We’ve all missed opportunities—a word not spoken, something we knew we should do, and didn’t. But me? I’m the poster child for missed opportunities. If you looked in the dictionary under “missed opportunities,” you would see my picture. I could give excuses, but who isn’t busy, overworked, and tired? And the sad thing is, when we miss an opportunity to bless someone else, we miss the blessing that comes back to us.
I live in Bethlehem. Ever heard of it? Probably not. It’s just a little village tucked in the hills of Judea. My husband, Nathaniel, and I run a small inn in Bethlehem. We keep busy running the business and making sure the bills get paid. But it’s a quiet and peaceful place—at least it used to be.
Then Ceasar Agustus had this bright idea and decreed that a census would be taken. Everyone had to go to their hometown, or the town of their ancestors, to register. Bethlehem was the birthplace of King David and so all of his descendants had to come to Bethlehem to register. Well, King David’s children and grandchildren took literally God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply.” This wasn’t a quiet little family reunion. Hundreds of people came pouring into our town. I like to make a little extra money just as much as the next person, so at first, I was pleased. But after cleaning and cooking and seeing to the needs of what seemed like a thousand visitors, I was just ready to sit with a cup of tea, my copy of “The Jerusalem Woman” and have Nathaniel rub my feet.
It was late, and we’d already had the evening meal. Even the animals had been fed. All I wanted was a quiet evening to myself. And here they came—a young couple, still dusty and dirty from the road. They wanted a room. All of our rooms were full, we’d had the “No Vacancy” sign out for days. The woman was young, just a slip of a girl, really, and she looked so tired. Then I saw she was pregnant—it looked as if she was due any minute.
My heart should have gone out to them, but it didn’t. I thought, “Don’t they have any better sense than to travel with her so close to delivery? And why didn’t they plan ahead and get here early? They deserve to be without a room. Maybe next time they’ll think.”
But Nathaniel offered to let them camp out in the barn. I offered nothing. What could I do? Well, what I could have done is slept on the floor and offered them my bed. But I didn’t. Missed Opportunity Number One.
Hours later, the dishes were all done and Nathaniel was snoring in the recliner. I couldn’t get the young couple out of my mind. It must have been my conscience working. I finally decided that the least I could do is take them some of the leftovers from supper and maybe some of the boys’ old swaddling clothes. They probably hadn’t even seen to those details. So, I gathered up the stuff and left the house quietly.
The night air felt crisp, but not cold against my face. The sky looked like laughing children had gathered armfuls of stars, tossed them heavenward, and then watched in awe as they hung, sparkling and suspended, just out of reach. I could hear singing, somewhere far away. I stopped to listen, but it faded away before I could determine where the beautiful music came from.
When I reached the barn, I heard the usual animal noises, bleating sheep, rustling straw. And then I heard voices—men’s voices, soft, as though they were keeping secrets—or praying. I heard a baby’s cry, then a woman’s tender tones. I ducked through the doorway and saw them—shepherds. There must have been 5 or 6 dirty, coarse, smelly men. I couldn’t believe it. She’d delivered that baby and now she was letting shepherds come close and even touch him.
I didn’t think she saw me, so I stepped backwards through the door. “What could she be thinking? Perhaps a call to Social Services would not be a bad idea. They are surely not fit to be parents.” I marched home. Missed Opportunity Number Two.
The next day at the well, I first heard the rumor. Not that my friends are gossips, mind you, but we do a bit of sharing while getting water. It makes the time go faster as we wait. The women said some shepherds had been in town and told a story about angels coming to them in the fields and announcing the birth of a baby. Not just any baby, but a baby that would someday be the Savior, the Messiah. The shepherds left their fields immediately and came to Bethlehem to see this baby born in a barn.
I listened to the talk, nodding, but inside my head was swirling. The baby--in our barn—could there be any truth to the story? I was sure it was impossible, but the more I sorted out the details, they all fit together, like tiny little pieces in a puzzle. I remembered the prophecies, how they foretold the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. I recalled the young, tired mother, her face glowing as she held her Child. I thought about the music I heard out in the hills and the peace in the barn as the shepherds knelt to see the newborn baby.
I should have spoken up and told the other women about the baby in our barn. But I didn’t want anyone to laugh at me, or think I believed something they didn’t. So, I kept quiet. Missed Opportunity Number Three.
I came home from the well and thought and thought and thought. All day as I cleaned and cooked and listened to Nathaniel talk about the news in Jerusalem, I considered the events of that night.
Now I know what I am going to do. I am not going to miss another opportunity. I have a whole bundle of new baby things. I'm going to find that young couple if I have to knock on every door in Bethlehem. And when I find them—I’ll meet this baby. The Messiah. My Savior.
Susan Lawrence taught elementary school for 33 years before hanging up her chalkboard to write and speak. She writes novels for both adults and middle grade children. Susan lives in Iowa with her husband and short-legged Lab, Molly. She has 3 children and 7 grandchildren who love to hear her stories.