by tope Ogundare
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The day started just like any other day, she woke up at sun up and did her chores as usual; there was nothing unusual about the morning that would have prepared her for what would happen.
It was mid morning- that time of the day when everything was quiet and she had crept out of the house to her favourite spot under the oak tree not too far from the house. There she went to whenever she had the chance, to clear her head. And she often talked to God about her life too. Under that tree was her temple where she meets with God.
Her mind was on Joseph her fiancé that morning. Her face lit up in a smile as she thought of him. He was such a pious man, hardworking and honest, and well respected. She still could not see what he saw in her to have chosen her rather than any of the women that flocked around him, trying desperately to win his affection, and she was glad to be his betrothed.
Whenever he looked at her, it was with admiration and longing and she always felt a tingle run down her spine. She could even feel it now just thinking about him. And she had been thinking about him a lot these days. She sighed and closed her eyes thinking about what it would be like to be Joseph's wife. He would surely love her and care for her and her children...
She started as she heard her name, scrambling her thoughts. She stared wide eyed at the man standing in her front and fright turned to awe. He was the most beautiful man she had ever seen and he was smiling at her. When he spoke, it was in the most sonorous voice, clear and deep. But he said the strangest things.
Later that night, she lay awake, recalling the man's words. The things he said! She, Mary had been chosen amongst all women to be highly favoured and blessed, to carry the son of God in her womb- the saviour of the world, the promised messiah.
She was happy and disturbed at the same time but never did it cross her mind to doubt those words. The experience was convincing. But the question most baffling was why her. She had to tell someone. But who? She wondered.
No one would believe her; a virgin conception? They would laugh her to scorn, some might even think she had lost her mind. Then she remembered what the angel had said about her cousin Elizabeth and she knew she was the only one who would understand. Tomorrow morning she had to pay a visit to Cousin Elizabeth.
Mary was devastated. In all the excitement of the past month she had never thought this could happen, never even considered the possibility. Her engagement to Joseph had just been cancelled. If there was ever a man she thought would understand and support her it was him. But she was wrong.
But even then, he had been gentle, quietly dissolving the engagement without the involvement of his people; just him and her parents. He was not willing to invoke the wrath of law on her. He didn’t believe that she had not lain with a man, and she could see disappointment and hurt in his eyes. But not anger or ridicule. Oh to miss such a man!
Who could blame him? Who ever heard of an immaculate conception before? To all, she was just a whore. If anything, the thought of Joseph seeing her as a whore hurt more than the thought of losing him.
Several thoughts kept crashing in her head and the pain was unbearable. She was numb. When she couldn't bear the voices in her head anymore, she ran out of the house and to the solace of her oak tree. But the oak tree could not offer her any solace today.
Just as soon as she reached it, memories came rushing back: the message that changed her life. She felt a surge of anger rise to the surface. Her life had been perfect or at least she had been contented with it before she had been chosen to..to..carry an immaculate child. Reflexively, her hand dropped to her stomach and rubbed gently.
A child was growing in her womb; God's Child. She felt her anger disappear and in its place was love. Love for the growing child.
She sat down for a long time oblivious of the passage of time; alone with her thoughts. She felt honored to be chosen to carry the Messiah, humbled even. She felt love for the child and all of her had accepted the child. She also felt a deep sense of loss about her broken engagement to Joseph. She had always daydreamed about having Joseph by her side during her months of pregnancy but that dream was not to be. She would be all alone.
Worse still, she would have to endure the taunting and open scorn from the whole community for carrying a bastard child. She would be treated as a whore. The reputation of her family too would be marred.
She tried to talk to God like she always did when she was in a fix but the words seemed dry and hollow. The feeling of peace that she normally felt after pouring her heart to God was absent. She felt alone and began to wish that the angel that had visited her earlier would appear and tell her what to do or just console her at least.
She didn't know when the tears began to flow and then the heart wrenching sobs too.....
The days sped by and days into weeks but Mary was unaware. She barely left the house. She was getting leaner and her skin was losing its sheen. She lost interest in everything. Even her favorite oak tree had lost its appeal; it was no longer a place of comfort, it had become a place of sorrow.
Two things filled her mind these days: the growing baby in her womb and Joseph. Try as she had she couldn’t erase him from her thoughts. She wondered how he was faring, whether he had already found another girl to marry; any girl would be lucky to have him; or was he also still mourning.
Her thoughts were interrupted by her mother's entrance. She looked up puzzled, her mother was grinning from ear to ear. Ever since the broken engagement she had never seen such an expression on her face. She knew it was her fault; her mother had been worried sick about her.
Before she could utter a word her mother was already speaking.
"Quick, quick, Mary" her mother was saying "change into something decent and put on some perfume".
Before Mary could protest her mother hushed her "just do what I say you will soon find how why". She could see the twinkle in her mother's eyes.
When she had finished dressing her mother looked at her and nodded her approval. Then she led her towards the living room.
"What is happening?" Mary inquired.
"Joseph is here to see you" her mother answered with that same smile on her face.
Mary's heart began to beat faster and her knees felt weak and she had to steady herself before continuing. What could Joseph want with her? She was afraid to hope that he still wanted her.
Maybe he had changed his mind about making the whole thing a private matter. He had a right to bring her before the judges and demand due punishment according to the law of Moses. But all that disappeared when she saw him.
The way his face lit up when he saw her, stopping in mid speech and acknowledging her made her fears give way. That tiny spark of hope began to grow. She kept looking at his face searching for anything that would confirm her hopes.
When she sat down, Joseph nodded at her father who cleared his throat. She just sat there not moving when her father finished. This was too good to be true. Joseph wanted to marry her right away.
She looked at him and what she saw in his face now took her breath away. He was smiling at her in that sheepish way and his eyes were twinkling. He didn’t need to say it; his eyes said it all. He was still in love with her.
He was not marrying her out of pity or obligation from the dream he had. He was marrying her because that was what he wanted. He was happy to. He apologized to her for not believing her and told her how God had appeared to him in his dream, confirming her story and then telling him to go ahead with the wedding.
He also told her of his anguish and mourning in the past month. He had found himself defending her even in his struggles and debates with himself. His heart had believed her but his head hadn’t and though he had taken the decision to break the engagement his heart had not allowed him to rest. Then God had spoken to him in his dream and told him to go ahead with the marriage.
After Joseph left to make the final preparations, Mary found herself walking towards her oak tree, her legs rather than her will leading her towards it. She was still in a daze. Joseph was back. And he wanted to marry her right away!
Just as like the first time, the tears came without warning. But this time it was not of sorrow. Her body racked with spasms as she sobbed and relief soared through her. Then she felt it again, lifted her head backwards as it flooded her; the peace she had coveted and longed for.
Then she opened her mouth and sang.
"My soul will magnify the Lord and my spirit praises him...."
The months sped by and Mary was now back to her normal self. Marriage to Joseph was a dream come true. He was a patient and caring man. He made sure she was comfortable despite the fact that their income was meager. Mary was almost due and well rounded.
The nights were unusually long as she tossed and turned trying to find a comfortable position. As usual Joseph had been there for her; rubbing her back and holding her to sleep. She soon discovered that that was the most comfortable position.
Then a decree had come from Caesar that all Jews were to return to their hometown for a nationwide census. Mary and Joseph had to leave for Bethlehem-Judah. They stayed in the rear of the caravan that was travelling to Bethlehem because Joseph did not want her to push herself too hard. He made sure they stopped often for her to rest. He began to get worried when her feet started to swell but she assured him that it was nothing.
Finally they were in Bethlehem. They arrived at sun down and to their dismay the inns were full. Just as they were exiting the last of the inns, Mary shouted. The labour pains had begun. Joseph began to panic; will Mary deliver in the open? Who will attend to her birth? He had no skill in delivering a woman!
He rushed back to the inn frantic and pleaded with the inn keeper to give them any room at all, told him his wife was in labour. The inn keeper sadly shook his head, he couldn't help.
Joseph turned, shoulders slumped and was walking away dejected. He had failed his wife, failed God: He couldn’t even provide a shelter for the newborn. Surely the small child wouldn’t survive in the cold night; that was if by some miracle Mary delivers successfully. Oh God! She could die in childbirth!!
Just as he reached the door, the innkeeper called to him.
"Just on your way to the right is a stable" he said "you might be able to find a room especially seeing your wife's condition"
Joseph nodded and left the inn. He followed the inn keeper’s direction to the stable. The keeper offered them a room. With his skill in delivering horses, he helped Mary with her delivery with Joseph as his assistant.
Thus just some minutes after midnight baby Jesus took his first breath on a cold wintry night in a stable in Bethlehem-Judah; the city of great kings, he being the greatest of them all.
Mary held the messiah in her hands, sweat on her brows. He looked so tiny but was perfect. Her heart was full of love for her son, her Savior, her Lord.
The events of the past months flooded her and she could not help the tears. She had been favored and chosen; she had fulfilled destiny, changed history.
She looked up at Joseph, the man that had stood by her, believed her and obeyed God. He was looking at the child with admiration and she could see he loved the child as his own. And in that moment she loved him more; she didn’t know she could, thought she had given him all but she did love him more. She reached her hands to him and he squeezed it gently and moved closer to her side.
In a nearby hill
The shepherds were gathered around a blazing fire, and Eliphaz was telling a story that was making the others reel with laughter.
Suddenly, the heavens brightened and stopped their laughter midway. They beheld an amazing sight: the sky was filled with angels singing. The melody caused their hearts to yearn.
Then an angel spoke to them "a saviour is born unto you in the city of David...."
And then the multitudes of angels were singing "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace: goodwill towards men!"
Merry Christmas to all and sundry!!
Happy Birthday Jesus, Messiah, Saviour!!!
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