Young Ruth settled on a bench, leaning back against the rough wooden slats of the stall. With a hushed swish of her skirts, her mother joined her, studying the young couple as they ate. “What did she mean about the baby being God’s Son?”
Finishing her bite, Ruth leaned toward her mother and whispered, “This baby boy is the promised Messiah, Mama. An angel appeared to both Mary and Joseph and announced that she would give birth to a son, the Redemption of Israel.” Ruth’s mother’s brow furrowed and she opened her mouth as if to say something, but then closed it again. They sat in silence for many minutes. Ruth jumped up to ladle Mary and Joseph another serving of stew and then returned to her seat next to her mother, savoring her own birthday dinner. “We share the same birthday, this baby Jesus and I,” Ruth smiled up at her mother in the dark, “And what a gift! To share in the birth of the Messiah! The promise we’ve been waiting for!”
Ruth’s mother shook her head sadly, “Little Ruth, we don’t know anything about this Mary and Joseph. How are we to know that what they say is the truth? Surely God would not choose such a poor couple for His Messiah’s parents, nor would He allow His Son to be born in such a humble place. I fear that they have deceived you, my sweet child. Yes, he is a precious baby, but I would need to hear from an angel myself before I believed their story. Come now, help me to carry the dinner dishes back to the inn. It is very late and it is time for you to go to bed.” She stood and collected the crock and ladle, waiting for Ruth to gather the bowls. But Ruth sat frozen on her seat.
“Mama ... it’s true. I have heard their stories about the angels and, and ... I just know it’s true.”
“Come, Ruth, we’ll talk with Father about it in the morning.” Her voice was stern now and her mouth set in a firm line, looking down at her daughter. “Fetch the bowls.”
Ruth bowed to her mother, tears pricking her eyes and approached Mary and Joseph, head down. They held out the wooden bowls to her and whispered their gratitude again. As Ruth turned back toward her mother, she peered over the edge of the box and smiled at the sleeping baby. She reached out a hand toward him and then drew it back sharply, looking over to where her mother waited for her. “Blessings on you,” she murmured and then walked quickly to her mother. Tears glistened in her eyes and she sensed her typical stubbornness brewing inside here. Taking a deep breath, she swallowed and looked up into her mother’s eyes.
“Mama, I want to sleep here tonight. Please. Just tonight.”
“Don’t be foolish, child. It’s freezing out here.”
“I’ll be fine, Mama. I have my cloak and I’ll stay near the animals. They are keeping the stable warm. Please, Mama. For my birthday?” Her eyes pleaded with her mother, begging to stay with the baby and his parents. “Please?”
Ruth’s mother stood, clutching the empty crock to her chest, her stern face set in stone. She glanced toward the circle of light and gazed for a few moments at Mary and Joseph as they sat in the hay admiring their firstborn. Then her eyes softened and a small smile crept across her lips. She sighed, shaking her head. “Sweet Ruth, you may stay. But at first light, you must return home. Here,” she set the crock on the bench and slipped off her dark green shawl, “wear this. It will help to keep you warm.” Smiling warmly at her daughter, she opened the lid of the crock and Ruth nestled the wooden bowls inside. With a gentle pat on her daughter’s shoulder, she turned and walked back out into the night.
Turning back to the scene before her, Ruth wrapped the shawl about her and sat at the edge of the circle of light, nestling into the fresh hay. She watched as Mary bent to kiss Jesus’s head again, a sweet image, etched in her Ruth’s memory, of the new mother worshipping the newborn Son of God. The stable door creaked open again and Ruth sighed, preparing to confront her mother, but as she looked over her shoulder she was surprised to find Jacob standing there amidst several other young shepherds. His wide eyes reflected back the lamp light and the wonder of finding a baby sleeping in a manger filled with straw.