Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas: Mary's Perspective (part 5)

A few weeks later, I was in my usual place of prayer. It was an open space with a large tree whose branches stretched out offering shade. I loved that tree because it was a reminder that even in that dry place, God provided life. When I was there I always felt God's presence. But on this particular morning, He seemed even closer. As I rounded the tree to sit in my usual place I was surprised to see a man sitting there. He rose quickly and his words startled me, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."

I'd never heard such a greeting and I'll admit it upset me. I wanted to run from this strange man. I was all alone and I feared what he might do to me. As if reading my thoughts he spoke again.

"Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God." He knew my name. I was so confused, yet, held there by curiosity as he continued, "You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."

For the first time I spoke, my voice clammy and unsure," How will this be since I am a virgin?"

The words had barely left my tongue when he gave answer. It was as if he knew my question before I asked. "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God."

Finally it occurred to me: this was no man! It was an angel of the Lord most high! The Lord had been silent for over 400 years and now He chose to speak to a lowly girl like me? I was in complete awe and said the only thing I could, "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said."

And he was gone.

I fell to my knees and cried out to God.

Oh God, I don't understand! I feel as though I've just received the biggest blessing, yet the biggest curse known to mankind. You gave me my desire of a husband, but then you turn around and supernaturally make me pregnant. Joseph will never have me now. If I escape stoning, I will face a lifetime of shame. Will I be forced to raise this child, your very son, on my own? Will I never experience the tender caress of a loving husband? But... Lord, how can I forget? You provided a husband for Rahab who was the harlot people will suppose me to be. And what did you require of her? Only that she trust you. My God, I will trust you with my life. What may come but that you allow it? My only request: make me trust you more each day!

I lingered there for some time in quiet peace. Then slowly stood to make my way home, stopping at the town well to dray up a drink. As I pulled the bucket up I was interrupted by a hand on my shoulder. I jumped and let go of the rope, hearing the bucket splash a moment later.

"Mary!" It was Asher. "I have a letter here from your cousin Elizabeth."

I was overjoyed! Nodding my thanks I wished him a good day and raced home to read it.

Dearest Mary,
I greatly understand your dilemma. I remember well being your age with all the joy of growing up and discovering love. I would very much like to tell you the story of Zechariah and I, but, I want to do it in person. I would like you to come visit me. There is something wonderful I want you to witness.
The Lord is the giver of many blessings, Mary. Even in my old age he smiled kindly upon me and has opened my womb. I am even now in my sixth month. I want you to come and be here for the birth of my son, John. I have set the arrangements. You need only ask your parents. Then while you are hear we can sit down and discuss everything.
Enclosed are the travel arrangements if you chose to come.
With much love,

The angel was right. She was pregnant. But, of course he was right. He came from God did he not?

At dinner that night my parents read the letter and said they would talk it over. It was another long night. I was anxious to go. I wanted to spend time with Elizabeth, rejoice with her in her new circumstances, but also get away from all these people that I knew so well. They would notice a change in me even before the child began to show. And I knew Elizabeth, who had also experienced something miraculous would possibly believe my story.

In the morning, my parents gave their answer and I began packing immediately. Within a few days, merchants came through town. They were who I was to travel with. The trip was long, but throughout it all, I remembered that God was with me. I was at peace in His arms.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Christmas: Mary's Perspective (part 4)

My father returned home earlier than normal, and to my surprise, Joseph was the guest my mother had mentioned. I was very embarrassed because I had been so busy all day that I didn't have any idea what I looked like. I looked at my mother, pleading with my eyes. She understood and handed me a bucket.

"Mary, we need water. Would you mind?"

Smiling my thanks I headed for the well. My reflection in the water was clear and I went to work combing my hair with my fingers. I drew some water with which I washed my face, then lowed the bucket once more.

Dinner stretched for an eternity. Finally my mother sent Heidi outside with all the children. It was only my parents, Joseph, and me left in the house. After a moment's awkward silence my father cleared his throat.

"Mary, Joseph has requested the chance to speak with you."

My heart skilled a beat and I felt myself blush. As Joseph began to speak I recall that I'd never seen him so nervous.

"As you know, I've just completed my apprenticeship and Hezekiah has accepted me as a partner. Mary, you are a beautiful woman of God and I want to marry you."

I said nothing. What could I say? The moment you realize that the thing you've thought and dreamed about has actually happened, all words escape you. Sure, it wasn't quite the romantic marriage proposal I'd imagined, but I didn't care. I finally managed to smile and say something.

"Joseph... wow!" Taking a deep breath I tried to continue, "I would be honored to marry you."

I wasn't sure if that sounded right. Like, is that what you are supposed to say? I was afraid it sounded dumb. But then, did it really matter? I mean, if he wanted to marry me he probably loved me and if he loved me he probably wouldn't think I was too dumb.

I don't remember what happened next. It's all a blur of happiness now. I remember him kissing my hand before he left. But I don't know how much time lapsed before he left. 5 minutes? An hour? I really don't know. But I was floating in the clouds that night. I know I didn't really sleep. Overwhelming happiness is one of those things that you cannot describe, but when you experience it, you know. It's beautiful.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Christmas: Mary's Perspective (part 3)

Days went by. Life went on. All was normal, except my father’s recent daily visits to Hezekiah’s carpentry shop. I tried not to question his motives. Though that evening when Joseph was at our house for dinner was odd, and Joseph had just finished his apprenticeship for Hezekiah and now worked for him, there was no real reason to think my father spending time there was out of the ordinary.

For some time he had talked of replacing our table with a larger one. My family fit around it, but without any elbow room. And my parents loved entertaining guests, which meant many of my younger siblings were sent outside to eat. Even I was sometimes banished to the outdoors to help with the crowding. Yes, a new table would be nice.

Hezekiah was also one of my father’s childhood friends. This made his frequent visits seam very natural. They loved to reminisce over there boyish antics and laugh at themselves for being so ridiculous when they were young. This close friendship, added to the new table was good enough reasons to keep curiosity at bay. So I did my best to mind my own business.

My parents began to speak often in hushed tones when they thought everyone else was asleep. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, nor did I try to, but I kept getting the feeling they were talking about me. One night, as I rolled over trying to get to sleep I’m sure I heard my name. I told myself it was my imagination, but I didn’t truly believe it. One night I even asked God if all parents were this strange. It wasn’t exactly a respectful thing to ask, so in the morning I determined to apologize. But how could I without telling them of my curiosity?


“Yes? What is it, Mary?”

“Last night I asked God a question about you and I think it was disrespectful… so… I want you to know I’m sorry.”

Somehow, that just didn’t seem natural. I spent most the night trying to figure out how to begin such a conversation. If only I was better with words. I felt like I was Moses trying to figure out how to tell Pharaoh that his slaves were all about to leave. If only I had a brother named Aaron. But I didn’t, so I had to just do the best I could.

“Mother, may I ask you a question?”

“Of course! I may not have a wonderful answer, but you may always ask.”

“What’s going on? I’m very confused right now. I see father entering and leaving Hezekiah’s shop nearly every day. I hear you and him talking late at night, though I don’t know what you talk about. Mother, one night I’m sure I heard you say my name. And I feel as though perhaps you and father are turning as strange as Heidi with all that is happening. I don’t mean it disrespectfully. I just don’t understand.”

“Oh, I see. This is something you father will tell you about. He’s planning on telling you tonight. You’ll have to wait until then. Oh, and we are having a guest tonight so we’ll need to make extra food for dinner.”

If I was confused before, I was even more now. It was so mysterious. I didn’t know what to think of it all. But I knew that I would simply have to wait until evening.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Christmas: Mary's Perspective (part 2)

I walked slowly, weighing a small coin purse in my hand as I went. Knowing money was a luxury not to be thrown away carelessly, I worried that the letter was perhaps not important enough. There was also the fear that the money would never reach its destination and the money would be wasted. Traveling Roman soldiers could, with a decent pile of coins and strong persuasion skills, often be convinced to be a form of mail system. But many times they were not diligent in looking for the person the letter was intended for and it would never reach them.

“Mary! How are you this fine day?”

Asher, whose name fit his personality wonderfully, was not only a happy man, but also one known for his ability to get mail from one place to another. He knew which Roman soldiers were reliable and, equally important, cheap.

“I’m doing well! And you look as cheery as ever.”

“That I am! The Lord has been good to me. Now tell me, what brings you here?”

“I have a letter for my cousin Elizabeth.”

“The Lord watches over you today. I have a bundle of letters going that way this very evening. It will cost you very little.”

I was overjoyed. I nearly skipped home, blessing the Lord for His kindness the whole way. When I reached home I must have been beaming, for my youngest sister gave me the most peculiar look. I picked her up and twirled her in the air at which we both began to giggle. At the sound of our voices Heidi came out of the house and gave me a triumphant smile while pointing at the house. Then without explanation she ran.

I must say, this confused me. Heidi was a peculiar child. She had such strange ways and I rarely could interpret her actions. After a moment’s pause, I walked with trepidation toward the house. Stepping inside I saw my mother stooped over, kneading dough. My father was in the corner speaking with someone in hushed tones. The bright sun outside made it difficult to make out the face in the dim interior. As my eyes adjusted I recognized Joseph. I now understood Heidi’s behavior. I wanted to run back outside, to escape the awkwardness of standing there looking at him, but I felt that would be more awkward still.

“Marry, set the table, dear!”

My mother’s shrill voice was a relief. I horridly set the table and then moved to help her with the other dinner preparations. I feared Joseph would stay for the meal and make it very uncomfortable. He did.

After he left my father smiled at my mother and she smiled back as if reading his thoughts; thoughts I was unable to decipher. I pushed it out of my mind and pretended not to notice.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Christmas: Mary's Perspective (part 1)

I've been asked many times to write about the birth of my son. I've spent years treasuring all that took place and pondering it in my heart. And now, I am ready. This tale will leave many shaking their heads in disbelief. All that happened, all the pieces, not all of them are as important as all the others. Some details are far more significant than others. The most important parts can be found in the account by Matthew, the former tax collector, and that of Luke, the physician. Here, I will start before either of them did. For me, I feel the conversation started with a conversation with my sister...

"Joseph is looking at you!"
"Be quiet Rachel! It's not fair to tease me. Besides, some day you will understand and you won’t wish to be teased. And what if someone heard?"
"Someone? Who, Joseph or Mama? You've been in love with him for two years, it's about time mama knew."
"You wouldn't dare!"
"You should at least tell Elizabeth. Perhaps she'll have helpful advice."
"You're right, and I can open up to her much more easily than mama. Thanks Rachel!"
"What are little sisters for?"

As Rachel scampered away I found myself crying out to God. At this time in my life I was often confused and spent much of my time asking God questions. After all, if anyone is to know the answer, it's Him.

God, is she right? Should I tell mama? I feel it is unnecessary. Yes, I find Joseph very attractive. He seeks You with his all. He is an upright man and he's also industrious. He's nearly completed his apprenticeship and is an accomplished carpenter. But of course, you know this God. I know this is silly, but God, he makes me laugh. He's so funny, yet he knows how to be serious. I love when he laughs. His eyes light up and sparkle like the stars in the heavens. But God, when he looks directly at me, my heart melts in my chest. I become giddy and usually tongue tide. I find myself unable to do anything but smile and avert my eyes. Am I wicked to have such feelings? I long to know I do the same to him. But I feel that I am the only girl ever to have such horrid thoughts. I've asked you many times to take away these feelings if they are wrong. Yet they remain! I ask again God, purge me of wrong thinking. Direct my heart to the man you intend for me, but first direct it to yourself. I will do as Rachel suggested and write to my cousin Elizabeth. Please speak to me through her.

As I prayed, I walked home. I took out some parchment and composed a letter which I do not have, but it said something like this.

Cousin Elizabeth,

You once told me that if I ever needed help or advice, that I shouldn't hesitate to seek you out. You've told me that not having a daughter of your own, you cherish the moments when I bring life’s problems to you, asking for your help as an older, wiser woman.

Today I venture to seek your council. There is a young man who I find quite attractive. Perhaps you remember him? Joseph, son of Jacob, a descendant of King David, like myself. He is a good, Godly, hard working man who probably deserves much better a wife than me, but I can't help but hope that some day he'll notice me. I feel that thinking this way is wrong though. Please, would you tell me of when you and Zechariah were young? What was it like for you? Am I wrong to ask God to cause Joseph to notice me?

With love,
Your very confused cousin,