[From the archives: imagining what that first Advent must have been like for Joseph.]
I didn’t get any sleep last night. I haven’t been sleeping well for a while, in fact. My friends say that’s normal for someone about to get married, but it’s not just that. It’s about my Mary.
Don’t get me wrong. She’s the sweetest and wisest woman I’ve ever met. But right now we’re merely betrothed and haven’t had our wedding night yet. That’s why when she came to me a while ago with her news it caught me by surprise. Complete surprise.
“Joseph,” she said, “I have to tell you something.”
“I love when you tell me things, my sweet.”
I meant to make her laugh, but she looked down and drew a deep breath.
“You know I want to be the best wife possible for you.”
“And I to be the best husband I can to you.”
“Please let me say what I have to say, or I might not be able to say it at all.”
I stood in silence as I saw something in her eyes I’d never seen before. Was it doubt? Fear?
“Joseph, you are the only man I have ever desired to wed. There is no other for me.”
“Yes?” I tried to keep my voice calm but her words frightened me.
“But I … there is no way to say this without hurting you … . Joseph, I am going to have a baby.”
“Of course you are.” I laughed a little at what I thought were mere wedding jitters. “I hope we’ll have many children!”
“It is not a matter of us having a baby, Joseph.” She looked down again, then back up with a strength I’d not seen in her before, as if her spirit had been freshened. “Do you remember I went to see my cousin Elizabeth?”
“What about it?”
“I went to see her because she and I share something.” I was about to say that cousins share many things when she blurted out, “I’m pregnant. Just like her.”
I didn’t know what to say to her. I don’t know if I did say anything to her as a matter of fact. Not that afternoon anyway.
The next day I went to her father’s home to speak with her. I waited in my shop until I knew her father would be busy elsewhere and stood at the door asking her mother for a moment of Mary’s time.
“I didn’t know if you would come back,” Mary said.
“Neither did I.” I leaned on an olive tree in the courtyard as she sat on a little stone bench. “You’re sure about … ?”
“Very.” She straightened the skirts of her robe. “When I said I am pregnant just like Elizabeth, I meant it in more ways than one. That’s one of the reasons I’m so sure.”
I was about to tell her of my decision, the one that had kept me up all night, the decision to end our betrothal quietly rather than make a public spectacle of cancelling the marriage contract. I don’t know what kept me from announcing my intentions, but it was something about her calmness. She must have known I had no other course to take yet she still had that same look that came over her the day before.
“Joseph, do you believe those stories about angels visiting Abraham?”
“Angels. Do you think they’re real?”
“Of course. They’re in the Torah, so they must be real.”
“I’ve seen one.”
“One what? A Torah scroll?”
“An angel. One visited me. And then I became pregnant.”
“Don’t make up stories, Mary. If you are pregnant, you don’t have to tell me by whom. But don’t make things up. This is too … it’s too … .”
“I know this is hard, Joseph. I couldn’t believe it either.” She reached for me hand and I let her take it. “So I went to see Elizabeth. Her husband Zechariah is a priest, you know.”
“The one who took ill and lost his voice,” I said. Where was she going with this?
“Not ill. This is one of the things I meant when I said I am pregnant like Elizabeth. Joseph, She and Zechariah are going to have a son in their old age by the power of the Spirit of God. But Elizabeth told me that Zechariah refused to believe it so God’s angel told him he would not be able to speak again until his son was born.”
“And now you are saying I too will be struck mute because I don’t believe you?”
“No, my love. I am saying that I too was told that I am having a son by the power of the Spirit of God. But this child will not be born of a human father like Elizabeth’s child but by our Father in heaven.”
“Only a miracle could accomplish that,” I said as I pulled my hand away. How much of this was I expected to take?
“I can only tell you what the angel of God told me, and that now it has come to pass. I am going to have a baby by winter.”
There were many more nights with little sleep after that. Yet this morning I rose refreshed, strengthened for the new day.
I too had seen an angel.
One moment I was lying there wide awake and the next thing I knew I was in a dream. With an angel.
“Joseph son of David,” the angel said to me, “do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
And then I was alone with the first hints of morning light resting on the window ledge beside my bed. I arose and dressed, waiting for the day to dawn fully so I could see Mary.
Her father was amused at my early arrival.
“Have you broken your fast, son? Mary is helping her mother prepare our morning meal. You can join us.”
“No, I … thank you, I mean … but I … .”
“Joseph, what has come over you?” He laughed as he added, “You look as if you are about to jump out of your skin.”
“Perhaps I am. Is it possible I can see Mary now? I know it’s not … .”
“Yes, yes, of course. She is your betrothed, after all.”
“Yes,” I said to his retreating back, “she is.”
Soon Mary came out wiping her hands on an apron.
“Joseph,” she said, bearing that same look of strength and peace, one I now felt must be mirrored in my own face. “Father says you have something to say that can’t wait until we’ve eaten?”
“Mary, I just want to tell you that I am going to be the best father I can to our children.” I took her hand and led her to the stone bench.
“I’m sure you will love your children.” She sat calmly as I knelt between her and the olive tree.
“I am here to promise you that I will love all children you bear, Mary. All of them.”
She smiled down at me. “You look as if you too have had a visitor in the night.”