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The Christmas Story

"For the last time, there is no room. Now please leave so I can get to legitimate customers."

Mary stared up at him with pleading eyes, but the look on his face brooked no arguement. Looking past him into the anteroom beyond where food and a fire were in visible sight made her mouth involuntarilary begin to water, and suddenly the cold outside seemed so much worse. She drew her shawl about her more closely, shivering.

"Steven, please, we must have something." Coming up from behind her husband, Tirzah looked at her niece standing outside the door. No matter what the girl did before, surely she didn't deserve this. "I know we have some rooms open still--"

"Woman, get back in there and serve the food!" her husband barked at her angrily. Tirzah shrank back from him and with one last soulful look at her niece she went back to the back to serve the food.

"All those rooms we still have are reserved anyway." Steven just wished his niece would leave his doorstep. He didn't want to be seen with his soiled dove of a niece on his doorstep, especially by any relatives. They might think he was being sympathetic to her, letting her stay here. No way was he going to be labeled as such. "Now, we have no room, so please look elsewhere!" And with that, he hardened his heart and slammed the door.

She just stood outside in the cold for a moment more, then her husband Joseph gently took her by the shoulders. "I'm sure we'll find a room, Mary," he comforted her, kissing the top of her head. In his mind, however, he wondered where they'd find shelter. All those in this town who knew them avoided them like a plague. And, unfortunately, the town was of a size where they knew just about everybody.

A gust of wind kicked up a shower of dust, and Joseph covered his wife with his parka in time. He heard her gasp from underneath him, and, frowning slightly, removed his arm from around her and looked at her in concern. "Are you alright?"

She nodded slowly without looking at him, and Joseph had no time to ponder the thoughts running through his mind. He had to find shelter, and find it fast. Night was beginning to fall in the small town; and no matter whether the governor had promised that troops would be patrolling the streets, there were still thieves and murderers about at this time of night. Bundling his very pregnant wife in his cloak, he led her over to a small inn across the road.

This particular inn seemed a little more shabby than the rest he'd seen, or what he was particulary used to. A light burned inside though, clearly seen through the cracks in the window. Wind whipping about him, Joseph knocked on the door loudly then waited for the proprietor to answer.

Benjamin cast a sad eye over the pair at his doorstep. His grand nephew and his espoused wife Mary; the ones his own sons were even now critisizing over the dinner table. Recalling their earlier jabs did nothing to help his conscience: "Poor Joseph, getting another man's leavings. How can he stand to even be near that little two-timing harlot? I'd have stoned her the moment I'd found out." "How do we know it's not his though? It very well could be; it's been done before." "You know Joseph! He's always so righteous; not even a tempting morsel like Mary could make him stumble before his God." "He can give her to me if he doesn't want her. I could use a woman to keep up my place; I'd take care of the bastard when it came." "Yeah, take care how? With a large rock?"

Benjamin shook his head to clear it. He hadn't known until then just how calloussed his own sons were. He'd tried to bring them up as righteous Jews, taking them to the best Jewish teachers he could afford. But he could tell that the Roman soldiers that frequented the town had been more of an influence than their own father; none of his children had plans to take over the inn when he passed on, and the one who did have plans seemed to be intent on selling it. He prayed daily that they would change; he offered up sacrifices for his children, sacrifices that they at their ages should be doing themselves. He just prayed that Yahweh would understand his plight; he couldn't give up on his sons. They were his children.

But now to the ones in front of him. He was already in bad graces with his father; the elder Benjamin had threatened to give over his birthright as firstborn to the son of his other wife if he made any more mistakes. His father didn't know the gambling debts had been his youngest grandchild's and not his own son's; but Benjamin hadn't wanted to humiliate his son. But this: he remembered his own father speaking words which parallelled those which his sons had spoken earlier, hateful words about these two. He knew his own views should echo those of his family; yet, for some inexplicable reason, he couldn't bring himself to hate the duo, nor to even wish them any harm. Perhaps he knew, like them, what it was like to be scorned and ridiculed for something they had no control over; or, if they had control, that couldn't be helped. Or perhaps it was something greater, something the rest of his family lacked: Yahweh's own grace.

"I'm sorry, I cannot allow you to stay here," he said miserably, and watched as his grand nephew's face fell. "Please understand," he pleaded, wanting them to truly understand, "if I do, it'll be my own ruin. I have no rooms, but even if I did..." How could he tell them that he'd be disinheirited, dishonored, scorned by his own flesh and blood if he gave them one nights shelter? How could they understand his dilemma?

"It's all right," Joseph said resignedly and turned to go as a moan came from his wife's direction. Concern was etched over his face as Joseph took his wife's hand. Benjamin could see pain was etched on her features.

"It's the baby, isn't it?" Joseph asked, panic rising in his eyes. At a weak nod from his wife, he turned back to Benjamin. "Please, Uncle, do you have anywhere we could stay? The cellar, your poorest room; anywhere?!"

"The stable!" It should be relatively clean now, if the stableboys he'd hired to replace his sons had done their work well. "It's warm there, and it'll keep you sheltered from the wind." And I won't be seen letting you into my home. The thought floated through his mind for a brief instant, then guilt instantly crushed it. Closing the door behind him, he led them quickly to the stable, pushing aside the sheep as he entered. Fortunately, there was little manure to be found; the boys seemed to have done their work right. "Will this do?" he asked Joseph.

"It's the best we've found all night," Joseph replied, real thanks in his eyes as he helped his wife sit in a heap of fresh hay in the back of the stable. The wind howled about them, but the walls of the stable provided enough protection so that no air penetrated into the inside.

Benjamin stood there for a moment, fidgeting, uncertain what to do. "I can't give you a lantern," he stated nervously. "We can't risk a fire in here." An idea came to him, and he took some rope and snaked it around the posts surrounding the pair, forming a makeshift fence. The larger animals such as the three cows and the horses being boarded here for the night would be kept away; the sheep, goats, and chickens would have free access, but at least some of the problem was alleviated. "I must be going now," he stated, but didn't move from his spot as Mary began to pant, obviously in labor. The thought that he should get a midwife flitted through his mind, along with the knowledge that if he did so, the whole town would know he had harbored these young people; even though he'd given them the stables, they would still say he gave them shelter. And that he couldn't have; for his own family's well being, she would have to give birth here, surrounded by filth and contamination, in conditions fit only for animals. As he bid his farewells and headed back to the inn, he prayed to Jehovah that the child would not be a difficult child.

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