It is said that authors are considered good at their craft when they’ve managed to draw you in to their story, to connect you to the humanness of their characters; their inner struggles within their outward context, to their victory, and their victory in the overarching theme. They use many methods, many ‘literary devices’, all mixed together like a fine recipe concocted by these artisans to produce an aroma that patiently draws in the reader, teaching and activating their imagination and inquiring mind. And sometimes the reader becomes so caught up that they search out other sources for more context – cultural or environmental – to add textured background to the narrative.
Like I did.
Nazareth. The tiny little town of even tinier importance in Galilee in the northern region of Israel. An area of rocky terrain with clutches of flora and fauna. The might of Roman military everywhere. The violent Herod the Great as regional king. Taxes. Taxes. Taxes. Taxes on taxes. Peasants plugging away at a meagre living and food supply, often combining several channels of income through carpentry and other craft, as well as farming.
It is a time with many accepted norms of the day. Among them, that intimacy before marriage brought immense shame upon the family and was a punishable offence. By death. It was a time when the promise of marriage to another would mean you would spend your engagement period separated from your ‘betrothed’. Study of the practices at the time of Mary and Joseph reveal that young (probably late-teen-aged) Mary, soon to be wed to Joseph, would have been whisked away to have likely spent time the rest of her pre-wedding day-to-day in the sole company of women. It was very likely during this time she was visited by the angel Gabriel, and her scandalous puzzling pregnancy would begin to show and grow. Not only would she have had to have somehow manage to live through the raising of more than a few eyebrows, nosey questions, suspicions, rejection and alienation amongst the women with whom she lived (from the dead giveaway of first time she would not have participated in the ‘monthly purification rituals’), she would have had to consider honourable, devout and Law-abiding Joseph’s reaction as well. And quite possibly, Joseph might have been the last to know.
Will he believe me? The worry. Will he reject me? Will I be cast off and shamed for the rest of my life? The gulp. “He is an honourable man. I must tell him.” The rehearsing. “Joseph, I’m pregnant.” “Joseph! I have amazing news! I saw and spoke with an angel!” “Joseph, guess what? We’ve been chosen! An angel told me that we’re pregnant – with God’s Son!” The gulp. The screwing up of courage and setting out to see Joseph. The determination to keep focus and not run away.
Carpenter’s nails protruding from pursed lips. Clenched jaw in concentration. Hands and hair covered in sawdust. Feet buried in pillows of curls of wood. Marriage! Responsibility! Brow furrowed, thoughts focused, and beads of sweat trickling down the hairline. “Hmmm?” the preoccupied answer comes.
“Joseph,” comes the call with greater urgency. Brows knitted with worry and concern. Eyes searching his face. Hands tightly clasped. Oh thank the Father for the long robe! Knees shaking. Tummy showing? Heart beating out of chest. Shaking deep breath.
Deep mahogany eyes turn from the worktable. The smile. The hand caressing her velvet cheek. Heart captured by her beauty. Hmm? The smile fading. The glance down to what the slender hands are resting on. Mary? You’re … What? The hammer falling to the ground with a thud. The step back. How? Who? The mind racing. Surely now she belongs to another! Custom allows me to divorce her, for to take a child that is not mine is dishonourable. But it must be done quietly. Yes, I must quietly return her to her parents, spare her and her family the shame and exposure to the radical punishment of such a sin, of the prescribed stoning (Numbers 5).
But. The dream. The honour of God speaking directly to him! The affirmation of Mary’s wild, dizzying and astonishing story. The promise of a boy! The assigning his unborn child’s Name! The Name that means “God saves!” The joy! Fulfillment of ancient prophecy! The humble obedience. The conversation with the anxious Mary in quiet and reassuring tone. The decision to fulfill the marriage covenant. Census! The preparation for travel. The enduring of scorn and spitting and sneers and jeers in the village. The gentle care, the fierce protectiveness over Mary. The leaving in haste with his very pregnant betrothed.
The very long and arduous journey. The incessant bouncing up and down. Are we there yet? The twinges, the cramping, the increasing pain. The lights of the town ahead. The labour starting and progressing rapidly. The slow moaning.
The crowds. The yelps and increasing groanings from his wife. The hope of shelter. The frantic search. “Jo-SEPH!” Sir, do you have a room? Sorry. No room for you. Census don’t forget. Nope, not here. Nor here. Not anywhere. Wait. We have something. In the barn. With the animals. Interested?
The intense labour and the birth. The first cry. The wonder. What child is this, and what will his future be? Scorn. Shame. Revilement. Anger. Hatred. Rejection. Brutality. Evil spewing venom, pulling out all the stops to silence Him, as early as His first cry right up until his last breath.
Why for heaven’s sake? Why would He come? Why would He endure all this?
For our sake. For Love. For His immeasurable, unending and mind-blowing unconditional love for you, for me, for all of us. In Love’s Name, in its very nature, in its purity, in its hope, in its promise. For its very nature. To stand in our place so we can live in His.
All in that Babe, in that stable, in that feed box, on that cold damp night under that star so joyful and bright.
For all of us.
Will we make room from Him, for the wonder, for the mystery – in the inn of our hearts?
For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Soil and Seed