I cried and turned away. I could not watch as Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus took his body from the cross. He was many things to many people; lunatic, traitor, heretic … and to others, rabbi, teacher, savior, but I alone was his mother, he was my son, my baby boy. My sobbing came deep from within, racking my body in spasms as if I were giving birth … and my mind skipped back 33 years.
The walk to the well seemed to grow longer every day. Nazareth was a small village. Everyone knew everyone and everybody knew everybody’s business. The well was fed by the only spring in Nazareth. Drawing water was women’s work and there was no time of day when some of the ladies of Nazareth would not be sitting around the well. It was the center of village news and of village gossip. I put one foot ahead of the other and forced my head to remain erect. It was harvest season, hot and dry. If I could have gone without water I would have done so, but I was drinking for two and this was now apparent to all of Nazareth. The whispers and glances could not be ignored. I was tempted to walk up and say, “Did I tell you about the angel that visited me?” It was a foolish thought, but it made me smile. These days my emotions rolled in like crashing waves on the shore. I was confused, scared, but also comforted and honored by what Gabriel had told me. I was determined to see this through.
Poor Joseph, I know this was as trying for him as it was for me. I’d seen the men of the village jeer and overheard their crude remarks. I would have understood if he had put me away, but when he told me of his angelic visit, it strengthened my resolve. I don’t know what the future holds, but we are going to trust God together, and whatever comes, we will deal with it as a family.
We were too poor to own a donkey. Fortunately, one of Joseph’s friends took pity on us and let us borrow his. It was a good thing because there was no way I could walk the 70 miles to Bethlehem, not in my condition.
Joseph was holding the reins of the beast and muttering under his breath about Romans and taxes while I attempted to mount the donkey. It was old, grizzled around the muzzle and very fat. In my 15 years, I had never ridden a donkey or tried to climb onto one. If I had not been so heavy with child perhaps I could have succeeded on my own, but Joseph had to come and give me a boost. Once on top, I reflected on what a ridiculous sight I must have been and got a case of the giggles. Joseph just looked at me and shook his head.
I thought I was over my nausea, but that donkey rocked to and fro and I felt like a sailor on a storm-tossed boat. Somehow I held it together.
Joseph alternately patted me and the donkey as if reassuring us that everything would be alright. It was a slow plodding journey. I wondered who had the bigger belly, myself, or the donkey.
The only drama on the road was provided by a group of Roman soldiers who came up behind on horseback, yelling at us to get off of the road, then leaving us to travel through a haze of dust. A thick film of grime coated me, Joseph, the donkey, and all our belongings as we pushed through the cloud left by the racing horse’s hoofs. I pulled a scarf across my nose and mouth to keep from choking. I watched as Joseph clenched then unclenched his fists, the muscles in his forearms knotted. If possible my love for him grew even stronger. I knew he would do anything in his power to protect us. I reflected that there were now 3 of us, though one had not yet been revealed.
The sun was sinking below the horizon when we arrived days later in Bethlehem. The last rays of the sun gave way as the glow of oil lamps and candles spilled from windows and doors onto the narrow streets. I wanted nothing more than a warm, clean bed, and enough water to wash away some of the road dirt. To say things did not go as planned would be a huge understatement. We went from inn to inn looking for a room, but there were none available. The influx of arriving taxpayers had stretched the city’s capacities to the breaking point.
I closed my eyes and replayed what Gabriel had spoken to me over and over in my mind. I knew God would not forsake or abandon us now. I had faith and took renewed comfort from the angel’s message … but I still wanted a warm, clean bed.
We made for the last inn situated on the very edge of town. The donkey could hardly keep his head up and I wasn’t much better. The sun had completely set and most of the cities lights were now behind us. The night sky was inky black, clear, and crisp as only a winter sky can be. Thousands of twinkling stars created a dome that filled the sky from horizon to horizon. The distant hills were dotted with pinpoints of flicking yellowish light coming from the campfires of shepherds as they tended their flocks.
Faint murmurs drifted from the open doorway as Joseph negotiated with the innkeeper, at least he didn’t reappear immediately, that gave me hope. A woman emerged from the doorway and headed towards me. I took her to be the innkeeper’s wife. She was short and stout, black hair streaked by grey. The wrinkles at the corners of her eyes spoke of many years and many laughs. Indeed she laughed as she approached me and patted me on my knee.
“Don’t worry child,” she said, “We are going to put you up in our stable, it’s is the only place left.” She leaned toward me and whispered, “I’ll tell you, our stable is better than a lot of the rooms you would have gotten back there.” as she motioned towards town. She laughed again as she disappeared into the inn.
I heard the clink of coins being exchanged and knew this was where we were going to be staying.
Joseph walked out, shrugged his shoulders, holding his hands apart as if saying, “What are you going to do?’
“It’s okay,” I mouthed. And it was. I felt a peace flow over me and somehow knew that this was exactly as it was supposed to be.
Joseph tethered the donkey and began to unload him when the innkeeper’s wife reappeared carrying a pitcher of water in each hand and some blankets slung over her shoulder.
“You may need these tonight.” she smiled and headed back to the inn.
She was right. I went into labor shortly after she left.
Joseph was great, he was doing his best though at one point I could see he was getting worried and asked, “Should I get the innkeeper’s wife?”
I shook my head violently, no. “This is our promise,” I said, “This is our covenant.” I don’t know where it came from, but I remember blurting out, “This is the prophecy.”
I cried out in pain, the next thing I knew, Joseph was handing me the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. He had dark curly hair, plastered against his olive skin. He was crying, then calmed as I held him to my breast.
Tears flowed as I have never cried before, not tears of pain, not tears of sorrow, but tears of joy, and tears of humility. By any normal standard, he should not be here, yet here he was. Not just a boy child, not just a Jewish boy child from the house of David … but the Savior of the world revealed, here in my arms.
I didn’t understand it at the time, but this birth in the most humble of places would forever break eternity into two pieces; the before and the after.
Merry Christmas, Poppy