Shooing a pair of goats and a hen out of the first stall, I bend and gather a pile of hay for her. She sinks into it like a sack of grain. She shivers, her forehead moist with sweat. I cover her with my cloak and give her a drink of water from a trough the innkeeper pointed out as we entered. She arches her back in pain and cries out, louder than she has yet. I am thankful for this simple shelter.

“It is time?”

She nods to me and though I’ve never done so I prepare to receive the Child. 

“Just bear down as Elizabeth told you to.” I repeat what I’ve heard, an attempt to be of some help.

And then I bend close. And I see––my Son, the cap of His skull, like black hair on eggshell. I cannot speak. With this first glimpse of Him my anxiety is swept away like sawdust. I reach out and feel the wet warmth of His neck and back as He slides into my hand and up my wrist. His cries echo through the timbers overhead.