Saturday, December 03, 2011

Stories for Christmas: Mary

It was many years ago, but I can remember my first pregnancy very well. I’m sure every mother remembers her first pregnancy as if it was just last year, but mine wasn’t exactly a normal one.

An angel appeared to me one day while I was going about my chores and he told me that I would become pregnant by the Spirit of God. He also told me that the child was going to be our prophesied Messiah. I was stunned, but it never occurred to me to question it until he was gone. When God sends an angel, you don’t argue. It wasn’t until I was sure that I was pregnant that I managed to work up the courage to tell Joseph. I have to give him credit. He was upset, very upset, but he didn’t yell at me or break off our engagement.

Yes, we weren’t married yet. Just engaged. Our marriage was an arranged one, but we had known each other all our lives having grown up in the same village. So we had affection, even love, for one another. I was so relieved when he didn’t break off our engagement. We were married, in spite of the fact that I was showing by then and all the gossips were talking behind their hands about me.  It wasn’t until after we were married that I found out that Joseph really had intended to quietly break off our engagement. He didn’t because the same angel that had appeared to me came to him in a dream. The angel told Joseph the same thing that he told me along with the fact that we were to name him Joshua, or Jesus as you know him.

It was a time that really tested my faith in many ways. I was totally reliant on God’s promises through the prophets and the angels, as well as Joseph’s faith in God and faithfulness to me.

There were so many things that, according to the prophets, had to happen and I had no idea how it would all work out. Like the fact that the Messiah was to come from Bethlehem. We lived in Nazareth in the north. Bethlehem is in the south near Jerusalem.

But God is in control and his will is done. I could never have guessed that a census required by Caesar would be the way that God would use to send us to Bethlehem in time for the birth of my son. My mother was upset, of course. She had never accepted that the child wasn’t Joseph’s and the humiliation of a daughter pregnant before the wedding was mostly overridden by the fact that it was her grandchild. My father and in-laws were not as forgiving and wouldn’t even allow us to travel with them to Bethlehem. My mother never forgave them for that because not only was she prevented from helping me travel, but they weren’t there to help when the child was born.

Joseph and I set out for Bethlehem one morning. We couldn’t afford a donkey to help carry our few belongings, so Joseph carried most of our things. I carried the few items that we would need for the baby when he arrived. My mother had managed to make and give me a blanket without my father knowing. At first we traveled quite quickly. I was young, strong, and fit. However, as we drew near to Bethlehem, we went a little more slowly. My back ached and my feet were swollen. We were just outside town when the labor pains started. Joseph really started to worry then. He wanted to stop, but I knew (and hoped) it would probably be a few hours before I gave birth, so I insisted we press on. We kept going with the hope that there would be a warm bed in an inn where we could rest and prepare. Also, there would be other women around to help.

However, when we got to Bethlehem, the place was overrun with people. We finally found a little space in a barn that was out in a field owned by one of the innkeepers. By the time we got there, the labor pains were coming in ernest. All I could do was sit and gasp while Joseph prepared a corner for us as best he could. He delivered the baby himself. We were both relieved that it wasn’t a complicated delivery. That was surely by the grace of God.

I was exhausted, so Joseph cleaned up little Joshua and wrapped him in the clothes and blanket that we had brought. The cleanest place to lay him was in the trough used to feed the oxen. I dozed on and off for quite a while, until some visitors arrived.

It was utterly amazing. These shepherds showed up with the most incredible story. Angels, a whole host of them, appeared to them out in the field beyond the barn. These angels had told them that Joshua had been born and that he was the prophesied Messiah. I will never forget that visit. It was a confirmation to me that what Joseph and I had experienced and endured was all according to God’s plan. God had taken care of us and would continue to do so because we were his children as well as the parents of his son, the Messiah.

Yes, it was a hard time for us, but after the census was over we continued to live in Bethlehem. Joseph joined one of his cousins in a carpentry shop and was able to make a good living. Gradually our relatives became more accepting of me and our situation and so it was easier and more economical to stay than to try and return to Nazareth. About a year or two later we had some more unusual visitors. Persians showed up looking for the King of the Jews. It was rather surprising to have them appear on our door step because we hadn’t really told any of our neighbors about who Joshua was and the family didn’t talk about it. It was rather a relief to escape the scorn we had experienced in Nazareth and we certainly didn’t want to invite the same thing in Bethlehem. Besides, with a man like Herod on the throne with the backing of the Roman emperor, you don’t want to claim that a poor carpenter’s boy who’s not even two years old is the King of the Jews.

I invited them in and we shared our small supper with them. They paid homage to my little boy and gave him such expensive gifts. Gold, myrrh, and frankincense from Egypt. When we went to bed that night I commented to Joseph that I didn’t know what we were going to do with these gifts. People would think we had stolen them. Although, they were probably already talking about the foreign courtiers who had visited us. I wasn’t sure how we were going to explain that. Joseph reminded me that God had taken care of us so far and would continue to do so. Besides, we could hide the gifts away for a rainy day.  No one would need to know.

Little did we know that night that we would be fleeing Bethlehem for Egypt the very next day. Apparently the Persians had come looking for Joshua by way of Jerusalem. The star they had been following led them there and they cannot be blamed for assuming that the King of the Jews would be born in a palace in the capital city. From the description they gave to King Herod, the scribes determined that they were looking for the Messiah. So, quoting the prophet Micah, they sent these travelers off to Bethlehem with Herod’s request that they return to tell him where this king could be found. God revealed to them what Herod’s true intention was to use their information to kill Joshua, and so they returned home without going through Jerusalem.

God sent an angel to Joseph at the same time. The angel told him that Herod wanted to kill my son, so he was to take us and flee to Egypt. Talk about a rainy day. We could not have made the trip to Egypt, let alone paid off our debts in Bethlehem or even set up Joseph’s business in Egypt without the gifts that the Persians had brought.

Later we heard the horrible news about what Herod did to the children of Bethlehem. It makes my heart ache for all those mothers just thinking about it. He had every boy under the age of two slaughtered. I thank God for his mercy and am reminded of his grace toward us every time I think of it.

Later, after we heard that Herod had died, we returned home to Nazareth. We had a couple more children when we moved back there and quite a few more after that. Joseph rejoined his family carpentry business and, of course, passed his skills on to our sons. When my daughters married, I realized how difficult it must have been for my mother to deal with my pregnancy and the subsequent events that took us far from home and far from her. A mother holds her children close to her heart regardless of what they do or where they go. Little did I know at the time, the anguish that was in store for me. I could guess at it, but I never imagined…but that is another story for another day.

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