Miriam was still living in the cave.
There was nowhere else to stay in Bethlehem. Everyone was still there for the census, and they couldn’t have afforded better lodging. She was thankful for the warmth of the animals and the straw, but it wasn’t a good arrangement. Nothing about the arrangement was good; nothing looked right; nothing was as it should be, not in the eyes of the world. She was a poor young woman of a despised race in an occupied territory. She came to town pregnant under mysterious circumstances. She’d given birth in a warm corner of a cave where someone housed his livestock, because no one would let her in anywhere else no matter how much her husband begged. She was living there now, recovering from childbirth, trying to keep a newborn baby clean and warm on a heap of straw surrounded by oxen and donkeys. What little food or money they’d had was dwindling to nothing. They were destitute and without friends.
She certainly didn’t want to entertain company, on the straw in the back of a dark cave. She wanted to hide with her baby. She wanted to contemplate, as she had in the solitude and quiet of the temple where she grew up. She wanted to ponder all that had happened in peace, or as much peace as she could manage, crammed into a cave full of animals with her husband and a newborn child.
But company came: and not just any company, but the most alarming company imaginable.
Miriam looked up and saw the caravan: the horses, the camels, the complement of well-dressed slaves, the three strange dignitaries from Someplace Else. Three learned men who didn’t speak her language or look like her; persons of such high rank and wealth that they would normally be ashamed to let on that they noticed someone like her. Three wise men dressed as kings, all gold and bright silk and precious stones– luxury and color she couldn’t have imagined, not even in her years serving in the temple. Persons who practiced a religion completely taboo to her, one she would have been brought up to view with revulsion. Pagans who sought omens in the stars. Strangers, by any definition.She expected the whole spectacle to pass by, but it stopped at the mouth of the cave.
Presumably it was Saint Joseph who came forward and asked what they wanted. The Magi certainly knew the Greek that was spoken all over the empire, but I don’t know what languages Joseph spoke. He may not have believed what he heard the first or the second time anyway. Somehow, they got their meaning across.
Joseph went back to ask his exhausted wife if she wouldn’t mind showing the baby to the strangers.
Perhaps Miriam remembered how her ancestor, Abraham, had entertained angels by welcoming three strange men into his camp. Perhaps she only thought to be hospitable because she understood hospitality to be a virtue. Maybe she was just being polite. Whatever she was thinking, Miriam welcomed them in.
The holy archangel had greeted Miriam as if she were a queen, all those months ago. Perhaps she thought of that when the Magi entered the cave and greeted her destitute, homeless Son as if he were a king– and not only a king, but a Deity. They entered the cave, all reverent as one enters a temple. They prostrated themselves on the dirty straw before the ragged mother and Child, and they worshiped Him.
They brought out their gifts: gold to honor His kingship, myrrh for His mortality, incense for His divinity.
Miriam was filled with joy. The strangers from a far-off place recognized her Son. They did not see Him as the world did; they saw who He was. They saw the Answer to their long quest, the fulfillment of the sign in the Heavens. They saw the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords. They saw God Himself, and they contemplated Him with her– not as perfectly as she, for no one is, but they joined her. Her Son was only a few days old and He had already begun to gather all the nations to worship the Lord. Miriam worshiped with them.
Perhaps they stayed in that cave. More likely, one of the inkeepers who had refused to house the Ark of the Covenant suddenly had room for a richly dressed troop of foreigners. Either way, the angel came to them in a dream, and they disappeared by morning. It was as though they had never been there at all– except that they left their gifts.
And Miriam pondered these mysteries in her heart.
(image via Pixabay)
(Steel Magnificat will be meditating on the Seven Joys and Seven Sorrows throughout the Nativity Fast.)