Following is a bit of fiction that is surrounded by actual events that came to me this week.
She knew she had to tell Joseph. But she worried how. Her condition would violate all the customs and moral values of her people. And she knew these customs and values were from God's law. Her parents had been teaching them to her since she could remember. How could she violate them now and not be punished? But the angel had said....
How was she going to explain the visit by the angel? They would surely think her insane. And what would Joseph think?
Mary returned to her chores but could barely keep her mind on her tasks. She wanted to tell Joseph but wondered how to explain it to him. Would he believe she had been visited by the angel? Would she if he were to come to her with the same story? She admitted that it would be difficult. As she worried, her mind raced with different introductions and descriptions of her encounter. In spite of her urgent desire to tell Joseph she finally came to the conclusion that it would be best to wait. Perhaps some clarity would come to her if she slept on it.
It was not as simple to do as it had seemed. Her mind seemed to spin within her skull as she lay on her sleeping mat. She tossed from side to side, dozing for a few minutes only to be shocked awake by a dream of the angel visiting her again. Only this time is was just a dream. Frustrated and angry at her inability to sleep, she tried to force her mind to drop the topic. Finally, sometime during the night, she slept.
Mary opened her eyes again, after yet another vivid dream. She looked around the dark room. No one stirred in the inky silence. She looked over at the closed window, and through the thin cracks between the wooden shutters she could see the first dark grey shading of the coming dawn. Still exhausted from her previous days work and lack of sleep, she lay dozing for a few minutes, but her mind began to rehearse yet another scenario of her explanation to Joseph. Suddenly, she was no longer sleepy. With a sigh, she tossed her thin blanket off of her, rolled to her knees and stood up.
The table was for one of the Pharisees, a Rabbi Ben-David. Though simple in overall design, the client had requested a few details to make it unique. Joseph carefully tapped the iron chisel with the large wooden mallet, trying to make the grooved design in the leg he was working on match the other three he had already shaped. He stopped to examine his work when he heard a soft knock behind him.
Turning, he saw Mary standing at the edge of his outdoor work area.
“Hello”, he said in surprise. By mutual agreement and conformity to local custom, she rarely visited him at his father's shop.
“Hello,” she returned as she stepped under the large covering of the shop.
He reached for her hand to give her a small tactile expression of affection. It was then that he noticed more details of her appearance.
There were tears in her eyes and her hands were trembling.
“Mary, what's wrong?”
“Joseph, forgive me for this interruption,” she began, hardly looking into his eyes. “I … I have something I must tell you.”
He had never seen Mary in such an emotional state. This was so unlike her usual calm, quiet demeanor. And her last words had caused him to now be on alert to what she would say next.
“What is it, my love?” He tried to keep his voice even, in spite of his mounting concern.
“S... something has happened,” she began. Her lips trembled as she spoke. “I pray you will understand....”
A sickening dread welled up within Joseph as he absorbed the unusual, breathless urgency in her voice. Had she changed her mind about their engagement? Her tear-filled eyes met his for a brief moment, then she continued. “Joseph, something has happened and I fear you will think I am moon-struck when I tell you. But it is true, may God strike me dead if it were not so.” She paused to take a breath.
Perplexed, fearful and curious, Joseph said, “Tell me, dear, what has happened?”
Mary took another trembling breath. “Last night ... I was visited... by an an... angel.”
She had said it.
With her heart pounding, she waited for Joseph's reaction.
Her dread of what was about to come was almost more than she could bear.
Joseph jerked his head back in an involuntary expression of skepticism.
“I know this sounds crazy, but it is true,” she said solemnly.
Joseph's mind was now swirling with many thoughts. One of the many things he loved about Mary was her quiet spirituality. She listened carefully and thought deeply about the law and the teachings they received. In their conversations on such things, she had impressed him with her understanding and perception. So, now, this revelation was not something she would say lightly, or without deep, careful consideration.
Joseph said, “Are you sure it was not a dream?”
“Yes,” she said evenly, looking into his eyes now. “I am sure.”
He was impressed with her assurance.
“Did.... did he say anything?” Joseph said after a moment.
“Yes,” she began. “He said....” She paused again. “He said that I am going to have a baby.”
Joseph's first thought was that this was hardly news to a girl about to be married. It would be normal and common for a young, health girl to have a baby.
Joseph spoke this to Mary.
“No, my love, you don't understand,” she said quietly. “He was not speaking of after we are married.”
Joseph stood, holding her hand, still and silent as he absorbed the meaning of her words.
“Before we are married?” He said with growing distress.
Mary nodded as a tear rolled down her cheek.
“How?” He asked.
“I don't know exactly. He said the Holy Spirit will come over me and I will have a …. boy child. He ….will be.... the Messiah.” She took another trembling breath. “He said his name will be Eyaysus.”
Joseph stood looking down at the woman he loved with all his heart, as a sickening ache grew within him. If she had this child before they were married, what would their families say?
What about the neighbors and elders? They might stone both of them!
As his mind raced, Joseph stood silent and still. A growing feeling of sickness and hurt filled him. After so much anticipation and learning to love this quiet, delightful girl, must he now let her go?
“Joseph,” her quiet voice interrupted his swirling thoughts. “Do you... believe me?” Her dark, tear-filled eyes looking intently up into his, she held her breath.
Joseph's mind raced. Her story was beyond strange. Coming from anyone else, he would have easily doubted such a tale. But he knew how seriously Mary took her obedience to the law. Given that, it gave her description even more weight.
“Yes,” he said finally.
At this, she collapsed against him and wept.
His arms encircled her shaking shoulders as she released her fear and tension.
After a minute or so, she settled down.
“Joseph, I'm so scared,” she spoke against his shoulder.
“Yes, I understand,” he said, gently stroking her hair with his hand.
“Why have I been chosen for this?” she said quietly. “I... i am nobody special.”
“Perhaps you think so, but God sees you differently.”
Finally, she let go of him and stepped back.
“I'm sorry,” she said, wiping her cheeks with her sleeve. “I fear now I have brought added shame on you for my improper behavior.”
“Don't worry about it. No one saw us that would care.”
After a quiet moment, she said, “What do we do?”
“I don't know,” he said with a sigh.
“Can we go some other place?”
“I don't know,” he repeated, almost in a whisper. “Any place we go in Israel, we will surely be shunned.”
“Or stoned,” she added.
“Perhaps, but not likely,” he said. “The angel said you would deliver our Messiah.”
“You will be protected somehow.”
“I do not want to dishonor you, Joseph,” Mary said.
“How can you dishonor me, giving birth to our Messiah?”
“You and I may know my baby is our Messiah, but others will only see a baby boy with un-married parents,” she said.
“A least I assume he will look like other babies,” she added.
“Perhaps, you could go to Samaria,” he said after a moment.
“Perhaps,” she said in her sweet whisper. “But they might kill me just because I am a Jew.”
“Yes,” he said with a sigh. “They might.”
“Do you think we should stay apart for a few days and think through what we should do?
“Yes,” he said. “I don't want to, but you must be protected.”
“I.... love you, Joseph. I am sorry I have brought this trouble to you.”
“Sorry?” he chuckled, in spite of the overpowering decisions that suddenly faced them. “You have been visited by an angel of God. We must do as His messenger has said.”
“I must go now,” she said abruptly.
He understood her concern with proper behavior between betrothed couples in their society.
“Shalom,” he said with a wave, as she turned and walked out of the covered work area into the street. He forced himself to turn away from where she had stood. He would have much rather held her in his arms again. Comforting her also comforted him, as well.
Joseph tried to go back to his project but concentration was nearly impossible. He was sick with hurt and concern for his dear betrothed. Losing her was one thing, protecting her from the laws and customs of their people was another.
Later that evening, laying on his sleeping mat, his mind raced with possible scenarios for his beloved. Should he send her away? Should they both leave? Should they travel together or separately? Should he break the engagement? What shame would that bring on his family and clan? What should they do? Finally, he slept.
Deep into the night, a vivid dream filled his mind. An angel, fearful-looking and authoritative appeared. He spoke with a deep, calm voice, and said, “Joseph, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. The child she will give birth to is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you will name him Eyaysus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
Joseph came awake with a jump. He lay there on his mat, looking around the room quickly. There was no one awake. All was quiet and dark. Yet his mind could recall every detail and word spoken in his dream of the angel and his message. He wanted to go tell Mary. But this was not the hour to be visiting his bride-to-be. His surprise and excitement settled into a calmness and strength. God had given the answer to his dilemma. Yahweh would provide a way to fulfill His plan.
After rehearsing the events of his dream a few more times in his mind, Joseph fell asleep and rested.