Advent No. 2

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.

Micah 5:2

This census is the best thing to happen to my family in a while. People have been arriving for days and Abigail and I are run off our feet. I am glad the boys are old enough to help. Abigail is constantly sending them for water or having them run blankets up and down stairs. She is such a good mother to them but I can see that these long hours are wearing on her. She barely leaves the kitchen, kneading and mixing, tending the fire and directing the boys. I’m helping guests find a place to lay their pallet, collecting payments, giving directions, greeting new guests. We’ve even had to start putting pallets on the roof.

The sun is long gone by the time our family is all settled around the fire in the kitchen, the only space left for us to sleep. “Shamed, are you awake?” Abigail asks softly so the sleeping boys don’t hear. “Yes, wife.” I answer. She starts hesitantly, “I will need more ingredients tomorrow and I was thinking, maybe I could go to the market myself instead of sending the boys?” I think for a moment. I’m not sure I can spare her but I know she needs to get away. So I nod. “I think that would be a good idea. It will be good for you to get out of the inn for a while.” I see her wide smile in the dim light of the burning coals. “Thank you Shamed. Goodnight.” She kisses my shoulder and settles into sleep.

Almost time for lunch and Abigail still isn’t back. I have the boys distribute flatbread and apples to the guests as a man comes in, dusty from the street. “Excuse me, are you the innkeeper?” he asks me. I nod solemnly. I know what I have to tell him. “I am. But I’m sorry to say there isn’t any room left.” His forehead crinkles in concern and he spreads his hands. “Please sir, we have traveled over one hundred kilometers to get here and my wife is heavy with child. Even a small corner would be appreciated.” I shake my head. “I wish I could help you but I don’t even have a corner.” He sighs heavy and nods. “Thank you for your time.” As he walks out the door, I can see Abigail talking with a pregnant woman outside on a donkey. The man approaches them and I see him say something. The woman’s face pinches in pain and I see my wife frown. She shakes her head and speaking to the man, they follow her around the side of the house. When I find her in the kitchen later I ask “What did you tell that young couple?” She replies, her voice hard, her hands busy, “I put them in the stable.” I’m slightly incredulous, slightly expantant. “The stable?!” Abigail nods. “That woman is in labor. She needed a place and now. So they’re in the stable.”

After the guests have settled, I step out into the street for a moment of quiet. The sky is clear tonight and everything around me is lit by one big bright star. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that star before.

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