My interest in Joseph could have something to do with the fact that I was asked to write something about Christmas, and my Dad suggested looking at it through Joseph's eyes.
But I'd better start at the beginning.
You see, we have a candlelight service at our church every year on the Sunday night before Christmas. (Well, we call it "candlelight," but because of so many accidents with hot wax in past years we've left out the candles for several years now.) Most of the evening is filled with music; both instrumental and congregational, as well as special singing sometimes. The service is closed with a short message from Pastor. Every year, something is read aloud mid-way through the service. Sometimes it's the Christmas story, from one of the gospels. Other years we hear the story behind one of the Christmas hymns we've sung. Or a moving account of a past Christmas in history, during a war time or something like that.
This year, the father-daughter team who puts together our Christmas Service schedule came to me and asked me to write a short story based on one of the people who was present at the first Christmas. I was thrilled because this gave me an excuse to write another Bible-based story. I've written a couple of those here on my blog. There's my post about Mary, which I already mentioned...and the one about the Prodigal Son...there's the story about Paul and Silas, too, but I left y'all hanging on that one, with the phrase "to be continued." :) :)
I love, love, LOVE that kind of writing. I mean, I just plain love to write anyway, but that kind of writing is my absolute favorite. It reaches down and pulls stuff up from deep inside me. Something about the stories in the Bible inspires me. I hope you don't mind when I let that inspiration take over and write those stories on here occasionally, instead of storing them in my "sheet files" folder on my desktop.
I don't think y'all mind. If you do, you hide it very well. You have only ever been kind and encouraging when leaving me comments. It is with that in mind I have decided to share with you the story I've written for our Christmas Service. I hope it makes you think as much as it made me think! :)
Mary was with child.
I couldn't – wouldn't – believe it until Mary herself, unshed tears in her eyes, assured me it was true. We had just finished the evening meal (I often ate with her family in those days) and had been reclining comfortably as we talked. I was unaware of the spear that was about to be thrust into my life.
Mary's lips trembled as she spoke, but her voice was determined. She said she was the mother of the Messiah, and that God Himself had put the child in her womb. She even said the child she carried was the Son of God.
How could I believe such a thing? Her father shook his head as he sat there behind her. If such a tale were true, would not he and her mother know it? It was very unlike Mary to have this far-fetch explanation. ...Yet it was also unlike her to be with child when she was betrothed.
How could Mary do such a thing? Hadn't she breathed out numerous pledges of love to me? Had she not treated all other men with gracious disinterest? We already had plans for the wedding. She had seemed so happy and content. Surely this situation was not her fault. Someone else...? I lifted my face to ask her the question, but her voice was tearful as she insisted there was no one else.
I left her home that night wanting to dash my head against a stone wall. Why did she persist in this wild tale? If only she would break down and admit to everything, it would be so much easier to forgive her.
My strained mind was already searching for a plan. I still had time to break the betrothal without explaining the real reason to our friends and neighbors. There were still a few more months before Mary would be unable to keep her secret.
“God of our fathers, help me!” I pleaded even as I hurried home. “What am I to do?” The scribes would say the law demanded Mary's death, but now-a-days that old law was rarely enforced – only when the husband or betrothed pressed charges. My heart knew I could do no such thing to the woman I had loved.
Did I still love her? My heart screamed yes, but my fists clenched as I thought of her. Then I thought that surely it was not her fault, and I felt no anger - only hopelessness. There was no easy way out of this problem, and I clung to Jehovah God as the only sure thing in my world at that moment.
Several days passed before I made my decision; I would put Mary away quietly. Breaking our betrothal was the only thing to be done. I could not bring myself to have her publicly accused, and yet I could not bring myself to marry her.
I did not tell anyone about my decision. Not yet. It was still too painful. I avoided her family, but I saw Mary's face in all my thoughts. She was there, in my mind, when I worked in the shop. I dreamed of Mary every night.
Every night, that is, until the night he was there, in my dream.
As a little boy I had always wished I had been born during King David's time, as one of his mighty men. I loved to pretend I was a mighty warrior. But never had I imagined any warrior as mighty as the being who was in my dream that night. His splendor and brightness took my breath from my lungs and I was left speechless. His voice resonated deep into my mind;
“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.”
I woke with a start, breathing heavily. My palms were damp with sweat. So it was true! The idea of doubting that messenger never entered my head. I don't think anyone could have seen him and doubted.
At first, all I could think about was that I could take Mary. He had said so! The LORD would not be angry with me. I ached to see her and tell her I believed her story at last.
But then I shook myself further awake and realized where that child in her womb had come from. For a moment I forgot to breathe. Shivers ran down my spine. After thousands of years of promises, Jehovah God was finally sending the Messiah! What was more, apparently the Messiah was no mere mighty man, as the Pharisees would have us think. He was divine. I could not quite wrap my mind around that thought.
But I understood one thing; I could see Mary again. I sprang to the window and was filled with joy to see the sun was rising. Ten minutes later I was breathlessly entering her father's house and saying, “Mary, I believe you!”
The next six months were filled with every emotion God has given to man. In my first joy at having Mary back, I had not thought about all the difficulties we would face.
First we had to convince her parents that I truly wished to wed her and raise this child as my own. Then the whispers started – my customers in the shop talked to one another behind my back, and dropped vague hints to my face. I had always held a reputation of being an honorable and just man, and I think many of my customers were confused that I stuck by Mary, even in her situation. I tried to explain, but I don't think they really believed what I told them.
Mary and I had so many decisions to make. God was finally sending the Promised One! Such thrilling news I had hoped to hear in my lifetime, yet now it was much more personal than I ever thought it would be. It was also much more intimidating. Should I teach him my trade of carpentry, as if he were my true son? What would this Messiah be like, anyway? What were we expected to do with him? There was a moment of pain when I thought that I would not be able to name him my own name, as I had always wished to name my first son.
“But he isn't your firstborn,” Mary said gently. That always made my brain ache with awe, because it made me remember whose son that baby was.
It was hard, finding a balance. Some days I thought of the unborn baby as my own. Other days he was a stranger – and a very intimidating stranger at that.
During the very last month our situation was made worse by the journey we were forced to take. I worried about Mary. I muttered under my breath a few times, wishing to call our Ceasar all sorts of names, but I kept quiet and focused on helping Mary as much as I could. It was some consolation to remember we would be seeing the city of David again.
The place was packed when we arrived. It was all I could do to find us lodging in the stable of the inn – and I was charged ridiculously high for even that. But I didn't care; Mary was exhausted and I just wanted a place for her to lie down.
It was late that night I awoke to her nudging. Things had happened so quickly after that....and yet so slowly.
And then, there I was; leaning against the wall of the stable while the old innkeeper's daughter tended to Mary. A sudden cat-like wail of a baby filled the stall next to me, and my feet slipped out from under me in my hurry to stand up.
In a moment I was rounding the corner of the stall and on my knees next to Mary. The inn keeper's daughter was tending to the baby, using the swaddling clothes I had managed to find three hours ago. I grasped Mary's hand, but couldn't take my eyes off the child.
He was a perfectly formed little human. So very human. When the woman finished with him and handed him to Mary, I still had not found words to speak. The little one cried just like every baby I had even seen, and snuggled next to his mother so very naturally. It was hard to think he could possibly be divine. Yet the memory of the angel came back to me to assure me that this child was indeed divine – the Savior of our people.
Mary had quieted him, and she looked up at me. “Do you want to hold him?” she asked.
I held out my arms and took him in them. He was so light. So tiny.
“...And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His name JESUS: for He shall save his people from their sins.” The angel's voice rang in my head.
“Jesus,” I spoke his name to him for the first time. I wanted to tell him how we had waited and waited for him to be there, but I just kept looking at him.
To think, that I had the Son of God in my hands....and was responsible for raising him. I didn't feel equal to the task.
But then the little eyes fluttered open, and Jesus looked at me.
And I knew that the years he spent in our home would be the very best years of my life.