Her Name is Mary
And there is Something Very Special about Her
It was the next morning before I again saw the young man named Joseph. Given the size of the crowd wending its way down to Bethlehem at the summons of Caesar Augustus, it was hard to keep in contact with any particular fellow traveler.
I especially wanted to keep in contact with Joseph, not just because he was someone I would like to know better, but also because he was making this trip with a young wife who was clearly quite pregnant. I was concerned because they were so young and I wanted to help any way I could.
We were making good time but there was still at least another day and a half left to our journey. The omens were not encouraging. It was almost impossible to find lodgings in many of the small towns we were passing through. Damp, chilly weather made our trek even more uncomfortable and inconvenient.
Cross-country travel was often dangerous and exasperating, with robbers lurking behind rocks and trees and pickpockets everywhere. And if they didn't get your money there were always swarms of beggars seeking a handout. They were usually disappointed because few of us had any money to spare.
Turning my head to avoid the gaze of an especially persistent beggar, I glanced across the crowd and saw Joseph in the distance. He waved to me and I slowly fought my way across a sea of men, women, children, horses, donkeys, and a variety of pets. I was met with jostling and coarse language every step of the way. But I finally made it, relatively unfazed by the hassle, and we exchanged greetings. I felt again his rough carpenter's hands. He smiled broadly.
"I was hoping to see you again," he said. "I wanted you to meet my wife."
He was holding the tether of a small donkey that was not at all burdened by the young woman on its back. I looked at her and smiled. Her eyes blazed into mine with an intensity I had never felt before. It was almost intimidating.
"Her name is Mary," Joseph said, his voice gentle, reverent.
I introduced myself and she smiled. She reached out her hand, which, unlike her husband's, was soft, feminine, but strong and affirmative. Mary was a real person; a woman, not the girl I had anticipated.
"Joseph told me he made a new friend," she said. "I'm glad, because we don't know anyone in this crowd and it's a little frightening."
Her voice was sweet, lilting, young, innocent, yet possessing a maturity that was far beyond her years. There was clearly something very special about her. I could see why Joseph seemed so happy and content.
"This trip must be especially difficult for you," I said, acknowledging her pregnant status without actually mentioning it.
Mary laughed gently, and looked down at her distended middle with a mixture of shyness and sheer joy. She looked back at me with the widest eyes and biggest grin that I had ever seen.
"Yes!" she cried, almost like a little girl with her first doll. "Isn't it wonderful!" I recalled those were the exact words Joseph used to express his enthusiasm over their future child. I was impressed at how exuberant and joyful this young couple was in contrast to the yelling and screaming and bitterness of most of the other husbands and wives I had seen.
"I'll be happy when we get to Bethlehem," Mary said. "And we can get a nice room and a warm bed. I don't want to have my baby in a shed or a barn."
"I brought all the money we have," Joseph added. "I want Mary to have the best care and most comfortable lodgings possible."
I tried to be positive, although I feared the reality might be quite different from what they anticipated. Bethlehem was not much larger than some of the towns we had already been through, and accommodations have been sparse and innkeepers hostile.
"Have you two known each other long?" I asked. Mary seemed so young. But I knew it was traditional for marriages to be arranged by the families well in advance of the actual date of the wedding.
"Oh yes, we were betrothed some time ago," Joseph said, turning an admiring glance at his wife. There was a certain sparkle in his eye, hinting at some deep meaningful aspect of their relationship.
"And we are convinced that this is going to be a very special child," Mary added. I recalled that when I first saw her I thought she possessed a unique maturity and presence, an awareness of unseen but powerful knowledge. I was right. Despite the danger, the distance and the uncertainty of it all, her attitude was still positive and joyous. It defied all logic.
But what does logic have to do with love?
These two were obviously in love and had solidified their commitment through the elaborate traditional wedding ceremony. They had danced the Hora with their friends; they had made all the ceremonial toasts; and Joseph must have paid a substantial dowry as required by the Law. All was well with them. But there was more than that.
Clearly, they had been blessed by God. I felt an unearthly peacefulness in their presence, as if all the evils and dangers and transgressions of all time had been swept away in one glorious motion of some divine and unseen hand.
And now they gazed at me, their crystal clear eyes locked with mine. I felt somehow transformed. I knew I would never be the same.
It seemed entirely possible to me that the entire future of mankind might somehow depend on these two young people and the child who was about to be born. I felt good about that.
As we parted, after saying warm good-byes and promising to keep an eye out for each other, I pondered the significance of our intense but all-too-brief encounter. I was throbbing with excitement. People stared at me when I heard myself actually blurt out loud: "This is no ordinary couple, and this will be no ordinary child."
But how extraordinary? And why?
(NOTE: This is the third in a series of on-the-scene vignettes leading up to the miracle of Christmas. It is adapted from the book The Jesus Diary, by Dave Mishur, which is available on Amazon and other online retailers as well as directly from the publisher at xulonpress.com)