Hananiah sat amidst the noisy dinner guests watching them fight over the last of Evie’s famous challah bread. His wife was the best cook in Bethlehem and he was big enough to prove it. Evie’s heart was even bigger. He watched her serve their guests with that soft smile and sparkling eyes. After twenty years together, he loved her deeper than he could have imagined.
Over the din he heard, “Where are your children? I do not believe I have seen them running around here with my own.” He cringed and glanced at his wife Evie. Silence fell in the room as Hananiah watched a flood of sorrow overtake Evie’s eyes before she nodded at him and ducked into the kitchen.
He cleared the lump forming in his throat at the sight of his wife’s pain and answered, “The LORD will bless us in His time.” This was no new question. Small talk always led this direction and over the years Evie had learned to let him answer while she avoided the knowing looks.
That quick flash of pain in her eyes was the only indication of their deep sorrow. Does not God hear their cry? Does he not see what a wonderful mother she would make? Anger fought to fill his heart but he pushed it back down. God knew best. Over the years Evie had not hardened her heart and he would honor her by doing the same.
God had blessed them in so many ways and he was not ungrateful. Having been born here, they did not need to travel during this ridiculous census. Hananiah and Evie had been able to stay put and collect the income brought on by Caesar’s decree. Pompous man. If he were God fearing he would know strength is not found in numbers but in the name of El Shaddai. Ah! He must shake this dismal mood or his guests would suffer for it.
At the sound of a knock or, rather a bang on the door, Hananiah began the task of standing up. Difficult after another of Evie’s fine meals. He kissed her cheek as he walked by and whispered something in her ear that made her smile and swat his arm.
Outside stood a young man wringing his hands. “Shalom! Sir, I beg of you, I must find a place to stay tonight. My wife’s pains have begun and I fear we do not have long. I have asked everywhere. Please say there is a place for us.” Hananiah looked at the woman and took a double take. Wife? This was a mere girl! Something did not seem right here. Why can Evie and he not find joy in children while this undeserving couple did? LORD! It is not right! Well, whatever she was, clearly she was in labor.
Hananiah gritted his teeth. He wanted help, but the inn had been full for days and there was no way he would ask a family to leave. Refunds were impossible. They had already spent the rental income on linens, supplies and fresh grain for the animals. With town as busy as it was, food and supplies were scarce and greedy men had raised prices. Again.
The city square was no place for a woman to give birth. Where could they go? He must think.
“Shalom my friend. I see you are in need of… much.” He began leading them to the stable but the young woman paused to brace herself – one hand against the wall and another wrapped around her large belly – suppressing a low groan. She was embarrassed and obviously this was her first or she would have been better prepared.
Where was her mother? Maid? He set them up in the stable with fresh water for them as well as their animals and told them he would return shortly with blankets and food. It was the least he could do. Wasn’t it?
As he walked back toward the inn he heard another of her cries and the sound launched him back in time to when his baby sister was born. He was the second son of nine and had listened to births before.
He supposed he could let them have Evie and his room. It was in the back, separate from the others. But what a noisy business! Messy too. No. I will not do that to Evie. I will not make Evie watch a girl give birth in her own bed and then clean up after her too. Besides, if the other guests are disturbed our inn will always be remembered as such and destroy any future business. It is decided then. The barn it is. Evie would not approve but he would do what he must. His wife and his business needed to be priority.
Another cry pierced the night pulling him from his searing conscience and justifications. The more he thought about it the more urgent the girl’s need became. This girl needs a midwife now! Where is that servant boy?
“Jacob, go get the midwife and bring her to the stable as fast as you can!” Hananiah yelled.
“But Sir! Grandmother Anna left for her hometown day before last. She isn’t – ” Jacob said.
“Then knock on every door and find one! We have no time!” Hananiah interrupted. At the rate she was going that baby may be here before the boy made it back. He watched Jacob, race down the dusty street. Truly, at this point any midwife would do. Any experienced mother.
Bitterness welled up again. Evie would not hesitate to help but she did not have the knowledge needed. He must tell her about the situation though. Maybe he could put it off until after the baby was born. She had her hands full with their guests. And if the guests caught wind that couple would never get any privacy.
“HANANIAH BEN JOHN! What do you think you are DOING? You told that poor girl to give birth in a barn? A BARN!” Fists planted on her hips, Eve skewered him with that fiery look of hers that withers every argument. She was on a war path now and was coming straight for him.
He had known she would not approve, but he had done the only thing he could. Right? That Jacob and his big mouth! What was done was done and right now they did not have time to argue.
“Eve, you must know given everything going on this was the best option. I will not argue with you about it. There is too much to do.” Eve whirled away in a fury. She began slamming open cupboards and ripping out all the brand new linens he had just purchased for their guests. He turned to get fresh water when he heard a ripping sound and his eyes grew round.
“Evie!” Hananiah’s face blanched as Eve ruthlessly tore their new linens to shreds. Never had he seen her so angry. It gave him pause. He turned his back and took a deep breath searching his heart one more time. Why had the barn seemed like such a good idea again? It is much too dirty for a woman giving birth. He knew that!
Before he could remember his arguments, His shame was punctuated by a loud smack as Eve stormed out the kitchen door arms full of the most expensive rags he had ever seen.
“That MAN! What was he thinking?!” Outside Evie took a deep breath and then another. She knew what Hananiah had been thinking. That infuriating, practical, wonderful man of hers was thinking of her. She saw that look in his eye at dinner. For twenty, long years they had weathered barrenness together but the pain never really lost its edge. When had her pain become so crippling that her husband felt he needed to protect her even at the cost of compassion?
Eve. What had her parents been thinking? Eve meant life. Mother of the living. Thirty-seven years with nothing to show but two heartbreaking miscarriages. Her name added irony to her pain. Expectations never met. A daily reminder of shriveled dreams. But not tonight. She refused to be swallowed up by self-pity. El Roi saw her. Heard her. She and Hananiah had the LORD and each other. Besides, tonight was not about her. And what better way to step out from one’s own pain than by serving another?
Evie looked up at the stars. She always felt closer to the God of Israel when she saw them. Strange. Tonight the stars looked extraordinarily bright. Glorious even. Like they were singing. Though the ever present pain remained a powerful peace entered her soul.
Quietly she slipped toward the barn door and listened. The tell-tale sound of a tiny mewling cry escalated into gusty wails that only a newborn could make. Time to move. She was none too early with these cloths. At least they were clean! She held back a smile at the look on Hananiah’s face when she ripped them up. Serves him right for putting business before compassion.
The young man looked up at her, wild eyed with hair sticking up in every direction. Relief flooding his face, he ran to her and said “I have no idea how to do this! I have wrapped him up four times but his arms keep escaping! Every time he just screams louder and louder.”
Evie smiled. This she could do. Gently she approached the young girl, who was trembling from exhaustion. Compassion overwhelmed her. Vaguely she heard the barn door open and close as Hananiah sheepishly came in with more hot water, blankets and a earthen bowl of warm broth for the young woman. He flicked a glance at Evie as he approached. His face guarded, unsure of where they stood at the moment. Evie knew he would nurse his pride for a bit, but he was a good sort and she loved him.
Finishing a perfect swaddle she glanced up at Hananiah and smiled as a peace offering. Surveying her handy work and the now content baby, she picked up the sweet boy and with Joseph’s permission and cooed to him. She walked over to Hananiah and together they looked into the most amazing dark, grey eyes they had ever seen.
As she locked eyes with the infant, something broke inside of her. A flood of tears. Sobbing she could feel the healing take place. Deep within her heart all the names she had been called, the accusations that had been launched, the scars she had lived with for so long melted powerless. A warmth began to grow inside her. Beginning in her belly, the heat spread like a fire throughout her entire body. Shaking with the power she felt surging through her, she handed the little boy to Hananiah who was also weeping – with joy it seemed.
Eagerly he took the baby. Holding him high, laughing and weeping at the same time. A glow she had never seen in him shone from his eyes. In this singular moment, she saw Hananiah changed. The anger and bitterness he tried so hard to hide was gone. Replaced with unspeakable joy. Peace. In awe, Hananiah again looked into the face of this little child and Evie knew that he knew. They glanced at each other and again at the baby. It made no sense, but with absolute certainty Evie knew this tiny, red face was the face of God.
Sensitive to the sacred moment taking place between man and wife, Joseph gently reached for the child and said, “His name is Joshua. Or – Jesus, as Caesar’s register will say. For he will save us from our sin.”
Evie watched Joseph as he laid the boy in a feeding trough beside Mary so that he could spoon feed the broth to her. Jesus. What miracles had just taken place! Marveling at the baby in the trough, and the heat that still vibrated through her body, Evie turned to Hananiah as he put his arm around her and led her back to the house.
When they entered all was still. The guests had retired and the lamps burned low. Had hours passed? As they prepared for bed on this silent, holy night they discussed in excited whispers all they had witnessed. Each had experienced the overwhelming power of God’s love when they held little Jesus.
“How can the full strength of God’s love dwell in a tiny baby?” Hananiah asked.
“And how God’s love burns like fire! I am hot all over.” Evie said excitedly while rubbing her tingling fingertips. Hananiah laughed with her.
“It is a miracle! I could not decide if I wanted to shout for joy or fall to my knees in worship! Evie, there is immeasurable treasure in our stable right now. Why us? Why our stable? I was prepared to move them inside, but somehow, I sensed that is where El Shaddai wanted them.” Hananiah said.
That night, Hananiah and Evie fell asleep as he held her close. A once brokenhearted couple basking in God’s overwhelming love.
ALMOST ONE YEAR LATER…
Evie smiled at the sound of her baby’s cries. Hananiah’s eyes were so full of pride and joy as he looked at his first born and then Evie. In a look they shared their remembrance of Jesus, the child who changed their world with one powerful encounter of love. Then Hananiah addressed their family and friends saying, “His name is Samuel because the LORD God has heard.”