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.