Note to readers: During the 12 years I have been writing this column, I have included five fiction stories based on Biblical characters. Today, I present my sixth.)
The crowing of the barn rooster stirs the young parents and their newborn son trying to sleep amidst steaming piles of hay. The boy awakens, pawing at the air and fussing for a feeding.
Mary opens her simlah, offering her son the fullness of her morning milk. Mother and son hold the moment as theirs while Joseph finds renewed sleep.
Soon, the sun streaks through the barn's crevices, flooding it with light and Mary with questions she can no longer contain.
"What is it, Mary?" he asks.
"Tell me again what the angels said."
Joseph rolls over and props himself on his elbow.
"The angels said, 'Don't be afraid.' "
"But, Joseph! How can we not be afraid? We're so young. We have nothing."
Joseph rubs his eyes, hoping to find the clarity befitting Jesus' stepfather.
"I'm not sure," he says. "But maybe 'nothing' is what we're supposed to start with. After all, God made an entire world from nothing.
When Mary offers only a respectful nod, Joseph drops his head.
"You're right to be worried. I'm worried too," he says. "How will I provide for you both?"
Mary reaches for Joseph's face, cradling it with a warm hand. "I love you," she says.
It is Mary's answer to most of Joe's worries.
Joseph's fingers trace Jesus' hand as a means to answer his own question.
"This hand will carry a hammer." Joseph says. He then stretches his hands apart as if to bracket the sign he envisions. "We will be, 'Joseph and Son, Galilean Carpenter Shop.' "
"According to your angelic friends," Mary counters, "these hands will also carry 'great joy!' "
Mary moves Jesus to her other side and invites Joseph to entwine himself with them.
"Will he change the world?"
"I'm not sure the world is ready for him," Joseph says.
"They won't be, but this is God's timing. Not ours."
Mary counts Jesus' toes aloud, contemplating how to categorize him - man or God - when she dares a deeper question.
"What if God should want to take him back?" she asks.
The loss of his firstborn seems unimaginable, even if it were somehow God's will. Joseph does his best to deflect his fear through a question of his own.
"There's only one thing that really bothers me, Mary. Who are we? How did we get so lucky?"
Mary stares at the thatched roof in contemplative silence. She is absorbing that word 'lucky' when Joseph revises his question.
"Or should I ask, 'How did we become burdened?' "
"Joe! Watch what you say!"
"But honestly, who are we to be trusted with such a great task?" he asks.
"We are nobody." She pauses a few moments before adding, "Or, maybe we've been chosen because we are everybody."
"That makes no sense," he claims.
"Yes, it does. Everyone will have to decide what to do with Jesus, just as we did."
He remained unimpressed.
"I'm not sure I can fully answer your question except to say, mankind is a part of God's plan. I'd even say we are his plan."
At that, Joseph shakes his head. "Goodness. Do you suppose God has a Plan B?"
Mary puts the sleeping Jesus aside and rightly answers Joseph by playfully stuffing his shirt with a handful of straw.
"I love you," she says, "but I have one more question."
"What?" he asks.
"Can we please get some more sleep while we still can?"
Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist, national speaker and author of "No Small Miracles." He is an Air National Guard chaplain. You may leave recorded comments at 843-608-9715, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org, or send comments to P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759. Visit thechaplain.net.