Joseph and Mary tried their best to prepare for their Bethlehem trip and be counted along with all the other Jews in the area. (Why should they be left out of retirement benefits!) Joseph smoked as many Old Gold cigarettes as he could to accumulate points for the Bethlehem Hilton; only 5,000 points or 20 coupons and he was all set for two nights with no minibar. Mary noticed Joseph coughing more and more but the counting date was soon coming. Mary did her part with the coupon thing as best as she could but since scissors was not invented yet it was difficult to separate them out from the other advertisements. Green Stamps was helpful but she didn’t need a detergent discount, she needed a place to have her baby.
“Of all the years to hold a census,” Joseph says in frustration even though no words of his are ever recorded in the Bible. “I could have been a contender if I only had enough time,” Joseph tells Mary. Apparently he talked more than we think.
We know the end of the story ends up in a dank, cold manger – a long open box meant to hold food for horses and cows. Jesus, our Savior is born on a plate waiting to be eaten as we do each time we gather for Mass. What a way to begin a life meant for greatness.
But wait! We know that it’s rough for this newborn babe. What is a mother from Manitowoc, Wisconsin to do to cushion this meat-trough? That’s easy. She says, “Let’s use straw to make this manger/bed a little softer.”
“For each good deed that you kids do, you get to place a blade of straw into the cattle feeder we call a manger.” (Not her words but you get the gist.) And straw-up that little manger the five of us did.
Did we think our good-deeding strawing would bring us closer to salvation (after all, it’s all about saving yourself in this selfish world, isn’t it?) No. We never considered or entertained that silly thought. We truly wanted to make the manger as comfortable for this babe as our beds were every night. “But there has to be a ‘why’ we’d say today. Why should I be doing this?”
There was no ‘why’ on our tiny minds, only our good deeds as done for a sibling or a stranger that added just one more blade to warm up this new life born in the desert’s cold darkness. One more blade of straw meant a more comfortable sleep for whom our parents told us was the One, the Chosen, the Blessed who would teach and show us how to do wonderful and amazing things throughout our lives.
And how do we perform “wonderful and amazing things” in this complicated life that is really not complicated at all? That’s easy. My Manitowoc mom already told us. It’s one blade of straw at a time, placing ourselves second to a need that lies before us. It is one blade of straw that makes the phrase, “Comfort, give comfort to my people” a little more than a dream.