Wednesday, December 14, 2011

On that Christmas Day

There was a young Jewish girl named Mary, and she was scared. She wasn't exceptionally beautiful or exceptionally smart or exceptionally strong, in fact, she didn't feel herself to be any of these at the moment. She simply felt alone and confused and overwhelmed. And small. For standing before her moments before was a creature she had heard about but had never seen. In fact, no one had seen one for hundreds of years, and it was whispered by bearded old men that such things did not exist, that they had never really existed, and that the old stories were spiritual truths and not real true ones. It was a messenger with an overwhelming presence, bringing a message that was as exciting as it was distressing: she was going to be a mother. While the messenger had been unexpected, in some ways the news was not. Mary had always believed she would be a mother someday, and now that she was engaged to a carpenter, she looked forward to motherhood. But part of the message was both unexpected and troubling: she was going to be a mother right now, and the child would not be the son of her husband. She did not understand all that meant, really, but she did understand that she would have to tell him, and she had a fairly good idea what his reaction would be. Which is why she was not looking forward to telling him. Not one little bit.

Joseph set down his tools and walked out into the night air. His shoulder ached, as he had worked longer this day - seeking distraction, perhaps - than any other day he could remember. His hands, though calloused, were rubbed raw, and he picked at a blister absentmindedly. It would have to be tomorrow, he finally decided. Tomorrow would be the day his dreams came crashing down, for he would be a divorcee even before his own wedding. He balled his fists, then as he had too many times lately, let out an anguished roar that echoed over the quiet street. How could she have done this to him, to them? A sweet young girl, pretty in her own way, he could certainly understand how another man could be attracted to her, for he was very much. Yet she had broken her solemn promise and the promise of her parents that she would be his and his alone. Gathering himself, he shook his head, and tried to decide once again whether he would seek vengeance or suffer the ill will of God patiently. No, there would be no vengeance, that was settled. Just more tears, most likely. He would call off the wedding quietly, just the four of them in that little hovel, for there was nothing to be gained by exposing the girl to any more trouble than she had brought on herself with her rubbish about angels. But why did she insist on making it so much harder on him than it already was? He sat down on the wet ground and pulled a small flap of skin from his palm, wondering if there was another town where he could start again, another place that had not reveled in the rumors that Joseph's little Mary was pregnant with a child that was not his. Another place where coldhearted men did not laugh into their beards when he walked by. He counted two, maybe three. And they were all far enough away for his purposes. He let out a tired sigh and closed his eyes, and his swollen eyelids (was he crying?) suddenly shone red, as if he were sitting before a fire, the light of which burned through his skin. When he opened them again, his first thought was that his private anguish and public humiliation had driven him mad at last. For before him stood a dazzling figure in white and it was looking down on him with cold unblinking eyes. Joseph closed his moistened eyes again and opened them. And hearing his name spoken, he began to kneel, and then at the angel's stern rebuke, to stand.

Mary clenched her tiny fists as she looked out through the door of her parents' home. "Because this is the Lord's doing, everything will be alright," she assured herself for the hundredth time, though she had not completely convinced herself yet. Joseph was approaching the small house in which joyful promises had once been made. The very house within which her tears had not ceased to flow in weeks. Of course he had not believed about the angel. He had demanded what he called "the real truth" on several occasions, each time his voice rising, his eyes blazing. When at last her tears came he always stomped away, and now that she was leaving Nazareth for a few months he was returning again, this time to say those three little words she wanted to hear least of all: "I divorce you." Instead what he said was, “We need to marry before you leave.”

Of course it had to be taxes: nothing less than the greedy swords of Ceasar could induce a man to make this trip. Mary was as big as a house, and Joseph thought he could hear the ladened donkey complaining as it climbed the last hill before his ancestral home. Home, he almost laughed as he tugged the reins of the beast that carried his wife. He had never lived here, nor had his parents, and he wondered if there would even be a home where they could stay, where they could rest before he told the soldiers that he had traveled 150 miles to get to Bethlehem but still had no money to pay them. Maybe they would settle for the donkey. Hopefully there was no room in the prison. It turned out there was no room anywhere.

Joseph had never seen a miracle before. He had seen the angel of course, though there had been times, when he was alone late at night or when his few remaining friends laughed openly at him, when he wondered if he had really even seen that. But of this there could be no doubt. The child had been born: a son as Mary had promised and a healthy one from what he could see in the dark. While frantic, distantly-related women still scurried about, Mary had laid the babe in a manger on a bed of clean straw, the gathering of which was the only useful task menfolk could apparently perform during birth. But it was no longer dark. There was a star outside that shone like the sun of day, a light directly above the barn which cast firm shadows and drew gasps in the suddenly-full sheep pen, and Joseph walked out into it. A motley group of shepherd boys was telling an assembling crowd that they, too, had seen angels. And those angels had told them where to find the newborn king. Here. And as Joseph squinted at the star, he listened to what the angels had told the shepherd boys: We bring tidings of great joy, for to you is born this day in Bethlehem a savior, which is Christ the Lord. And with joy welling in his heart, Joseph believed, fully, for the first time.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

And lo.... Pitt State!!
And MN Duluth won IceHockey.
Championships follow you like the Zoroastrians followed the star.

El Borak said...

UMD won both D2 football and hockey last year... I was really hoping they or St. Cloud State would have beaten Wayne State for the trip to Alabama for this year. No such luck, I guess...

Anonymous said...

That was me BH..I'm still reading and following.

bw

p.s. Never realized Mary was a hottie :) Joe probably outkicked his coverage on that one.

El Borak said...

BW! Good to have you back! You still living in the land of tornadoes?