“Are you alright, Mary? Are you comfortable?”
“No, I’m not. I’m so uncomfortable. I wish we could have stayed at home. Oh, Joseph! I don’t want to go another step.”
“We’re nearly there. Just over that hill and we’ll be able to see the town.”
“Oh, how I want a bed; any bed will do; just to lie down.”
“We’ll find one soon, Mary, real soon. I’ll find you the most comfortable bed in town.” Joseph stopped suddenly. “The baby’s not going to come before we get there is he?” he asked.
“Half of me wishes he would. But I hope not,” Mary assured him.
They travelled on in silence for awhile, Mary on the donkey, Joseph walking next to her, holding the reins.
They had travelled like this all the way from Galilee. Five days they’d been on the road, having to take things very slowly. Madness to be travelling when Mary was so close to giving birth, but they were part of a mini-migration, criss-crossing the country; everyone going to their home towns. The Roman Emperor, Augustus, wanted to count everyone—a ‘census’ it was called. Why? Nobody really knew, but everyone had to be counted in their family’s home town. Joseph’s father, Jacob, was always known as Jacob barDavid (even though his father’s name was Matthan). His family had always been proud that they were direct descendants of King David, and everyone knew that David’s home town was Bethlehem. David had kept his father’s sheep on the hills outside of the town. Imagine being one of the shepherds in sleepy old Bethlehem, and you discover a king in your midst. That’ll never happen again. Anyway, that’s why Mary and Joseph had to trek all the way to Bethlehem, however crazy or impossible it was.
Mary broke the silence with a deep sigh. “Oh, thank you Joseph.”
“For keeping me with you; for saying you believed me.”
“But I do believe you, Mary.”
“I know. But sometimes I’m not sure I believe it myself. And the baby…it’s not…you don’t….”
“It’s my baby too, Mary. As much as God gave him to you, he gave him to me too.”
“Oh, Joseph. Thank you! It’s just that sometimes it’s feels like it’s too much. It’s difficult enough being pregnant, but with everything we’ve been through, I sometimes wonder if I made it all up. Perhaps it was all a dream.”
“Well,” Joseph chuckled. “You didn’t get that uncomfortable bump in your tummy from a dream, Mary.”
“Yes, I know, that’s what most of the people in the village seemed to be saying—so-called friends.”
Joseph smiled, “Mine too,” he said.
“But why us, Joseph?”
Joseph shrugged and shook his head.
“When Elizabeth’s little John was born,” Mary said. “I remember Zechariah saying to his child,
‘You, my son, will be called ‘prophet of the Most High God
You will prepare the road for the Lord.
God will cause his light to shine on all who live in darkness
To guide us into the Light’
“And I thought, But he’s just a baby; what can he do? But what about our baby, Joseph? The angel said…or was it just a dream? He said that this baby would be called the ‘Son of the Most High God’. He’ll be a king. What does it all mean?
Joseph walked on in silence for awhile.
“I don’t know, Mary,” he said eventually. “I don’t know what it means. But these are dark times. It’s been pretty rough for you and me these past few months and it’s not going to be easy up ahead. But it’s a pretty dark time for Israel, too. Who knows what Rome is going to do once they have finished this census—I mean, why do they suddenly want to count us for goodness sake?”
“Send us food parcels, perhaps,” Mary laughed.
“Yeah, right. But, seriously, when last did we hear anything at the Synagogue or from anyone that suggested God was interested in us, or had a message for us? Oh, old Rabbi Simon does his best, but you don’t come away thinking that God is speaking to us.”
“Are you saying that God hasn’t spoken to us?”
“No, that’s my point, Mary. When your cousin Zechariah said, ‘God is merciful. He will cause the bright dawn of salvation to rise on us and to shine on all those who live in darkness,’ I really felt that was for real, that God had spoken to him, that we were hearing for the first time something that God himself was saying to us. And remember what you said to Elizabeth when you first went to visit? You told me that the words just came bubbling up from deep inside somewhere; you said, ‘My soul is glad because of God my Saviour, for he has remembered me, his lowly servant.’ Well, Mary, God touched me then too.”
“Oh, Joseph, thank you for remembering those words. But why us?” Mary asked again.
Joseph shook his head. “I don’t know, Mary. But if God is doing something for us, however small and insignificant it might turn out to be, well perhaps he’s getting ready to something for Israel too. Maybe, at last, the light will shine again.”
A ROYAL CHILD
Mary thought for a while. “And…‘Son of God’? What’s that about, Joseph?”
“I’ve asked the same question over and over,” Joseph said. “I don’t know the answer, but we are all children of God, aren’t we? We’ve just forgotten. Perhaps we need someone to remind us?”
Mary nodded. “And ‘King’,” she said after a while. “How can our child be a king?”
“Well I have got some of David’s royal blood in me somewhere,” Joseph chuckled. “But if we are children of God, then we are all royal princess and princesses of a much greater and more eternal Kingdom. Maybe our son will somehow remind us of our inheritance.”
“Oh Joseph. It’s so scary and so exciting at the same time. I just wish his little royal highness would stop kicking my tummy every time the donkey trips over a stone. Please tell me that’s Bethlehem I can see over there.”
I told this story at Prestbury Methodist Church on 28 November 2010, followed by the Advent Prayer. The aim is to help us see this couple as real people on a real journey, not a fairy tale. My prayer is that their story will touch our lives again; that their journey will become our journey this Advent as we prepare ourselves for, and as we celebrate, the coming of the Christ.
While this conversation may not have taken place at this point of their journey, I’m pretty sure it took place at some stage—perhaps over an extended period of time.
I used the story again at Scottsville Methodist Church on 16 December 2012, where it was well received. What are your thoughts?