An imagining based on Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 2:1-16
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To say it broke my heart is to make it too light. It crushed me right into the ground. After Mary told me she was pregnant, I couldn’t do anything but cry my eyes out. I couldn’t face anyone. I love her so much. I thought she loved me too.
She said she hadn’t been with anyone, that it was the Holy Spirit, that an angel had come and told her it would happen—and that’s why she went off to visit Elizabeth. All I know is that she came back pregnant.
So I’m barely holding it together here.
So I’m barely holding it together here. Who am I kidding? I’m not holding it together! I’ll have to end our engagement, go through the formal divorce. There’s nothing else I can do. But I’m not going to denounce her publicly. In spite of everything, I don’t want her shunned. Or worse, stoned!
I’m totally exhausted. But I still don’t think I’ll sleep. More tears come as I lay down anyway . . .
I jolt awake. The dream! No ordinary dream! It was a vision. There’s no doubt in my mind. I’ve been spoken to, in a dream, by an angel! I can’t believe it. This is what the prophets had, right? Am I a prophet? I don’t feel like one.
I don’t know how I know, but I know it was an angel talking to me. He called me by name, and he said, “Don’t be afraid to marry her. She’s telling you the truth – it was the power of the Almighty that has caused her to be pregnant. She’s a faithful woman, Joseph, and she hasn’t been unfaithful to you. It was me that told her this would happen. She will have a son. Joseph, you and your wife Mary have been chosen to raise the Son of God. You’ll call him Jesus, Yah Saves, because he’s going to save his people from sins. He will be the Lord’s Anointed.”
I’m completely awake now, and I think back on the dream, over and over. I have a total conviction that it was real, and what he said is true.
My tears now are in relief.
My tears now are in relief. My stomach unknots as the relief washes over me. She does love me! I thank God in a silent prayer.
There’s things to take care of! Before anything else, I have to see Mary. I go to her house, and at first the family doesn’t want to let me see her. But they’ve never seen me this determined! And when I tell them I’ve seen a vision of an angel, they’re so stunned they back off and give us a few minutes of privacy.
As soon as I see Mary, I’m on my knees. “Mary, Mary! I believe you! The angel who talked to you—he spoke to me in a vision last night! I get it now. I’m sorry I doubted you!” We look at each other, then we’re embracing, both of us crying. I choke out, “Mary, we’re going to raise God’s Son!” Awe overcomes both of us.
Finally she asks, almost in a whisper, “So you’ll still marry me?”
Both of us can feel the weight of what’s happening to us. This is so huge. But I say, “Of course. Absolutely! How could we not get married, with this tremendous responsibility?” I pause, thinking, then I say, “And we should do it right away, just as soon as we can.”
There’s generally only one reason for a hurry-up wedding.
We embrace again, but then the family is back in the room with us. When we tell them we’re getting married right away, they are really upset. They want the full traditional wedding, of course. There’s generally only one reason for a hurry-up wedding.
I’m sure they won’t be the last ones to assume the worst.
With the gossip in a small town like Nazareth, nearly everyone shuns us. I’m thankful the Romans are doing all that building over in Sepphoris, or I wouldn’t have work. Life goes on, not easy, but we have food to eat, and we’re almost like a “normal” couple.
But now here’s this decree to get registered for the Roman tax. And everybody has to go back to their hometown to register! It’s so stupid—couldn’t they tax us just as well where we’re living? There’s a few others like me who came to Galilee to work in Sepphoris, and they have to go back home too. There’s a lot of grumbling.
For Mary and me, it’s more complicated. At first we thought we could stay here till the baby was born, but then we’d miss the deadline, and who knows what the Romans would do. So we’re packing up to go back to Bethlehem in Judaea, where I was born.
We’re about ready to go, and my father-in-law takes me aside. Mary’s family is very devout, but her dad has been mad at me ever since the wedding. The expression on his face tells me what he’s about to say. In a low voice, he growls, “You have family in Bethlehem.” Not a question, he knows I do. “When this registration is over, why don’t you just stay with them?” He’s looking directly into my eyes, and it’s not a request he’s making.
We say goodbye, but it’s not a fond farewell we get. Mary and I talk about it after we get on the way. I tell her, “Your dad spoke to me.”
She nods. “I know, Mom told me he was going to.”
We’re quiet for a while. Finally I speak up, “You know, it’s not likely to be any better with my family in Bethlehem.” Mary nods again. We’re quiet again. We’ve talked about this over and over. In no sense is it fair, but we remind each other that we’ve been chosen for something awesome. We can put up with some unfair assumptions and gossip.
We get to Bethlehem, and Mary has been saying for the last few miles that she thinks the baby might be coming soon. We had thought we would have a little more time.
We go straight to my parents’ house, and knock. The stony faces when the door opens aren’t a surprise. What we can’t understand is what they say: “There’s no room here. Your cousins are staying in the guest room.” And that’s it! Nothing more. No offer to help, not even a word of sympathy. Just a closed door.
What are we going to do? We go into the market, which is winding down for the day, and start asking everyone we see if they know of anyone who has a place we could stay. It’s the same story everywhere—the registration has so many people on the move, there’s just no place.
That’s what they say. Behind it, I’m pretty sure it’s the same disapproval we got in Nazareth. Bethlehem is a small town too. Everybody knows me, knows my family, and they’re not going to take in the likes of us.
I finally run into an old friend from years ago. I tell him about having no place to stay, and that the baby is coming soon. He nods—finally someone sympathetic! He says, “You know the caves just outside town, right? The cold-weather sheep shelters?” I’m skeptical but I nod. “Well nobody is using those in this warm weather. One of them would at least be some shelter.”
Mary and I look at each other. I say to her, “It’s a thought. It wouldn’t take much to clean one out. There might even be some leftover straw we could use for bedding.”
Just then, Mary doubles over and moans. My eyes go wide as I realize what this means. I ask her, “Have you been having contractions and not telling me?” She winces, then the pain passes and she admits, “Yeah.”
My friend looks around and says to us, “Let’s get going. I’ll help you get settled. But then I’ll have to get back to town really fast.” I understand him. He’ll be in trouble with his own family, with his own wife and her family.
We make a quick stop at the well by the gate for a jar of water, and head out of town. We don’t have to go far to find a place. We sweep out, and it turns out there is some straw there, fresh enough. As soon as some is spread out, Mary lays down, holding her stomach as another contraction hits her. We find a small wooden feed trough at the back of the cave, and we clean it up and get some straw into it too—for the baby.
I thank my friend, but I can see on his face that he’s really anxious for us. “Your child is going to be born in an unclean place!” There’s no actual filth, but I understand what he means—it’s unclean under the Law. With real regret, he says, “I’m so sorry people treat you the way they do. Not even a midwife for her. I pray all will be well with all of you. God be with you, brother.”
Mary moans again and I go to her. When I look back, my friend is on his way, almost running in the twilight as the sun goes down. What does the Proverb say? “There’s a friend who’s closer than a brother.” Thanks to God for such friends!
It isn’t long, and it’s very obvious the baby is almost here. I’m terrified. I have been ever since the rejection from my family. The contractions are really close together now. I wish I could do more for her, but I hold her close, she grips my hand like a vice.
And now, he’s here! A beautiful, healthy, baby boy! Oh God in heaven, praise to your Name! Thank you!
Jesus. His name is Jesus, that’s what the angel said. Yah Saves.
We wrap him up in the cloths we’ve brought. After Mary feeds him for the first time, he’s asleep. He’s beautiful. The feed trough works fine as a bed for him.
I settle down next to Mary. She’s absolutely wrung out, but both of us have the biggest smiles on our faces. The delivery went so well. They’re both fine. Thanks be to God.
We’re both about to drift off, when we hear in the distance… What is it? Sounds like shouting maybe? Or singing? It sounds…happy.
I put my hand on my wife’s shoulder to tell her she should stay there, and go outside. In the moonlight, I see coming over the hill a group of men. They’re the ones making the noise. Who are they? Only shepherds would be out on the hills at night—but they would be with their sheep.
They’re coming right toward us, moving faster now they see us. I can’t imagine what these guys are doing out here. What do they want?
An imagining based on Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 2:1-16 — Paul