“Are you all right?”
“The rascal bit me. That's the third time this feed.”
Mary reached down and stroked the cheek of the infant nursing voraciously at her breast. The baby boy balled five delicate fingers and stretched his arm in what might well be taken as a victory salute. What are you so happy about? the teenage mother wondered. How I would love to get inside your head.
“Just wait until he gets his first tooth. Then you'll really be in trouble.”
Mary's look was one of reprimand but her quiet smile belied the censure. Her eyes took in the firm jaw, the broad shoulders, the strong arms of her beloved. Truly God could not have given her a better husband. What other man would have waited so patiently while she carried her child to term? Or loved the baby as if it were his own? And in the weeks that followed, Joe had held his passions in check, giving her body time to heal. Even when the time came to take her as wife, he had proved a caring and sensitive lover, anxious lest in his ardour he should cause her pain.
Gnawing gums protested that it was time to change sides. No sooner was her son latched on than he chomped down sharply on his mother's nipple. No one ever said it was going to be easy. Mary's thoughts slipped easily into the past, leaving the insatiable guzzler to his own devices.
The angel's appearing had taken her entirely by surprise. To this day she didn't know where she had found the quiet composure to accept his curious words. She had rushed at once to visit her aged cousin, to confirm that she too was to bear a child. But at least Elizabeth had a husband. Mary's swelling belly had stirred up no end of comment from the tittle-tattlers and gossip-mongers in the village. Even Joe had been poised to turn his back on her. The constant innuendo combined with the deliberate slurs brought Mary no end of pain and distress, often leaving her sobbing her heart out at the injustice of it all.
The summons to Ephrathah had come at a convenient juncture; the decision to stay on an attempt to carve out a new life far from home. Giving birth in a stable was not something any mother dreams of, but it took her and Joe less than a fortnight to move into a house of their own. Then, some forty days after the birth, they had journeyed to the big city to offer their thanks to God for a safe delivery. She and Joe were halfway through their prayers when that old man had accosted them, practically snatching away their child.
His words were all of a jumble. Joe could repeat them verbatim. He was good at that sort of thing, attention to detail. But what had struck Mary was the old man's final pronouncement: “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”1 What a strange thing to say! Who ever heard of a sword piercing someone's soul? A man's chest, perhaps... And yet, as Mary gazed with eyes full of love at the child nursing at her breast, she understood.
Yes, he was God's Saviour, the long-awaited Messiah, the hope of Israel. In some bewildering, incomprehensible manner, he was even more than that. As the boy grew into all that God had prepared for him, Mary would be there by his side, urging him on, comforting her son when all the world turned against him. But who would comfort her when sorrow rose up as a flood to steal away her joy? Who would take the time to wipe away her tears?
Mary sighed, then shook her head to dispel such unhelpful thoughts. Her task was simple, to nurture the child entrusted to her. With the Lord looking on, what could possibly go wrong?
Safe in his mother's arms, the King of all Ages gurgled and giggled, satisfied by the steady stream of warm, tasty milk. Opening one eye, Jesus looked up into his mother's smiling face. And then, once again, he bit her.
1 Luke 2:35 NIV
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