One of my very favorite experiences of the day as a young girl was making the half mile journey to the village well to collect the day’s supply of water. Not only was it an enjoyable walk, but it was something of a social event. All the village women met at the well in the morning with their earthenware jugs poised on their heads or hips or in their arms. It was the time of day when we could forget, for a moment, our hard lives and the work that lay before us that day….when we could laugh and talk and share the latest news. I walked to the well with my friends and we whispered and giggled about which of us would marry first, what our husbands might look like and which of us might be rich and which might be poor. We vowed to each other then that whoever married first would come back and tell the others what marriage was like.
It was on the way home from the well one day that I happened on a situation—one that I often saw but which always troubled me---an aged, decrepit donkey laden down with goods. The donkey could hardly stumble along under his heavy load. The driver was a young boy with no thought for the animal. His only concern was getting where he was going as fast as he could. With a long, heavy stick he continually poked and prodded the donkey to go just a little faster. It troubled me so that I ran forward and tried to persuade him to go easy, but he wouldn’t listen. He said he had to be at the carpenter’s house with his nails in a very short time, so I offered to carry the nails myself and walk with him to the far side of the village. He looked at me as though I were a little mad and shook his head as he handed me a bundle. The nails were heavy and I could scarcely keep up with the boy’s quick pace. At the carpenter’s we parted ways. I was content that at least I had lightened the load of one poor donkey.
I did have a sensitive heart. At times too sensitive for my own good. I felt joy and happiness intensely, but I also felt doubly my pain and sorrow. Spring was a special time of year for me. I loved it, not only for its beauty and newness of life, but for the promise that it held. Every year as spring arrived I had a strange sense of anticipation. I felt sure something wonderful was going to happen to me. Yet each spring passed like the others with no fulfillment of the promise I felt in my heart.
When I was old enough to marry, I became betrothed to a man named Joseph. Jewish betrothal or engagement was considered as binding as a marriage ceremony itself. Our engagement was made formally in my parents' home under a tent raised specifically for that purpose. To legalize it, as was the custom, Joseph gave me a rare piece of money and said to me, "Lo, thou art betrothed unto me." I was so happy, for I loved Joseph. He was a good, kind man and I knew he would make a fine husband and father.
Not long after our engagement something happened that would change my life and bring to pass that promise of spring that I had long awaited. (Pause) The angel Gabriel appeared to me. The brilliance of this heavenly messenger overwhelmed me, but he spoke gently and said, "Hail, thou art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women." Like others, I had awaited the coming of the Messiah and knew from the prophecies that a Jewish maiden would be chosen to be the mother of the Lord. (Pause)
Was it possible that I should be so blessed? I had little time to ponder this for the angel spoke again, "Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found favor with God and behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb and bring forth a son and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Highest." I could not fully understand for I was unmarried and a virgin, and so in fear and trembling I asked the angel, "How can this be seeing that I know not a man?" The angel then told me that a miracle such as had not been known would occur and that no mortal man would be the father of my child, but that he would be the literal son of God. He announced that my son would be the Messiah, come to save the people from their sins."
……."I, Mary of Nazareth, mother of the Son of God?" I scarcely had time to ponder this thought in my heart when the angel spoke again telling me of my cousin Elisabeth. She was a good woman whom I loved dearly. All her life she had been barren and was now too old to have children. But she too, the angel said, had been blessed with a glorious miracle and she and her husband, Zacharias, three months hence would be the parents of a son to be named John. He, too, was chosen of God and would prepare the way for my son, the Messiah.
The angel then left me alone to think on the things he had told me. The Spirit of God came upon me and I knew that the things which he spoke were true. I was overcome with gratitude and wonder and yearned to share my joy with someone. Elisabeth would understand and appreciate what had happened to me as no one else could, so I quickly made preparations for the hundred mile journey to her home. When finally we met on her porch, it was a joyous reunion and as we thus embraced the Holy Ghost bore witness to her that I was to be the mother of the Savior, and in that same instant she felt the life within her leap and she said to me, "Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb."
I stayed with Elisabeth and Zacharias for three months and took great comfort and assurance in all that I had been given. At the close of the three months I knew that the time had come when I must return to my home in Nazareth and tell Joseph. Upon my return Joseph could see immediately that I was with child and he was sorely troubled. He knew that he must annul our betrothal. Now this could be done either publicly or in private. Being the just and good man that he was, and in order to save me from humiliation he decided on the private annulment. Before this took place, however, he too was blessed with the appearance of an angel of God who said to him, "Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost and she shall bring forth a son and thou shalt call his name Jesus for he shall save his people from their sins."
Joseph was greatly relieved, and overjoyed to learn that I, the one he loved, would bear the Messiah. So to establish his full legal right as my guardian and husband, he quickly married me. My joy was two-fold. Not only was I marrying the man of my dreams, who was chosen of God to be the earthly father of the Messiah, but within my womb lay that Promised Messiah. My joy was full. Joseph was everything I had hoped for in a husband—and more. He was gentle, attentive and cared far more for me than for himself---but most important, he was a man of God.
As winter passed and spring approached I began to think more of the birth of my son. The event that I had waited for each spring would soon take place. My love of the spring increased that year and I found that I was more aware of the flowers, the singing of birds and the sun as its rays fell through my window warning my kitchen. I went about my household chores with a zeal I had not felt before, and as I stitched the tiny clothes for my son my heart swelled within me. My anticipation grew with each passing day. It had long been promised that the Messiah would be born in the little town of Bethlehem. Such a long journey. I wondered how I could make such a trip, and how Joseph could take time off from his carpenter work to go.
At about this time a decree went forth from Caesar Augustus of Rome ordering a taxing of all the people. It was to be both a taxing and a census and each family was required to register at the city of their ancestral home. Everyone chattered and wondered about the decreed taxing and the required journey back to their homeland. Many were astonished for as far back as we could remember a taxing and census such as this had never taken place.
Joseph and I were together in the village square as the announcement was made, and while others stood in disbelief Joseph squeezed my hand as we looked at each other and smiled, for we knew the purpose of the tax. We knew that through this decree the prophesies of the birth of our Lord in Bethlehem would come to pass.
My friends were surprised that I should make the trip to Bethlehem with Joseph for I was nearing my ninth month. Some told stories of the trials of women whose time had come and were delivered on the roadside as they traveled. My mother clearly showed her concern and disappointment, for she had hoped to be a part of her grandchild’s birth. But I knew that I must go and I had no fear for God would watch over me.
We left for Bethlehem on a beautiful, warm day with great anticipation. There would be time for Joseph and I to enjoy each other’s company and to make plans for our future and our new son. Joseph had purchased a donkey for the journey and I was thankful but even so the trip to Bethlehem was long and slow.
Because we traveled so slowly and because so many had returned to register, the town of Bethlehem was crowded with travelers when we finally arrived. Joseph went from inn to inn asking to be put up, if only for a night, but we were refused by all. At last we had no choice but to make a room for ourselves in a stable. Joseph was troubled but made the stable as comfortable as possible. He made a bed for me in the straw and in a manger he prepared a bed for our son. How unlikely it seemed that the King, the Savior, should be born in a stable and laid to rest in a manger.
In due time my child was born. He was healthy and beautiful with a strong set of lungs. As was the custom of the time, we wrapped him tightly in long strips of cloth called swaddling clothes so he would grow straight and tall. As I held my son close to me, rocked him and put him to my breast, my joy was complete and I sang him a lullaby, and wept, for within my arms lay the Savior of the world, but for that night he was mine alone.
By LeeAnn Moore