Sometime ago, buried in the baggage of human centuries, Jesus Christ was born. Or so they tell me. On a donkey, turned away by a belligerent innkeeper, finally nestled in the welcoming straw of an abandoned manger.
Let’s get serious. Did Mary ride a donkey, or was it a mule? Was the straw that comfortable? Did the shepherds really abide in the field, or were they too cold to care that a strange group of foreigners were making birthing noises in the nearby lean-to? Honestly, how much do we care about the details? Jesus was born sometime in some place. That’s all that really matters. But— it’s not. You see, if we were to change the details, re-painting the Savior’s birth as though it were an etch-a-sketch, Christmas would be turned on its head. Think of all the commotion that would ensue if we suddenly discovered that Jesus was born in a forest, by a rock, under a tree, coddled by ants. Not only does it require the destruction of every nativity scene ever produced (and the upset of Christmas economies the world over), but it changes how we think about the baby Jesus. He might become more of a Mogley Christ than a Jesus Christ. Who, after all, wears long robes and sandals in a forest?
As we must preserve the mythical elements to Christmas, let me do it some service by articulating the points of view often forgotten. Do we ever wonder, for instance, why the innkeeper turned Joseph away? I have. And this is what I suppose happened.
It was the year 3. Or, as calendar makers would confusedly confess, it was in the short period between BC and AD. In respect for those who would argue either one as correct, I’ll just say it was 0 BCAD. Now, Mary was riding on an ass (a swollen one, God bless pregnancy, and a hairy one with four legs). Joseph, being the dutiful, yet doubting husband, smacked the mule’s backside every few feet, meandering along beside the beast as they wandered in some direction far away from the evil King Herod. Word had it that kings didn’t like supplanting up-and-comers, so he was out to cut off Jesus from any route to the tenuous throne of the Jerusalem-ish area. It seems to me that death would have been a last resort, that house arrest might have been a more humane option, but Herod opted to merge population control with power preservation and had all children whose names started with “Jesu-“ murdered. The soldiers under his command obviously could not spell, and so decided that to be thorough, they had best kill all children born before -3 BCAD. This they did by hacking at anything that crawled.
Anyway, back to Joseph and Mary. They were wandering along some random path that didn’t lead anywhere particular, hoping against hope that a Holiday Inn would appear. Sure enough, they stumbled upon a dilapidated hotel that had once been a gas station. Which, in BCAD times, meant a bucket with water in it. Convinced that someone had to live near a necessary supply of fuel, Joseph left Mary on her ass and strolled along until he found a seemingly abandoned hut. Remembering the incessant whining of Mary all the way from Nazareth (“Ahhh my ass hurts!”, “I need water!”, “If God doesn’t stop kicking me…”, “Have they invented birthing drugs yet?”), Joseph was desperate for a place to light – even if it meant sacrificing comfort for silence. Luckily enough, as he approached this mysterious shack, he saw a light turn on. Losing all sense of propriety and politeness, Joseph began banging on the door. Until it fell down.
He stared at the floored door for about 15 seconds before he let himself in, eyeing the lodging. Standing right in front him, still in skibbies, was a portly old man with pale complexion who had obviously been awoken by the pregnant moans of Mary. Joseph felt half-pity, half-apathy. Unwilling to let any emotion get the better of him, he started right into his own plea for a bed—or a floor—or a bit of dirt to sleep on.
“Sir, I apologize for the intrusion. The thing is…” he stopped mid-sentence, wondering how exactly to explain his predicament. “..the thing is, my wife – who woke you up, incidentally – well, actually she’s not my wife yet – anyway, she’s pregnant and needs a place to light for a while. I mean—“ Suddenly Joseph realized that he made himself out to be a gigolo – impregnanting women outside of marriage, forced into the commitment by overbearing parents who would have it no other way. Something had to be done to clarify the situation. “—I mean, we’re GOING to be married, I just. Well, you see, I had nothing to do with the child. I mean – I did – I’m it’s father, but I didn’t have sex with her. I just, umm, guided her ass. Uhh I mean, that is — the child is mine. But it’s–.” He stopped cold. The old man, frozen solid with a penetrating stare, made no emotional twinge. Joseph didn’t even pretend to save himself. “Do you have a place we can stay?”
The little hair of the old man’s head waved in the breeze. It was cold and Joseph knew it. In his emotional upheaval, consideration of the man was forgotten. He was probably cold (imagine that!). Not only cold, but likely embarrassed, pissed, and lacking access to an Ace Hardware that would probably be able to fix his door. Joseph looked the man in the eyes. Nothing stirred. He scratched himself. “So, ummm…it looks like you’re busy tonight… so I’ll just … I’ll be on my way. Sorry to have … disturbed you.” Picking himself up from a blubbery of sputterings, Joseph backed his way out the door, reaching down to lift the tattered piece of wood that use to fit in the door way. As he left, he tilted the board against the frame, hoping that a little breeze would be welcome by the old man. Even when the vision of the semi-naked fogey was lost, Joseph couldn’t hear him moving. Probably, he imagined, the scared witless grandpa was still frozen in place.
Back at the ass, Mary moaned. Again. “Where the hell have you been? I’ve had 27 contractions in the last thirty seconds!” Joseph looked at her and shook his head. 27? He was no doctor, but was pretty sure that 27 was a bit much. Then again, giving birth to a Savior might lead to impossible birthing procedures – including oddly-timed contractions, unceasing moans, and terribly imperfect timing.
Joseph said nothing. Instead, he took a big wind up, smacked the ass’s ass, and grumbled a few Aramaic curse words under his breath. On they went, Mary squirming on top of the donkey, Joseph looking around for the best place to give birth to the Son of God. If an old man in underoos wouldn’t take him in, he doubted they’d find much better than an uncomfortable patch of grass. So they went on. And on. Until the virgin Mary couldn’t stand the kicking anymore.