In this slim volume, June G. Paul elaborates on the story of Jesus' birth, detailing how Mary and Joseph react to angel appearances, how they tell an innkeeper of the news, and how the shepherds in nearby fields react to an angelic voice. The back cover copy states her intention to share "the stability of faith residing in the characters of Mary, Joseph, and the Innkeeper."
Readers cannot doubt Paul's sincerity as she adds imagination and flair to the basic biblical account, relating touching details such as: "Once the contraction loosened its grip on her, Mary loosened her grip on Joseph's hand." Her settings and conversations weave historical explanations into the story, such as why many shepherds-as opposed to only a few-were watching their flocks the night Jesus was born. "It was rare for shepherds to be able to catch the thieves single handedly, so the owners learned that having multiple shepherds for their flocks was in their best interest."
Paul’s (Praying Our Way Through Stress, 2013) latest is a brief work of religious historical fiction, similar to those of such best-selling Christian authors as Francine Rivers and Janette Oke. This work centers on the birth of Jesus and uses the tools of fiction to expand and elaborate upon the standard story in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew. The familiar elements are all here: The young woman Mary of Nazareth, betrothed to Joseph the carpenter, tells him that she’s been visited by an angel of God and is going to have a child who will be the savior of the world. Joseph is at first incredulous and outraged. “An angel?” he asks her angrily, adding, “Mary, you are just a girl”—one of Paul’s many lines that ring absolutely true. Joseph assumes that Mary has been with another man, voluntarily or not. Mary, and a visit from an angel in a dream, eventually convinces him of the truth, but when the two marry and journey to Bethlehem, they’re faced with the challenge of convincing someone else: namely, the keeper of a crowded inn. The gruff innkeeper and his tough, no-nonsense wife are the most enjoyable creations in Paul’s short tale—two everyday people who must decide how to cope with an unbelievable story. Joseph’s transparent sincerity wins over the innkeeper, who must then convince his wife that young Mary isn’t simply an adulteress. This argument between man and wife is the novella’s highlight, rich with simple, convincing human details. For example, the innkeeper asks his wife at one point, “Are you going to stand there staring out the window with your mind closed or are you coming back to the table to listen more?” She replies, “You need me back at the table in order to talk? I’ll come back to the table then!” The result is a charming work of fiction that will please even the crustiest agnostic.
A retelling of the New Testament narrative of Jesus’ birth brought winningly to life by well-chosen details.
Paul’s insights into the parents of Jesus recreate them as real people overcoming the trials of human existence.
Writing historical fiction is challenging, especially when it involves religious history, but June G. Paul, in her meditative essay on the nativity of Jesus, A Stable Birth, has done so admirably.
The synoptic gospels describe the barest of outlines for the birth of Jesus, and Paul takes her cues from the gospel narratives. Her first concern centers on natural delivery: the pain, the aches, and the dangers of childbirth. Her observations are acute and engaging. Next, she concentrates on developing the character of the innkeeper who owns the stable where Jesus is born. She imagines the innkeeper and his wife as good and concerned people and portrays them as solicitous for the well-being of Mary and Joseph. Their good-heartedness extends to inviting the young couple into their home for meals. The descriptions of their kindness are endearing.
Paul develops a plot by speculating that mysterious people are searching for Mary, who is believed to be adulterous. This rumor puts Mary in grave danger, as the cultural norms of Jewish society at the time dictated that adulterous women be stoned to death for their transgressions. The innkeeper’s curiosity about Mary leads to an intimate conversation with Joseph, who confides his anxiety for his wife. Paul reminds us that both Mary and Joseph’s families probably disowned and isolated them based on the rumors alone. Joseph is rightly portrayed as alienated and fearful of the unknown assailants plotting to harm Mary.
Christian readers may find Paul’s fictional backstory inspirational for the awareness it raises about the humanity not only of Mary and Joseph but of Jesus himself.