Mary isn't the Only One Expecting
Joseph Reveals a Secret
It was the following afternoon when I next met Joseph. Our caravan had ground to a halt at the approach of the Sabbath. The Law prohibited work, travel, and many other activities in deference to Yahweh's command to keep the day holy. Travel was limited to 2000 cubits, a distance that would surely keep most people within their own hometown. That was fine with me. I needed a rest.
Everyone settled down. I noticed a few renegades attempting to move on their way despite the Law. They were quickly reprimanded by the band of Pharisees who had set themselves up as a sort of traveling judiciary, assuring that we were all consistently observing the Law while also confirming that they were still solidly in charge.
I could tell Joseph was excited. His eyes lit up when he said, "There is something I forgot to tell you yesterday."
Quizzically, I looked at him. "What is it?"
"Mary is not the only one who's pregnant!" he exclaimed. While he was obviously thrilled with this information, I didn't find it very exciting that there might be more women expecting in this horde of people heading to Bethlehem.
"Oh, I'm not surprised that there might be a few other expectant mothers in this crowd." I said.
"No, not here!" Joseph replied. "In her family!"
I was nonplussed, and my face showed it. Seeing my confusion, he continued, slowly and distinctly, as if instructing a child.
"Mary has an older cousin named Elizabeth. It's a sad story, but she and her husband Zachariah have been married for many years and they have not been blessed with any children. This has been a great embarrassment for Elizabeth. Many of the other women in her town have been mocking and criticizing her because she's childless. They say that it's God's punishment for some sin or failing on her part."
I nodded my head, signaling for him to continue.
"Worse yet," he sighed, "Her husband is a priest."
I got his message. Many believed that for the wife of a priest to be barren was an obvious sign of Yahweh's serious displeasure. I felt sorry for Elizabeth.
"But, listen to this!" he exclaimed. "Some time ago, Zachariah was chosen to enter the Holy Place to perform the twice-daily incense ceremony. As you know, it is a great honor. There are thousands of priests, and some of them have served for a whole lifetime and never been chosen to perform this offering."
I looked at Joseph expectantly. He continued.
"So Zachariah entered the Holy Place and performed the ceremonies according to the elaborate protocol. But when he emerged from the temple something was wrong."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"He couldn't talk!" Joseph said. "He was dumb! He hasn't spoken a word since that very day!"
I was beginning to wonder what this had to do with his initial statement that Mary was not the only one among us with child. He answered my unasked question immediately.
"Don't you think it's exciting that, on that very day, Elizabeth announced that she is pregnant?"
I thought it was a mere coincidence. But I didn't see anything special or extraordinary about two cousins being pregnant at the same time. Joseph quickly enlightened me.
"Elizabeth is eighty years old!" he cried.
I staggered at his words. I was beginning to see why he was so excited. If being barren was a sign of Yahweh's displeasure, and having many children showed his favor, what sort of sign might it be when an eighty-year-old woman is with child?
"This will be a very special child," I said, overwhelmed at what was obviously Yahweh's doing.
"Blessed by God!" Joseph confirmed my thought.
"And," he muttered, quietly, "The father has been struck dumb. He cannot speak. What deep, dark secrets might he be holding within his unmoving lips?"
I recalled Zachariah was in the Holy Place when this miraculous conception was revealed. "Right," I said, "Something happened while he was performing the incense ceremony. And now he's deaf and can't even tell us what it was. What does he know that we don't?"
"I'll tell you what I know," Joseph said. "I know that Mary is a very special woman. I know that I have been supremely blessed to be her spouse. I know that our child is going to do great things someday. And I have a strong suspicion that Elizabeth's child is going to help him do it."
I stared at Joseph. Strangely, he avoided my eyes. I was beginning to wonder if he knows more than what he's telling me.
But what is it? What's his secret?
(NOTE: This is the fourth in a series of on-the-scene vignettes leading up to the miracle of Christmas. It is adapted from my book The Jesus Diary, which is available on Amazon and other online retailers as well as directly from the publisher at xulonpress.com)