Imagine who might have been at Bethlehem the night Jesus was born – people beyond the stories in Matthew and Luke. Each story re-imagines the Christmas story from the perspective of their own lives. You can find all four stories here. (By Jimmy Reader © 2021)
I remember. I’ve never felt so alive, as I walk out of that cave, out of the darkness. Now I can see his face. I see a tear dampening his cheek. And I remember. It seems so long ago now.
I was ten years old, the son of an innkeeper in Bethlehem. My mother was distantly related to Joseph, and a cousin had brought them there that night to the inn. There was no room, but Momma could not turn them away. She sent me to the stable to prepare a place for the birth, and I put new straw in a sheep’s crib and prepared a warm place for Mary. Then I sat there – in the corner of another cave, a place for the animals to stay warm.
My mother was attending the birth of a boy. I heard Joseph call his name, “Jesus.” Joseph sat in front of me; but he was unaware of me. I sat in the shadows, looking out toward the only light in the cave.
I could tell how tired Joseph was. He seemed a bit afraid, perhaps for Mary and the baby. Mary was strong. I could tell that even in the moment of the birth. She was so young, so vibrant. Not pretty really, not like other women who the men watched. But she was handsome and striking, someone you would always remember.
She didn’t cry out as so many women do when giving birth. And when the baby was born, she immediately held him. I saw her face – so beautiful in the way she looked at him, with so much joy and love. Yet it was as if she knew something sad about him. Strange. How could she know what would happen? And why would she be sad?
My mother soon left to do other things. We had a full house that night, with all the visitors in town for the Roman census. That was why Joseph and Mary had come on this journey just at this time. When my mother was gone, Joseph went over and touched the baby boy and kissed Mary on her forehead and sat down beside them. He was so tired. He quickly went to sleep, now that he knew they were both safe.
I heard Mary call the baby’s name now. Jesus. So soft, so joyful, yet with that tinge of sadness. And she kissed him so tenderly. Pulled the cloths tightly around him, and shivered. I ran into the house to get a blanket for Mary and brought it and put it on her shoulders. I think that was the first time she noticed me. And the smile she gave me warmed me deep into my soul.
I could tell she was tired, too. But the baby seemed wide awake, as if he was watching everything, wanting to see it all. I asked her if I could hold Jesus so she could sleep, and she gave him to me. He was warm, as if some light within him was giving off heat. As I looked into his eyes, it seemed that he was old, ancient really, and full of wisdom and knowledge. He looked into my eyes and knew who I was. This newborn infant knew me. How could that be? He smiled. I know he did. He even laughed. No. Babies don’t do that, but he did.
I talked to him. I told him “my brother died last year when he was tending sheep who were attacked by wolves. My mother still cries at night because she misses him so much. I have a younger sister, Martha, and my mother is having another child soon. I think they’re going to call her Mary, if she’s a girl. Martha is already old enough to help around the house. She’s good at that and seems to enjoy it.
“My father works hard and doesn’t say much. I know he loves me, but it’s hard for him to show it. And he gets angry easily. He wasn’t that way so much until after my brother died. I never see him cry, but I hear him yell and curse when he’s angry. And Momma is sad most of the time. I haven’t seen her happy in a very long time – not until she saw you, Jesus.
“I wish I could do something for you, give something to you. But we don’t have anything. In another year I’ll probably be out taking care of the sheep on the hillsides. But I want more than that. I have a cousin in Bethany, near Jerusalem, who is a businessman. Some day maybe I can live with him and learn the business. And maybe you could come and visit me. — What’s that? Why am I crying? A tear has fallen on you, dampening my cheek. So strange.
“I guess all I can give you right now is this – to talk to you like this and hold you and be with you. And laugh with you. You are laughing, aren’t you? And cry with you, but why would I do that? Maybe some day you’ll become a teacher, and I can come listen to you. Maybe you can come to my home and we can talk together. Some day maybe you’ll cry for me. My name is Lazarus. But you’ll probably never know me.”
I remember it all now. It was so long ago, yet it seems like yesterday. (No, yesterday was something else. What happened yesterday? ) But I remember that long ago night – before the dawn broke, shepherds came in from the fields with stories of angels and their songs of peace and of glory to God and of a message about Christ the King. I could not believe it. The Messiah. As a Jewish boy of 10 years, I knew all the stories of the Messiah to come. That would explain so much, but it seemed too good to be true. I dared not believe it.
But there were other things. I heard about wise men coming later on. Then the family disappeared shortly before that terrible time when Herod had the baby boys killed. Then I heard that the family had gone home to Nazareth. And the cousin who brought them to our home that night later told us stories that had circulated in the family about a strange birth to other cousins too old to have a child. But they had a son, named John, who disappeared from home as a teenager and was reportedly living in the desert.
Well, of course, that was John, the one who baptized Jesus. These past three years have been a wonderful time. I have gone out to hear Jesus as often as possible. It has been good to have him in our home at times. I remember Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to him with the rest of us, and Martha acted like she was so busy. She loved Jesus and couldn’t admit it. I knew, we all knew. I think she was the last to know.
So many memories. What is that I remember now? What is it? Yesterday? A day or two before? What? The pain. The weakness. The darkness. Now I remember. I was dying, waiting for Jesus to come. And he has come. He is here, outside the cave, calling my name, “Lazarus!” As I once spoke his name as a newborn, now he speaks my name. Now I see him. I see the tear on his cheek, just like mine that night in the cave in Bethlehem. I wondered then why I would cry as I held him.
Now I know. Now Jesus is crying for me. I was dead. I am alive again! Now he holds me. Again he looks into my eyes and he knows me. He was old, ancient, and full of wisdom and knowledge, for he was and is the Christ. And he is my friend. He loves me.
I will no longer sit in the shadows, as I once did, looking out
at others. I will stand in the light of the life Jesus has given me. And I will tell my story. I will tell all that I remember – the stories of that first night and of all the nights he stayed with us in our home and of this night as well. It is growing dark now, as the day gives way to night. But that night in Bethlehem was filled with love and this night will be too. And we will talk again, as we once did. Only tonight, Jesus will speak, and I will listen. And laugh. And cry. And remember!