Have you ever imagined what it would be like to be in Bethlehem on the first Christmas? Let’s try it. Let’s imagine right now that you’re one of the people traveling to
Bethlehem to be counted by the Roman government on the night Jesus was born. You’ll need to use all your five senses. Are you ready?
1. What Do You Hear?
As you travel toward Bethlehem, the road isn’t quiet like it usually is at nighttime. It’s filled with people! They’re all walking or riding donkeys. Some are going to Bethlehem like you. Some are going the other way to other towns.
Most of the travelers don’t sound happy at all. They’re grumbling about the Romans, because the Romans forced them to take this trip so they could count the people and charge them higher taxes.
Because it’s the end of the day, babies and tired children are crying. Listen as their parents try to comfort them: “Shhhh . . . we’re almost there!”
The donkeys are braying because they’re tired too, and they want to lie down. On the hillsides, sheep are baaing—they’re not used to all this noise at night! Or maybe they saw something that startled them. . . .
2. What Do You See?
Finally, after a very long trip, you’re here—in Bethlehem! It’s usually a small town, but tonight there are people everywhere. It’s dusty and crowded, and all the inns are full to bursting.
You wander around, trying to find a place to sleep for the night. You pass houses and other buildings made of stone, but they’re all full.
Someone tells you there might be room in a nearby stable. When you find it, you see some shepherds coming out. They have strange looks on their bearded faces, like they’ve just seen something amazing.
You wonder if it’s OK to go into the stable. Who knows what’s going on in there? So you go to the door, open it just a crack, and peek inside. There IS someone there!
It’s a man and a woman. They look tired. The woman is lying down and resting. Then you see why: there’s a baby sleeping in the animals’ food trough! He’s wrapped in strips of cloth. He’s so tiny, he can’t be more than a few hours old.
The man and woman invite you in. They ask what your name is, and they tell you their names: Joseph and Mary. They tell you the baby’s name too: Jesus.
3. What Do You Smell?
Now close your eyes and breathe in through your nose. What do you smell? Lots of smells mix together: warm animals, manure, fresh hay and grain, the dirt and sweat of the shepherds who just left. When the doors are closed, it’s pretty strong-smelling in the stable!
But then you tiptoe close to baby Jesus. You put your nose by his head and breathe in. Do you smell that “new baby” smell? All babies smell special. They smell like milk and flowers and sleep.
4. What Do You Touch?
Joseph and Mary invite you to sit down. They can see you’re tired. You lean your head back against the stone walls of the stable. It’s not very comfortable, but it’s nice not to be walking anymore. You rest for a bit.
Then Mary asks if you’d like to hold the baby. You nod. You’re a little nervous because you haven’t held very many babies. But you walk over to the manger. It’s cold and hard because it’s made of stone like the stable. Joseph has put some straw in it to make it softer, but the straw is prickly. You reach into the scratchy stalks and put your arms under the baby. You lift him up. It’s surprising how light he is—he’s very little. He’s also warm and soft.
You sit down on the hard stable floor, and you hold the baby Jesus gently as he sleeps. Every now and then his arms move or his legs kick. Maybe he’s dreaming.
5. What Do You Taste?
Having a baby can take a very long time, and Mary and Joseph haven’t eaten in a while. So while Mary and Jesus rest, Joseph goes out to buy some food.
When he comes back, he doesn’t bring cereal or hamburgers or pizza. He brings homemade bread, salty fish, tangy olives, and white cheese made from goat’s milk.
Joseph offers you some food because he can see you’re hungry too. Can you taste the bread? It’s still warm, and it’s chewy and soft. Watch for bones in the fish! And when you eat the olives, don’t forget to spit out the pits. Even though you don’t like goat cheese, the food tastes so good after your long journey.
You’re so very glad you found this place. It’s peaceful here, and even though the stable is hard and cold and smelly, it’s been a very special night.