After allowing time for his few words to sink in, the stranger continued. “My name is Gabe. I saw the birth and thought company might be welcome at a time like this. By the way, congratulations.” Gabe knew the fear he was facing. He had been judged too often by the color of his skin and not by his intentions. So he remained where he was and waited for a response.
Jose was upset by this unexpected visit. He had forgotten how public Hope’s birth had been and still he was incensed that someone would invade his privacy. He stood up and in a low, menacing, but fear-filled voice Jose asked, “Who are you? What do you want from us? We have no money. There is nothing that we have that you would want. Go away and leave us alone.”
Even before Jose had finished speaking Maura had reached out to gently pull him back down. Jose heard her soft voice saying, “It’s okay, Jose. I’m sure he means us no harm. Let him speak.”
The stranger’s face turned briefly to Maura with a smile that said thank you. Then he addressed them both. “As I said, my name is Gabe. I was not spying on you, yet I could not help but see your desperate situation. Hope is a most appropriate name for this child. She comes to you in the midst of darkness and distress. She comes bringing new life, new possibilities; indeed she comes bringing new hope into a world very much in need of hope. I desire only to encourage and support you in this your time of need.”
Having said this, Gabe reached inside his coat. Once again Jose sprang to his feet and reached for his knife, expecting the worse. Instead he was surprised to see the stranger’s hand emerge with several large briquettes of coal, which he threw into the burn barrel. Jose sat in bewilderment. Maura smiled, bemused, and said, “Thank you, Gabe.”
Gratefully accepting her words of thanks Gabe said, “On such a cold night I thought these might help to warm you a little bit and would last longer than the wood you have been having to scrounge for. You have a rough road in front of you, but God is with you. Continue to place your trust in God and you will be cared for. It is time for me to go, but I will send help. Remember, you are not alone. And, fear not.” With these final words, Gabe turned and disappeared into the darkness of the night.
No sooner had he left than Hope began to cry. In the suspense of the nocturnal visit both Jose and Maura had forgotten Hope. It was clear that she was hungry. Despite the cold, Maura opened her coat and blouse, undid the front of her bra, and brought Hope up to her breast to nurse. Jose placed his arm around Maura, as she nursed, and together they slid closer to the fire for warmth.
As Hope nursed, Maura and Jose sat in silence, their thoughts captured by Gabe’s visit and what it meant. Who was he? What did he mean by “rough road”, “God is with you” and “I will send help”? But strangely enough, both knew that their fear was gone.
Editor’s note: Check back here tomorrow for the next installment in Rev. Bill Sterritt’s modern adaptation of the nativity story. RI Future is serializing Sterritt’s 26-page short story throughout the holiday season. Here’s my post on the Amicable Congregational Church’s nativity story and scene.