The Christmas Rag Girl
Marni wiped her nose on the rags. The damp night air licked her curls and a hard chill ran down her body as she walked. She absently wound the weaver’s remnant into her growing ball of cloth while peering through windows at families gathered around tables and cheery hearths.
The Sabbath was beginning.
She must find a place to sleep for the night, hopefully where she would be safe and dry. It was Jehovah’s day. No one was allowed to travel, not even a small orphan with nowhere to go.
Marni noticed an eerie glow in the gathering fog around a nearby inn.
The warm scent of roasting meat and baking bread made her stomach growl. She ducked into the inn’s darkened doorway. Once, the innkeeper’s wife had been kind to her. She had allowed her to clean tables for a bit of bread and lentil soup.
Marni pushed through the heavy wooden door. Sounds of laughter and soft lantern glow greeted her.
Wooden platters filled with lamb and crusty bread made Marni’s mouth water. She had not eaten since yesterday morning.
“You look hungry, child,” a kind, young serving woman said. Marni liked her eyes.
“Rags?” Her tiny voice cracked as she lifted up the rag ball. “For food?”
The old innkeeper hustled toward Marni, waving his hands. “Can’t you see we’re busy? Be gone.” Marni backed out the door. It shut with a loud thud.
Marni sat on the doorstep. The fog pressed around her, shutting out the shadowy silhouettes of houses. She had no more tears. Nights of weeping since her mother died made her insides feel as cold as the damp air.
For warmth, she pressed her hands around the rag ball. The crippled weaver down by the cobbler’s shop let her pick up the cloth scraps from his loom. She sold them for cleaning cloths or as grave clothes to bury the dead.
“Don’t be a beggar or a thief, little one,” the weaver said, “like other urchins on the street. The Maker will bless honest work.” She had been faithful to his words, but there was little need for her rags.
Cold and hungry, her stomach gnawed with fear. How would she live? Marni huddled in the doorway and pulled her cloak around her like a blanket. She thought of the old weaver and breathed a sigh of thanks for his gift of this warm cloak. She tucked the rag ball under her head as a pillow and curled up to sleep on the damp stones. Marni prayed as her mother had taught her.
“I know you, Lord God, are a faithful God,” she whispered into the night. “You show mercy to those who love you and keep your commandments. You give beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. I will praise you as long as I live.”
She laid still until sleep crept over her. That’s when she heard it.
Beautiful music filled the air and wove a warm cocoon around her. Then, the lusty cry of a baby pierced the darkness, followed by a chorus of joyful voices blending in delicate melodies and harmonies.
Marni leapt to her feet and looked skyward. The fog had cleared. Radiant stars smeared the black sky. One star outshone all the rest, glowing above a stable next to the inn.
Marni ran toward the stable door. Through a crack she saw the squalling baby, nestled on his mother’s lap, wrapped in a rough brown cloak.
Why is heaven singing? Marni wondered. Surely this is a king, a king who needs soft robes to protect his tender skin.
She felt in her pocket for the rag ball, and tears stung her eyes. These wouldn’t do. They were dirty. She had wiped her runny nose on them. These rags clothed the dead, not the living. She pushed the ball deep in her cloak. Rags like these should never touch a king.
Marni ached to draw closer, but she didn’t dare. She watched as the young mother rocked the infant to sleep. Finally, Marni turned from the stable door. The night was quiet now. The heavens were silent. Who was she to disturb a king?
As she walked away, Marni heard a soft sob inside the stable. She stopped to listen.
“Mary, why are you weeping?” The man’s voice was gentle.
“I thought this child was destined for glory. Did we dream the angel’s words, Joseph?”
The mother’s soft crying dropped like rain on Marni’s heart. Of course this baby was glorious. Couldn’t they hear the singing? Didn’t they see the light from heaven and the star celebrating his birth? She had nothing for a king, but rags could wipe a mother’s tears, couldn’t they?
Marni turned back and crept through the partially opened stable door. She padded across the hay-strewn floor. The kind man comforted his wife while the baby lay sleeping in her lap. They didn’t notice her until she knelt before them.
“For your tears.” Her tiny hands trembled as she held out her rags.
The young woman tried to smile as she accepted the gift and dabbed her eyes. She reached out a hand to touch Marni’s matted curls.
“May I use your soft cloths to keep my child warm?”
Marni swallowed hard. Her words tumbled out. “They aren’t clean. I gather them from the weaver’s floor and carry them through dusty streets and use them for a pillow in dirty doorways. These rags aren’t good enough for a king.”
The young woman’s eyes widened as she held the rag ball in her hand. “A king? Child, sit beside me. Why do you call him a king?”
Marni nestled into the straw next to the woman. “The singing. The star. Didn’t you hear it? Didn’t you see the light from heaven?”
The woman looked at her husband. He dropped his head, his voice a whisper. “Glory to God.”
The woman smiled at Marni. “We would be honored to wrap our young king in your rags, if you can spare them.”
Marni nodded, unable to speak.
She unrolled them one by one, and Mary wrapped them around the baby. “Thank you. See how warm he is now?” She placed the contented child in Marni’s arms, and the singing began again.
“Please,” Marni said, “can you tell me who is singing?”
The young woman shook her head. “I do not hear singing.” She reached out and stroked the girl’s hair. “If you have no place to go, stay here with us.” She shared some bread with the girl.
Marni was warm, her stomach full. She nestled into the hay and fell asleep. A while later she woke to the sound of men’s voices. She opened her eyes and saw shepherds kneeling before a feed trough where the baby lay.
“Angels appeared to us in the field and said that a Savior, Christ the Lord, was born today. They said we would find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
Marni sat up and rubbed her eyes. Angels! Of course. It had been angels singing. The angels told the shepherds the baby was wrapped in swaddling clothes. That could only mean that God knew about her, a little orphan girl, and her ball of rags. He had led her to this stable where her rags had become clothes for a king.
Marni watched the shepherds praising God for the Christ child. She laughed out loud as they danced and sang before the sleeping baby.
She lay back down in the hay and smiled as she closed her eyes. If God could clothe an infant king with her rags, then Marni knew He would always take care of her. Peaceful sleep overtook her.
As morning’s first light streamed through the stable doors, Marni opened her eyes and saw a young woman slip inside. The woman knelt beside Marni on the straw, her kind eyes smiling down at her. It was the serving woman from the inn!
“There you are, little one,” she said. “I’ve been looking for you.”
Marni sat up. The infant king and his mother and father were sharing a quiet moment across the stable.
“Would you like to come live with my husband Jacob and me?”
Marni raised her sleepy eyes to look at the young woman kneeling in front of her.
“You want me?” Warm, salty tears began to run down Marni’s face.
In response, the woman held out her arms and Marni fell into her embrace. God did love her.
I will always remember this night, Marni thought, this holy night, when God gave me new life for my dirty rags.
Merry Christmas, dear friends. As my gift to you, I offer this simple tale. May you and your family be blessed on this holy day and during the New Year. You are greatly loved and appreciated. DJ