
Beside, I’m going to turn away business? Turning away business is no way to make a profit, is it?
And, I remembered when my first born came. Hannah was so brave, so determined. And so BIG. Just like this young woman of fourteen or fifteen summers. We were hoping, in the fulfillment of the prophesy, that our firstborn would be the promised Messiah; the savior of Israel. Everyone hopes that for their firstborn. He wasn’t. He’s a good son and a decent man; but he’s not the Messiah.
But where? Out, am I supposed to throw someone who came earlier? Which ones? They all paid with good money.
I spoke to Yosaf – I think you call him “Joseph” – and made him an offer.
“Yosaf”, I said, “…trust me when I tell you this; you don’t want to stay inside. It’s full and smelly and loud. I have no place to put you and your wife, even at half a denarius a head – the usual rate. However, you have a donkey who needs fed and shelter for the evening. The rate for your donkey – in the stable area – is one-quarter a denarius. AND, you both can bed down close so he doesn’t wander off.”
He looked at me with suspicious eyes. I quickly said,
“It’s quieter out there than inside. And cleaner.”
Just so you know, I keep my place clean. But with that crowd inside, cleaning was a losing battle. At least for this night.
I motioned to Yosaf, “Come and take a look.”
The hay and straw was fresh and plentiful, the place was mucked out earlier that day. The animals present were quiet and going to sleep. There was a certain ‘earthy’ smell in the air, but truthfully, most of the people inside had traveled hard and in the sun, if you get my meaning.
He looked it over and realized I was telling him the truth. Yosaf finally smiled and said, “Yes. Thank you.”
Yosaf moved his young wife into the stable and made a comfortable place for her in the hay. Her name was Meryam if one retains some Hebrew, or Meria in the common language of the Empire; Yosaf called her “Miri”.
I went back inside – oy! – and had my Hannah take out a meal for them. I’m not sure they ate much. When the uproar in the main room died down to where I could, I went up to my quiet room on the roof and went to sleep. Peaceful, delightful, sleep.
ARE THE PHILISTINES ATTACKING AGAIN???
I looked out from under my bed like a frightened rabbit. What was that noise? But it wasn’t the sound of fighting and anger; it was the sound – a large sound, to be fair – of singing. I carefully went to the door way and peered out, trying to locate the source of the sound. My Hannah was even waking up. (A baby crying will wake her in an instant; the Babylonian invasion? Not so much. Morning will be soon enough.) All I could see was a rather bright light, off to the East a bit. What was puzzling was the light was in the air, not on the ground. I thought I saw some shapes, but nothing really distinct. Then it faded out, leaving only a memory of rather wonderful singing.
Going back to sleep immediately was not inviting. I was awake. Startled out of a sound sleep awake. So I made sure my Hannah was comfortable – she was already sleeping again – dressed and went down to look around the grounds to see if anything needed attention.
There are two times when even a – ahem – less than pretty woman is beautiful. Once when she is a happy bride, and when she successfully gives birth to her firstborn. Miri was a rather pretty girl in her own right, and when I saw her that night, she was not only beautiful, she was glowing. I was right, the baby had already come – as I predicted – and they were all comfortable and well. They had cleaned up the child – a manchild, as is proper for a firstborn – and he was wrapped up in the softest fabric they had. That child was gently sleeping, but as I peeked in through the door, I am absolutely sure he opened one eye, looked right at me, smiled, then went back to sleep.
I walked about the stables and the inn, checking to see all was well and nothing amiss. As I was finishing the rounds, I saw a group of tattered looking men walking toward the stables. Naturally I went to see who they were and what they wanted. I was expecting a problem; they were not decent people, they were obviously working class men and not working at the moment.
“What do you want?” I challenged them in my most impressive voice.
“We’re looking for a baby just born!” One of them said. “Is He here?”
I was taken aback. “How did you hear about a baby?” I asked, wondering if I could get to the rake in the stables.
“The angels sent us!” The rest of the conversation was somewhat chaotic. The men were polite and even quiet, but excited and tense. They all tried to speak at once, in a restrained manner. The gist of what they were saying was they were shepherds and had been watching flocks in the hills to the east of town.
They had been – ‘visited’ – by an angel. The angel was a large and imposing person who scared the men so badly they all thought they were going to die. But they didn’t. The angel told them the Savior of Israel was born this day – in the city of David. Then there were many angels, singing in the sky.
My mind brought up a memory of waking out of a sound sleep.
“So why are you here?” I shouted – them remembered and quieted my voice.
“The angel said the King would be sleeping in a feed trough.” And I remembered the feed trough close to Miri in the stable.
“Are you all right, sir?” one of the shepherds asked me.
I shook myself back into wakefulness and quietly said, “Follow me.” And I showed them what had happened. They took one look and all of them kneeled and bowed.
The baby’s name was – still is – Yehoshua. Those of us who speak Hebrew pronounce it that way, the language of the empire pronounces it “Jesus”.
I’ve got a feeling he will do well.