The door opened slowly, revealing Mary’s mother, Hannah, with a pale and withdrawn face as she looked up at me. Sighing, she opened the door wider to let me in. “Come in, Joseph, but prepare yourself…”
I rushed in the house, looking for Mary in earnest, yet concerned by Hannah’s glumness.
I ached at the sight of her gentle figure working the dough on the counter, with her long dark hair wound in a braid behind her. She was so beautiful. When she saw me, her face lit up with a warm glow.
She hurried towards me. “Oh, Joseph…” Suddenly, she dropped her hands to her sides and stared at the dirt floor.
Puzzled, I reached for her small hand. “Mary.” My voice was tighter than I wanted it to be. “I’m sorry I took so long. Jerusalem’s marketplace is competitive.”
“I imagine.” She didn’t look at me, but she squeezed my hand.
I searched her haggard, tear-stained face. My dear Mary. A woman of surpassing beauty… and fierce devotion to the Lord. Whatever was bothering her, I longed to comfort her, to wrap my arms around her and encourage her that everything was going to be all right.
“What’s the matter?” I asked, desperate to understand what she was hiding from me.
She turned her body away. “You wouldn’t believe me.”
“That’s right–and you shouldn’t believe her, for that matter!” Hannah yelled from where she sat across the room, grinding flour with a stone.
Baffled, I spoke hesitantly to my fiancé. “Mary, you’re one of the most trustworthy people I know. What is it that you don’t think I’d believe?”
Smiling feebly, she sank to a chair. “Sit down, Joseph.”
I obeyed, yet eyed her uncertainly.
She tucked a tendril of her thick hair behind her ear. “I’m not sure how to say this, but I… I saw an angel. His name was Gabriel and he told me–”
“–Wait a minute. You saw an angel?” I tried to keep my voice steady, yet I was overcome by the news of this wondrous event.
She nodded meekly.
“An actual angel–straight from God? What did he look like? Did he blind you with heavenly light?”
Mary didn’t even smile. “That’s not the point, Joseph. He told me I was pregnant.”
Her words jolted me out of my humor. I stood up. “You’re what?”
“I’m… I’m pregnant. But it’s not what you think, I–”
“–Mary, you know why I stayed in Jerusalem a week longer? So I could make money for our future together. Our future, Mary!”
I fumed with anger, wanting to set the whole world ablaze. During all those weeks of hard work, she’d been sneaking off with another man. Was I not good enough for her? Mary, sweet Mary… I adored her, but this? This was unacceptable!
I paced the floor, raking my hand through my tousled brown hair.
Mary stood up and pulled on my sleeve. “You don’t understand! I didn’t do anything wrong, Joseph. The angel said–”
“–The stupid angel!” I roared, yanking her hand off my sleeve. “What a pitiful excuse!”
Though I grimaced inwardly at my words, I couldn’t help but feeling betrayed.
Mary fell at my feet and sobbed. “You’re just like the rest of them. I thought I could trust you, Joseph!”
“The whole town is going to think it was a scandal–between you and me!”
“You have to trust me!” Mary cried. “The angel said that I conceived this child by the Holy Spirit. This child is the Messiah, coming to save the world from sin. Do you hear me, Joseph?”
I scowled, hurt that she would make up such a devious lie. “Yeah, I hear you. But your mother’s right–I’d be a fool to believe you!”
I stormed out of the house, trying to make sense of the lies spewing out of dear Mary’s beautiful lips. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t. I couldn’t blind myself from the reality that her display of goodness and love was no more than a false mask, covering a sinful, faithless person. And as I trudged home, tears streamed down my cheeks for the loss of the woman I’d thought I could trust.
That night I lay in bed, making plans to secretly divorce Mary in the morning. Continuing on and marrying her was out of the question. Her pregnancy would start to show before we wed, causing rumors to flood the whole town.
I had to admit I had been harsh with Mary. Perhaps spending time with some man was a mistake she regretted, a mistake that would bring a lifetime of shame upon her shoulders.
Whatever the case, her pregnancy would ruin both of our reputations, especially hers. However much she had hurt me, I loved her too much to let her become a disgrace to the town. Though she would probably end up one anyway, breaking off the engagement would at least put some of the rumors to rest.
As I drifted off into a fitful sleep, a voice called out to me in the darkness.
“Joseph, son of David…”
The gentle voice echoed in the night, until before my eyes appeared a shiny figure. An angel? My heart pounded in my chest. For a second I wondered if this was Gabriel, who had supposedly spoken to Mary.
“Joseph, son of David…” I was startled that he knew my name and the name of my much-respected ancestor. “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
I stared at the angel, who illuminated heavenly light, but I did not go blind.
Then I woke up with a start. Sunlight poured through my small open window.
Jesus. The name pounded in my head like a small hope at the end of a tunnel. I was reaching for the light. Oh, Jesus, dear, dear Jesus. The baby boy inside Mary’s womb, the promised One of Israel, the Anointed One–the child… conceived by the Holy Spirit.
This wasn’t Mary’s fault. It wasn’t anybody’s fault. God gave Mary the baby. It was the greatest blessing a person could desire.
I shot out of bed, suddenly wide awake. Mary, my poor, sweet Mary. Regret gripped me for how I had treated her the other day.
I fled out of the house, determined to stand by Mary no matter the cost, along with the infant Messiah that grew within her.
Gabriel’s words taken from Matthew 1:19-21 (NLT).