|When Anne saw me she rushed forward and embraced me: her face flushed; her eyes shining; and I knew. Before she even spoke the words I had longed to hear for thirty years, I knew.|
IT DISTRESSES ME to admit, even now, that among my neighbours there were those who counselled me to kill them. Mary, they said, had dishonoured my family – a family of wealth and influence. She had dishonoured me, they said, an upright man, caring and generous to the poor. To let such a daughter live, they said, would be an affront to the favour God had shown me.
For my wife Anne, and for myself, there could be no greater proof of God’s favour than Mary, our daughter.
We had tried for so long, you see, so very long. The years went by, went by, and, yes, I did well. My business ventures flourished. But, none of it mattered. We were barren, you see, and so were our lives. The blessing and comfort of children, and grand-children, were denied us. Yes, I had gold and silver, and a fine house, and many servants. But the poorest of those servants had sons and daughters, and thus were richer by far than Anne and I.
I prayed – oh, how I prayed! I bargained with the Lord my God as if he were a wine merchant, or an owner of camels. If he would only relent and grant us the gift of a child, well, then he could name his price. I would do anything – everything – he asked of me. If only he would relent.
But he did not relent. The trees in our olive grove grew taller. The vine entwining our gate grew thicker, and Anne and I grew older. Too old, our neighbours whispered. The hope of children and grandchildren ceased to grow. It withered. And, eventually, it died.
It occurred to me that God might have been angered that I bargained with him like a common merchant. Had I grown too tall in my own eyes? Forgotten that man is no more than dust until God’s breath gives him life? I sat with Anne and shared these thoughts with her. In thirty years of marriage her counsel had never failed me.
“Do not chastise yourself so, my husband. I imagine God is used to bargains. But, if you would be at peace with Him, then why not go to Jerusalem, offer sacrifices, make amends?”
How I loved that woman! More then than ever. I covered her comfortingly familiar face with kisses and led her, smiling shyly, to our bedchamber.
Weeks passed, and I busied myself with the preparations for my journey to Jerusalem. All went well. The soldiers on the road were numerous, but well-disciplined. Pretty soon the great Temple of the Lord loomed above me. I purchased a single, snow-white dove. Made my amends with God.
As I stepped out onto the street a passing stranger paused and whispered at my ear: “The Golden Gate, she awaits you there.”
And so she did. When Anne saw me she rushed forward and embraced me: her face flushed; her eyes shining; and I knew. Before she even spoke the words I had longed to hear for thirty years, I knew.
And they bade me kill God’s gift. The fools!
For my daughter Mary did not lie – not even as a child. So, when she, too, became pregnant, and told me plainly that the child was not Joseph’s, the carpenter’s, I believed her. And when she told me of the stranger who, in a whisper, had told her who, and what, the baby in her womb truly was, then, once again, I knew. For when God whispers to us, we believe.
And now my son-in-law, Joseph, and his very pregnant wife, my beloved daughter, are ready to answer the Emperor’s summons to Bethlehem. I could have wished for a better season. Winter’s wind and rain make for difficult travelling. But Mary and her mother chide me for my constant fussing and worrying. Joseph, they remind me, is a strong man, equipped with a stout staff. The little donkey, upon whose back Mary and her precious burden are already seated, is mild-mannered and sure-footed.
Anne takes my hand in hers and squeezes it.
“Do you not remember, Joachim, those months when we rode out together? How we weathered the winter winds?”
How could I forget?
Mary smiles at her old parents.
“Be at peace” she whispers, “I am in the hand of God.”
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 24 December 2021.