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We know the central figures, Mary, the Child, Joseph.

And on the first night, we expect shepherds, an ox and donkey,

with angels chorusing Glory to God in the highest.

Rest and Peace, like that of a mother after childbirth.

Outside the stable, the town is full of movement,

overflow traffic from Jerusalem

at the height of a Roman census:

innkeepers with inflated rates,

cries of the bazaar,

blacksmiths shoeing horses and mules,

patrolling soldiers keeping order,

taverns teeming with strangers,

hawkers and beggars calling out,

some sleeping rough, despite the cold.

And who’s in your stable Malachi?

Some couple from Galilee: a carpenter, fixed up the manger,

she was heavily pregnant, and the baby was born last night.

My wife brought out some warm water and cloths;

a fine child, firstborn, slept well after feeding, she said.

I had to ask the shepherds to move over, which they did,

had an amazed look on their faces, as if they were drunk.

That’s what most people saw on Christmas night:

the busy town, pilgrims coping as best they can,

children excited, families getting together,

traders and innkeepers counting the takings,

as the child Jesus slipped quietly into our world.

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