Vol. 6, No. 14
Daughters of Mary Instruction
December 6, 2016
Lynn D. Clapper
As we approach the third Sunday of Advent, we continue waiting and watching with Mary for the birth of her son, and God’s divine plan to redeem the whole human race begins to unfold at a dramatic pace. This week, as Mary and her husband answer the royal summons to travel to Bethlehem, Joseph’s home town, to be registered, Joseph tells the story. Let’s imagine Joseph’s thoughts as he leads Mary to the town where their son will be born.
The night is dark and cold, and it has rained off and on throughout your entire journey. You have been traveling for several days now, but your progress has been slow. Mary’s time is almost near, and she tires quickly, whether she is riding the bony back of your burro, or slowly walking alongside you on the rocky, winding, road. You hope to finally arrive in Bethlehem tonight. You hope.
You did not plan it this way. Once you and Mary returned from visiting Elizabeth, some three months ago, you had thought that you and Mary would await your baby’s birth quietly at home with her family in Nazareth. The nervousness and fear you felt in the early spring when Mary had announced her pregnancy seems far behind you, now. You married Mary almost immediately at the urging of an angel of God that appeared to you in a dream, and then Mary insisted you take her at once to the hill country of Judea to visit Elizabeth. You and Mary remained with Elizabeth for three months and when you arrived back in Nazareth, Mary’s condition was only barely visible. There was no suspicious talk among the townspeople. You settled Mary in at home with her mother close by, and began to prepare for the birth of your son.
And, then the edict came that everyone must return to their hometown to be enrolled in a census. Law demands that you travel to Bethlehem, your family’s home town high in the hills surrounding Jerusalem. While the journey to the hill country had not been easy back in the early weeks of Mary’s pregnancy, this trip to Bethlehem will be treacherous. Bandits, wild animals, cold, rainy weather, rocky, mountainous trails….travel to Bethlehem is never for the faint of heart, but certainly this trip is not proper for a woman expecting her baby at any time. You had wanted to make this trip on you own, but, in truth, as your wife, Mary also must register. She would not hear of staying behind, however, and insisted that she come with you. Her mother was not so agreeable, but you were finally able to persuade Mary to consent to joining a caravan, so that you would at least be in the company of others. You will be safer, you told her.
But, the going is slow. You and Mary have fallen far behind the others, and while Mary never utters a word of complaint, you know that she is uncomfortable, and self-conscious that her condition is an inconvenience to everyone. You are determined to arrive in Bethlehem before the baby comes, but your slow pace makes you nervous that the empty room in the back of your brother’s house will already be taken by other members of your family. The town will be crowded.
Mary is not as talkative tonight as she has been, and as you walk along, your mind is filled with thoughts of all that has happened since the afternoon Mary told you about the appearance of the angel and his message to her that she would have a baby by the power of the Holy Spirit. That the baby was to be the Son of God. In thinking about it now, you are almost ashamed to admit that your reaction was the same as any man’s, and while you did not want to believe it of Mary, you thought that her story was, well, not exactly true. And then, you had a dream in which that same angel reassured you that what Mary was telling you is true! So, you married Mary, in the midst of the turmoil of this impossible news about a baby. Then, you traveled to visit Elizabeth, and to your complete amazement, Elizabeth’s unborn baby jumped for joy when Mary entered the house, and Elizabeth blessed Mary for believing that what the Lord said to Mary would actually come to pass. Mary will have a baby, and he will be called Emmanuel.
And this is the thought that has plagued you these last months, even as you readied your home for a wife and baby, and watched as the women fussed over Mary. You are a devout Jewish man, a simple man, really, but from a family that has been the stuff of prophecy for hundreds of years. It will be from King David’s line that the Messiah will come. Your family. The angel has told you that the baby’s name will be Emmanuel, and you are quite aware of the importance of such a name. God is with us. And while the angel’s message to you seems like, well, a dream, and while you do not really doubt what the angel has told you, you still ask yourself, “Is it he, is it the Messiah? The one who is to come, or should I look for another?” But, you tell yourself, deep down you know the answer to this question. When the census was announced, and you found yourself traveling to Bethlehem, you knew that the ancient prophecy that foretold the Messiah’s birth was at last unfolding… through you and Mary.
The night grows later, but the lights of the town where your son will be born begin to flicker in the distance. As the angel asked of you that night so many months ago, you have taken Mary into your home, and together you have prepared for the birth of the Son of God. It seems preposterous to you, but Mary’s unshakeable faith in the angel’s message to her is now your faith, as well. As you pull Mary’s cloak more tightly around her shoulders, you point to the horizon. ”There,” you tell her. “We are almost there.” And as she turns to you, you are surprised by the look in her eyes. Her time has come. Your baby is to be born. Emmanuel. After waiting and watching for hundreds of years, after listening to the words of prophet after prophet promise your people that the Messiah will come, after the appearances of an angel who told you and Mary to prepare for the birth of a special baby boy, after days and nights of traveling in the wet and cold to an ancient town that was the home of a legendary king, the light that shines at the end of a dark and rocky road assures you that God, at last, is with you.
In the Gospel for the Third Sunday of Advent, Matthew tells us that the question that Joseph asked himself on that dark night was the same question on the minds of the disciples of John the Baptist, when Jesus, now a man fully grown, was indeed walking among them. “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Fr. Dean’s reflection will remind us that we still ask that question over 2,000 years later. He will tell us that the hope and, yes, the joy, that Joseph and Mary felt as they walked the road to Bethlehem is still our hope and joy in the peace of Jesus Christ. On Gaudete Sunday, let us rejoice that the darkness of Mary and Joseph’s world is not our darkness. Let us rejoice that even though people are still eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage, just as in the days of Noah, just as in the days of John the Baptist, that we are led by the light that a newborn baby brought into the world. In our day and time, we do not need to look for another. Emmanuel has come. God is with us.