It was a cold winter’s afternoon, one of those days when you can hardly believe it could be much darker and still be called daytime. Joe and Mary left Pittsburgh on the Greyhound bus that morning. They were hoping to get to Baltimore, where his family came from, but the bus was late, and they missed the connection at 5:45.
Back at home, people knew that Mary was going to have a baby. And they knew the baby wasn’t Joe’s. That was a hard one for Joe. There were rumors going around about the father of the baby. It didn’t help that Mary told him some story that no guy could believe, no matter how much he wanted to.
Mary said an angel came to talk to her, and the Spirit of God came over her.
Only a foolish person would believe a story like that.
Maybe Joe was a fool for love, then. He decided to take care of Mary, no matter what the real story might be. He knew for sure they needed a place to stay that night. He figured they could find a room, and if they really needed it, he had heard there was a good hospital in town.
So they checked out the cheaper motels. But they were all full.
Joe’s cell phone was getting low on battery. They were standing near the bus station, wondering what to do next, when they heard the wheels of a shopping cart and the jouncing of bottles and cans.
An old lady pushed the cart toward them. She could see that Mary was very, very pregnant, and she offered to help them. She told them about the place where she pitched her tent and offered to let them sleep in it that night.
After all, she said, “It’s Christmas Eve.”
They followed her to a place down by the railroad tracks, where they were surprised to see a lot of people besides themselves seeking shelter on that dark night.
When they got there, everyone looked a little protective of their stuff. All except one. Her name was Angel. She had an overstuffed backpack, and as soon as she got a look at Mary, she started taking things out, looking for something important.
At the bottom of the bag, she found it. Someone had come down to the day shelter giving out diapers, and she took them, because you just never know what you might need.
At least that’s what she told Mary.
Angel looked around the tent city and started telling her friends about Joe and Mary. She remembered when she had a baby of her own, and she could tell just by looking that Mary didn’t have long to wait. Angel knew there were things Mary would need besides the diapers.
Sure enough, the baby was born that night. They never got to the hospital. A small group of people gathered and heard his first cry.
Soon, from the edge of the crowd, a man came forward. He was one of those guys whose looks made you want to steer clear, a silent giant with a pack of dogs and a grim expression. He rarely talked to anyone.
He came right over to Mary, and Joe looked worried.
But then the man said gruffly, “Here, take my blanket. I’ll huddle up with my dogs tonight.”
Then they had a visit from a man who thought they might need a little something else while taking care of the baby. He was one of those guys who always has a lot to say on every subject, full of opinions. Kind of a wise guy.
But on this night, he quietly offered them his lantern. “You may want some light,” he said.
Surrounded by new friends, the little family spent their first night together.
When he looked at the baby, Joe was glad he had stood by Mary.
Mary said nothing, but her smile told him how joyful her heart felt, even in the dark, cold place where the baby was born.
You may find it hard to believe, but it’s a true story that they all felt warm that night, even the ones who didn’t have blankets.
It’s a true story that the baby’s face shone even before the lantern cast its light.
You may have heard about it.
People may tell you it was only a rumor. But you should always listen to rumors of joy.
This is an update of a story I wrote in 2006 as a Christmas Pageant presented by adults at Stevens Avenue Congregational Church UCC in Portland, Maine.
This version © 2014 The Reverend Martha K. Spong