December 7, 2008
Pastor Brian Shimer
Luke 1: 26-38
- Joachim said to me, “My breath is taken away” the day I came to his house and asked for the hand of his daughter, Miriam, or Mary, his and Anna’s only child.
Joachim, Mary’s father, was a man, little in stature and wide in girth, bald with small twinkling eyes. He looked at me fiercely. “And what can you pay?” But my voice was gone, for Mary had then walked into the room.
When I looked at her my mind went blank, muddled, my vision blurred. I was 20 years her senior. She was a breath of fresh air, a sweet blossom in the sun! Her hair soft and long and innocent, divided down the middle. But her chin – it was stubborn and her mind utterly sure of itself. I never lacked for conversation around her, for Mary could talk.
Some years previous to this day my first wife had died suddenly, leaving me bereft. In order to buy a space for her body in a common cave, a narrow ledge for her tomb, I sold my carpentry/stone-working tools. I soaked her linen shroud in aloes and myrrh and I had paid for the meals for the mourners for the full seven days. In consequence I had become a poor man.
But I was here to ask for Mary’s hand, so I looked at Joachim who was still awaiting my response with pursed lips.
“I am poor, Joachim, but there is still a mohar I can give,” I told him. The Mohar was the price set for the bride. I had been working to make myself a new set of tools, in order to become married again.
“Joachim, I will repair your 2 doorjambs, the lintel and the door; I will weave two wooden lattices for you and if you need new beams I will hewn these, although that may take me longer.”
Mary spoke up, “Papa, Joseph is a proud man. He is ready for marriage. So, what is your answer? May we marry?”
Joachim took a deep breath, “This is so sudden! A father is dizzy! I am suffocating, gasping with surprise! And my only daughter! Ah, my breath is taken away!”
- It was several months later when I again presented myself at Joachim’s house on the day of the betrothal. I wore a clean tunic of coarse woolen weave, sleeveless, roped at the waist, a blue stripe running down its right side from the shoulder to the hem. Over the tunic I had cast a cloak with loose blue fringes at each corner. I had oiled my hair and my trimmed my beard which looked like a great thicket that went from my eyes to my chest.
Joachim announced before all the guests, “For the Mohar we agreed upon, you shall now be my son-in-law. Joseph ben Jacob, you shall now be my son-in-law.”
I opened my mouth to speak and bellowed, I roared, “I came to thy house for thee to give me thy daughter… Mary… to wife! She is my wife and I am her husband from this day and forever.”
Therewith we were betrothed. And I began to work on the house knowing we would marry come summer, when I was finished.
I enjoyed the work at Joachim’s. Daily I was there, daily I could see Mary, enjoy her presence, hear her laughter, watch the light dancing in her eyes. Daily, as I sawed and hammered and planed, I saw her looking more demure now with her veil on, as was worn by a betrothed woman.
And then one day, Mary was not there. I imagined that perhaps she had just gone someplace for the day, but then the next day and the next she was also gone. My anxiety grew.
Was she avoiding me? Had I offended her?
Her father was not speaking to me but glaring at me occasionally. I wondered what I had done.
The night of the fourth day, Anna, Mary’s mother, came to my house, lit a fire in the courtyard, put on a pot of lentils and began to stir it. While stirring she spoke, “Joachim does not know that I have come. You needn’t tell him nor fear that I will tell him. This is our business.”
She went back to stirring and then said, “Won’t you allow us even to talk?”
I did not know what she meant. “What?” I asked.
“Are you going to keep her from me? Even from me?” She asked.
“Who…? Keep who from you?”
She turned to the door, “Mary! Mary, can we talk together?”
“Mary? Mary is not here! Don’t you know where she is?”
She and Joachim did not. Four days previous they had returned home to find she had taken her clothing and left.
- It was not long afterward that Anna had received word from Elizabeth and Zechariah that Mary had arrived there for a visit and was to stay with her until she gave birth. Imagine, Elizabeth after 50 years of marriage having a baby!
It was three months later when suddenly the beautiful Mary was home. I was angry that she had gone alone, without word, but I could not scold her. She offered no explanations. Indeed she spoke less in these days. She was quieter, reflective even, with a deep joy. She smiled perpetually.
Then one day when she hugged me I noticed something that shocked me and she began to sob. I stepped back and placed my hand firmly upon her and felt her abdomen and felt there the tough lump of a baby. Mary was with child?!?!?!
I took my hand back and turned away. As I walked to the ladder at the edge of the roof, she called to me, “Joseph. It is not what you think. The child is of the Holy Spirit.”
I shook my head, What was I to do with that statement???
I descended the ladder and walked through the village to my home. There although I had not wept in years, not since the death of my wife, I lay down and wept.
I struggled with what to do.
How could it be possible that she was pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit!? And what was that to mean? The Holy Spirit never moved upon anyone but Kings and Prophets, never commoners. And who had ever heard of Him bringing about a pregnancy!
There was that prophecy in the book of Isaiah given to King Ahaz that the virgin would be with child and bring forth a son, but certainly that was meant for something that happened in Isaiah’s time, or perhaps it was a figurative revelation.
All I could assume was that she had been unfaithful. My sweet Mary unfaithful? I wrestled with that thought, the anger that came with it, the hurt. I wept more, and then came to a decision. I took out the parchment, my writing instruments and carefully, stroking every letter with painful precision, I wrote down formal words. I wrote that I released Mary from the contracts of betrothal giving the reason of ritual impurities, mild causes but legal ones nonetheless. I could not write the word adultery. I would not lay upon her such a public accusation.
So, tomorrow I would find two witnesses and in their presence give Mary this document personally.
I unrolled my sleeping pallet and lay down wrestling in my thoughts:
- How was I to survive without my Mary – Mary, sweet, innocent Mary! I could not imagine not sharing life with her, and hated the parchment paper with its severing message. But I could not marry her now, could I? How could I marry her now that she was with child? Certainly I could not sin against God in that manner? After wrestling for some time, I mercifully fell asleep.
It was during that night, while I was sleeping, that the voice of the Angel of the Lord called to me in my dream: “Joseph, son of David,” he said, “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.”
I awoke with a start the words ringing in my heart and mind. “Do not be afraid” to take her as your wife.
Suddenly my small life in the small town of Nazareth had taken on new dimensions. I had been pulled from my life there, my work as a carpenter, into a whole new life, a whole new adventure. And God said I was to have a role, I would name this boy Jesus. I was to be the father to my Savior? He who was God come into human flesh was at this moment growing within my sweet Mary’s womb. How incredible! How wonderful! How impossible! I got up and burnt the parchment paper.
- I left and ran to Joachim and Anna’s house. I heard weeping and yelling within. I pounded upon the door. I yelled: “Joachim, open this door!” The yelling continued. I pounded again and yelled louder: “Joachim, open the door and let me in!”
“Go away” yelled Joachim. “you don’t have to finish the roof, just go away and leave us alone.”
But I roared louder, “No I will not leave until we’ve se the day for my wedding to your daughter. And you’re right. I don’t have to finish the roof. But I will, after we are married!”
The little house seemed altogether deserted after that, so long did silence last inside. Then Joachim called softly, “Joseph, do you know that Mary is with child?”
“Yes, I know”
“And Mary my daughter says that you are not the father.”
“She’s right. I’m not the father.”
The new wooden door on Joachim’s house opened a crack. A tiny eye peered out. “And you wish to marry her anyway?”
“Yes. I do.”
Joachim at this threw open the door and burst into tears, “I am overcome with happiness! I am suffocating in gladness!” He spread his arms and moved toward me, but I had eyes only for Mary.
There she was in the corner of the room, pale in the dark interior, hesitating, chewing her bottom lip. The worry on her features broke my heart.
I ran past Joachim and gathered Mary into my arms and held her tightly to me.
“Don’t cry, my love. Don’t cry. I know who is sleeping in you and I will love him too. It is well. All is well. I know what God is doing, I cannot believe he chose you and me, but he has.
Since that day, we have shared all that had happened to her. How the angel Gabriel had come and visited her telling her of God’s decision to honor her by bringing His Son to us through her life. How she had been overcome by the thought and had simply said, “be it done to me as you have said” and the angel had left her. She believed that at that moment she had conceived. She told how she had the angel had told her that her relative Elizabeth was pregnant in her old age showing that nothing was impossible with God.
Indeed God proved this by using Mary and me as the parents of our Lord. As we welcomed Him into our lives, all of life was transformed. Nothing remained the same.
One day we were just two people planning to marry and the next we were invited to become a part of God’s great fulfillment of many prophecies through Jesus.
Imagine – Mary was just a young girl when God moved into her life in order to bring His Son into this world through her.
I have begun to believe that God how God moved into and through Mary’s life is exactly how he wants to move into and through each of our lives. It is how he moved through me as well, as I became an instrument of grace in Mary’s life. So, God wants you to join Him in what He is doing. He wants you to be as open as Mary to receiving His good purpose in your life, as open as I became when the angel let me know what God was up to, so God awaits your openness to His desire so that he can accomplish all he wants in and through you as well.
Maybe with the Maid God chose you can simply say with her, “be it done to me as you have said.”
(For story format utilized material from Walter Wangerin’s “The Book of God,” Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publ House, c. ’96, pp. 555-595, ubp)