Since the image of the Blessed Mother Mary was first seen up in Clearwater, we have felt a sense of her presence in western Florida. As the Christmas season approached, I wondered if she might want us to better understand what she experienced bringing Jesus into the world. To provide her with an avenue to express herself through a fairly neutral third party (as I'm neither for or against her or the miraculous stories about her and have a fondness for the divine mother archetype), I've been studying what we know of her (which is very little) and the speculation about her. Because she keeps reappearing to people around the world, it seems as though she is trying to tell us something and we aren't getting the message. After reading various theories about Mary, studying the Biblical account or her and following my imagination (perhaps guided by the Holy Spirit), I'd like to reconstruct a little of the story of the birth of Jesus, in Mary's voice, that somehow got left out of the Christian Scriptures.
Praise be to God! I still tremble as I remember all that has happened to this poor woman whose breasts are barely large enough to contain the nourishment for this new child I hold in my arms, so peaceful, so radiant, so holy. I have loved Yahweh, my Lord, my whole life with complete devotion from before the days I was sequestered in the Temple and instructed in Torah. My parents knew that I was a special child and raised me guided by the sense that I would someday be a Theotokos, a God-Bearer. But I have never loved anyone, even Yahweh, the way I love this child who lights up my face. The pain of bearing him into the world melts away as I stroke his cheek and touch his tiny hands. This stable isn't the most comfortable place to have a baby, yet, in a strange way, I feel attended to by the sheep and the cows. While in labor, although I can't be clear about it, I felt almost as if they were talking to me, soothing me, encouraging me. Tonight, these animals, who have borne their own offspring, were my midwives in this lonely place.
What an ordeal for poor Joseph! How shameful for his wife to give birth in a stable. When our marriage was arranged, he had no idea what he was getting into. My parents were of course impressed that his family could trace their lineage back to David. Every girl wants to marry into a royal line and have kids which may later become kings. My family doesn't have much wealth but neither does his. He is so much older though as he already has a large family to take care of and has lost two wives. Since he has children and several male heirs I was surprised he would want to marry again. I think part of his interest in me was the time I had spent in the Temple.
No women and few girls get this privilege. One of the priests recognized I was special because I was born to a barren woman, like Abraham's wife Sarah, and wanted to prepare me for special service to God. If I had been a boy, I would have stayed but when the priests realized that soon I would have my first flow of blood I had to leave. For me to stay was not permitted by the Torah for I would have made the Temple unclean. I was heartbroken when I left for I loved the holy life in the Temple. So badly did I want to be a prophet of God and call the people of Israel back to their faith. But the priests instructed my parents to arrange a marriage for me.
After I came home to live again with my family, I had the vision. Sometimes thought I was having a vision in the Temple late at night but it was nothing like this. As clearly as my hand in front of my face, this angel appeared before me. I had to rub my eyes with wonder and questioned if I was losing my mind. The angel spoke and I began to shudder, my terror held me running. The angel greeted me gently as "beloved and favored of God" which confused and troubled me. Part of me was terribly excited at a chance to be favored and part was aware, from what I had learned of heathen religion, that divine beings don't appear before women unless they plan on having their pleasure with them. Then the angel said I was to have the son of God! I was overwhelmed but still concerned.
"How can this be?" I asked. "I am still yet a virgin and am betrothed for marriage."
The angel paused and said, "Your love of God is known and was in you from before you were born. If you were a man, I would have called you as a prophet. But this calling I give to you now is even greater--to be a mother. The child you shall bring forth shall one day be called 'Son of God.' When the time comes for you to conceive, the power of God will overshadow you."
I was speechless for a moment. To be asked to be the mother of a God! The angel wasn't treating me like I was one of His possessions as all Hebrew women are treated. The angel was giving me a call and I could choose to say yes or no. Full of the mystery of how this would come to pass and the excitement of being chosen I said, "Yes, I am the Lord's servant. As you have spoken, so be it."
The way it came to pass was quite a surprise. The next night as I slept, I felt the presence of a man in the room. I awoke into a still, moonless night. I was surprised no dogs were barking as they must surely have picked up the scent of the unwelcome visitor. Both my parents were sound asleep at my side and undisturbed by his presence.
He spoke softly, "Be quiet for the Lord is now with you." As he came closer, I recognized, by his dress, he was a Roman soldier I had never seen in town. Not just any soldier though but one of great strength and presence. In an instant my automatic loathing and hatred born of centuries of oppression left me. I knew he was the one foretold by the angel. As he touched me and his great form overshadowed me, it began to dawn on me that my son's blood would be greater than a Jewish king's.
I never saw him again. I told no one what had happened.
Not long after this I traveled with my family to visit relatives in Judah. I could feel changes in my body that told me his seed had planted in my womb and brooded on how I would explain all this when I couldn't hide what had happened. We walked through the door to visit Zechariah's household and I saw my cousin Elizabeth who was six months pregnant. Instead of returning my greeting, she grabbed her swollen stomach with a strange expression on her face. She exclaimed, "When your greeting sounded in my ears, my baby literally leapt with joy. I sense the fruit of your womb, will be very special." I was quite surprised and more than a little concerned I had given something away. But my parents didn't suspect anything and were pleased that someday, as Elizabeth extolled, I would be blessed above all women. It came to me in a flash that staying with my cousin for the first few months of my pregnancy would help me keep my secret. My parents happy to leave me in Judah as they busied themselves with wedding preparations.
I tried to get the wedding speeded up but I started showing too quickly and word got back to my family after about three months forcing me to return home. Joseph was outraged and my parents furious. They of course thought Joseph lusted after me and had gotten me pregnant. Joseph went around town angrily trying to figure out who did it. I feared I would be cast out of the house and be sold into slavery. I started wondering about the strange way all this had been arranged. After all, if God wanted a King of the lineage of David, why didn't he just let me have Joseph's son?
Suddenly, Joseph stopped accusing me of being a harlot. When I asked him why, he told me of a dream he had explaining what had happened which matched some of my vision of the angel. When he told me my child's name would be Jesus, which means savior, my doubts were extinguished and my heart became peaceful, like no peace I had ever experienced.
Joseph made up a story that, yes, he had slept with me and he was bound to marry me which satisfied my parents especially now that they didn't have to pay the dowry for me and wouldn't have to worry about me ever being divorced and leaving Joseph's household.
The time went quickly. My belly grew but I felt little discomfort or pain. Still, when Joseph told me I'd have to go with him to Bethlehem to be counted in the census I was very upset. The nerve to ask a woman on the verge of having a child to get on a donkey and ride from Nazareth to Bethlehem! But I know better than to question my husband. That is not allowed. Nor can my husband question the Romans. We do what we are told or die.
Riding a donkey when you are due any day is no picnic but I'm grateful Joseph had one for otherwise I would have had to walk. We passed other women as big as I was who did have to walk. My heart was full of their pain as we passed each one. I pleaded with Joseph to let me walk so they too could have some rest. He would have none of it.
We got to Bethlehem late in the afternoon when the sun was low in the west. We would have stayed outside of town and camped with everyone else except my water burst and I felt the contractions starting. Joseph didn't want me to give birth in the dirt and filth outside the town so we journeyed in to find a room. The inn we stopped at refused us. I didn't hear the conversation but I was sure Joseph didn't have the money required to secure a room going for inflated prices. Finally with the darkness closing around us, the inn keeper, hearing my groans outside, was willing to let us stay in his stable. I was in no condition to complain. All I wanted to do was to get off that donkey, squat down and start pushing that baby out. It didn't take long once Joseph had spread hay on the ground for me and got ready to catch.
Once the baby came out, I collapsed in a heap leaving Joseph, who had experience in these matters, to take care of my son, wash him and deal with the afterbirth. In the light of a torch held for me by Joseph I looked into his little face. His skin was lighter than mine and his wisps of hair betrayed his bloodline wasn't fully Semitic. Now, usually babies cry when air first hits their lungs and they feel the cool touch of the air on their skin. The rudeness of being expelled from the warm, safe womb offends them. But little Jesus didn't cry, he smiled - or at least it seemed like he smiled. There was a tranquillity about him which surprised me. It was as if he knew something, no, remembered something, I had forgotten long ago. As I held him for the first time, my eyes filled with tears and my heart burning with love, it felt as though I remembered for a moment too.
In the bliss of holding my son for the first time, I was oblivious to the fact we were not alone. It was only when Joseph drew my attention to it that I noticed we were being watched by some young shepherds. These boys seemed both awed and frightened at the same time. They told us they had been visited by an angel who told them a savior had been born of the house of David. "We were told we would find him born in a manger." Said the shepherds. "We couldn't believe a king who would lead Israel out of bondage might be born in a manger so we had to come see for ourselves. We remember King David was a shepherd too and thrilled to think another David was being born in our own time. We see with our own eyes that the revelation is true."
Joseph looked and me and I looked at him. In that moment so many thoughts and feelings flooded our hearts. Could we really be the parents of the Messiah? Could we really be the parents of the one to save our people from heel of the Romans? Are we up to this task of preparing the way for this child? Who are we to take on the raising of a Messiah?
It wasn't long after the shepherds left glorifying and praising God that three wealthy astrologers appeared. They spoke of being guided by a star to Bethlehem and the foretelling of the birth of the king of the Jews. They had brought expensive gifts with them of gold, frankincense, and myrrh which overwhelmed us. It was after they left that Joseph got this crazy idea we had to leave town right away, even before we had been counted by the census. He wouldn't tell me why but the astrologers mentioned something about having visited Herod before coming. The idea of riding a donkey after childbirth wasn't any more appealing than riding one before but he was my husband so I did it, holding baby Jesus close to my breast trying to get him to take his first milk.
As we traveled into the dawning light, I kept turning all these amazing events over and over in my heart. Go to Egypt! Where would we go? What would we do? How will we eat? Where will we lay our heads for rest? Will I ever see my family again? And what of these amazing events of this past night? This tiny child - king of the Jews? A savior? We are not of the royal household. Why his father is but a humble wood worker as Jesus will surely be too.
Whatever happens next, I must leave for God to reveal. What I do know with utter certainty is I love this child with all my heart, all my might, and all my soul. I have accepted the call to be Theotokos, to be a God-Bearer. If indeed this child be the Messiah, the savior of Israel, I would willingly give my life to ready him for this work.
Yet, I also know that my work will not be done when Jesus finds his calling and true Father. I will also be his disciple and carry his message to the world, especially to the women who yearn as I did to be prophets in the Temple as well as to the women blessed with children for each is a holy son and daughter of God. I shall not rest until every last one of these children has learned they too are sons and daughters of God, no matter how many times they have turned away, and know they are loved unconditionally.
Whatever is next for us, Praise be to God!
Copyright (c)1997 by Rev. Samuel A. Trumbore. All rights reserved.