A story told–once again

Adoration of the Shepherds, by Caravaggio (1609)

In those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. The tax was in the newspapers everywhere. The foreign overlords, the Romans, were decreeing that a new tax would be paid, on the one hand, for the roads and aqueducts that the Empire was building; and on the other to pay for the occupying soldiers who kept the country under the power of the Empire. To enact the tax, the Empire decreed that everyone was to go back to their home town to be registered. The Empire had spoken. The people scurried off like rabbits to their home towns.

So it was that Joseph and Mary were on the road that Christmas night. Joe drove down the road in Joe’s rusty Ford pickup, “Joe’s Fix-it” hand painted on the door. Mary, beside him, was very pregnant. She had told Joe of an event beyond human words: an angel, a child, a savior. Joe sat behind the wheel wondering: “Tax. Registration. Baby. Mary. Where is this all leading?”

They arrived at Joe’s home town, Bethlehem. Joe’s aunt had given him a list of relatives who might take them in. Joe drove to the first address on the list. When Joe explained who he was, the young man nodded his head; Joe was his second cousin. But no, he did not really have a place for them in the house. It was a busy weekend for their family, what with the hockey tournament for the kids and he was pretty behind at work. Joe drove to the next address and rang the doorbell. An elderly couple answered the door. They nodded as Joe spoke but they seemed to be paying the most attention to the look of Joe’s worn clothes, his pregnant wife, and the sound of the old pickup idling roughly in the driveway. Finally, they just shook their heads and closed the door. They sat down in the living room and turned on the television.

Joe pulled the truck into the entry to the Bethlehem Lodge. But the doorman impatiently waved the old truck away. Joe and Mary drove to the Bethlehem Inn. Joe and Mary timidly walked through the glass doors to the front desk. The concierge said, “Listen, with people arriving for the census we’re swamped.” But then as Joe and Mary turned sadly toward the door, the concierge looked at them one more time. Then she called out: “Hey wait. We do have underground parking here. It would be out of the wind, at least. And listen, if anyone asks you what you’re doing here, you tell them that ‘Ellie says you’re okay’. They can deal with me.”

They thanked the concierge and drove the old truck into the parkade. Mary and Joe made a makeshift tent out of drop sheets and framing lumber and then settled into the little tent. And it so happened, that there that night, when the great fearsome Empire was all anyone could think about–in a makeshift tent in a parking garage beneath the Bethlehem Inn, Mary gave birth to the child.

Outside Bethlehem, there were truckers parked at the Hitching Post. As usual they gathered in the coffee shop to talk about the road and their families far away. But that night, the truckers heard something they could never explain to their friends and family. What they knew that night was that they had to find a way to Bethlehem. Somehow, they found their way. What they saw in the dark was but a makeshift tent beside an old pickup truck with Joe’s Fix It, hand painted on the door. But what they found inside the tent, was a baby.

And then something happened. They found themselves holding the child and humming old songs of faith their grandmothers had taught them as children. They felt a light coming into their hearts that warmed them, inspired them. In the middle of the dark the Hope of the Christ-child held them.

The truckers went back to their rigs that night with a new light in their eyes. They would say of that night to anyone who asked: “Something happened. We were touched by God.” And while they would certainly have their days when life was far from easy, and the road ahead less than clear; these women and men were never quite the same.

May the story of Christmas nestle into our arms this season, and send us all back to our homes and to our work-places in peace.

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