The whisper in the darkness startled him as he closed the door to the shop. He whirled around, catching a glimpse of the young woman peeking around the corner. He began to walk away, shaking the wood chips from his clothing.
“Joseph! I need to tell you something!”
Almost out of sight now, Joseph heard her pleading voice. “Joseph. Please. Stop.” He turned and strode back to the door. Opening it, he motioned for her to follow.
In the dimness, he could see the outline of her face. Mary. His precious Mary.
They stood in awkward silence for a moment before Mary began to speak.
“I couldn’t tell you in front of them.”
“Them.” Oh, them. “They” always made it so difficult. “Them” and their rules.
“What is it my love?”
“I had a dream. A vision. A visitation. I really don’t know what it was. Just…. something. Something happened and I’m scared.”
Joseph reached out and touched her arm. “They” wouldn’t approve. They would be horrified if they knew he was alone in the darkness with his betrothed.
Mary continued, “Joseph…. it was a heavenly being. A spirit. An angel. Something. He was enormous and glimmering gold and sparkling diamonds. He was ferocious but he was peace personified. I don’t know what it means. I’m scared.”
Joseph pulled her into his arms. Drat “them” and their rules. “I’ll take care of you my darling.”
Her whispers floated in the stillness. “He told me I had found favor with God.”
“Bless you, sweet Mary. It’s about time someone else noticed!”
“But Joseph…. He told me that I would conceive. That I would have a son. I tried to tell him this was impossible, but he said it would be the work of the Holy Spirit. I’m scared. I don’t know what to do.”
Joseph slumped into a chair. What does this mean? Them and their rules. It could happen right here, right now, with them being alone in the darkness. It was convenient and completely possible. But if it did happen, she would be worse than the laughingstock of the town. She’d be ridiculed. She might even be stoned to death. This must not happen.
“Darling Mary. It had to be just a dream. In a few short months we will be married and everything will be as it should be. Don’t be afraid Mary.”
He stood, reaching for the door. Looking out, he whispered, “I need to get home. Mother is probably wondering where I am.” Them and their rules. Again.
Joseph watched Mary’s shadow disappear in the darkness and then set out on his own walk down the dusty path to his mother’s table and the bread and fish waiting for his dinner.
The laughing chatter of his brothers and sisters did nothing to break his contemplative mood. He washed. He ate. He immediately excused himself and lay down on his cot. What if it did happen? Would he? Could he? Could he continue to love her? What was a young carpenter to do?
* * * * *
Several weeks later, just as the sun was beginning to set, Joseph again stepped out of his shop and heard his name frantically whispered. Fear gripped his heart. He stepped back into the small building and a moment later, a dark figure slipped in behind him. He closed the door silently, turned toward her and held her close. “Tell me it isn’t so….”
“Joseph, my love…. I am with child. I’m afraid. Please don’t leave me!” A silent tear slipped out of her eye and glistened in the glow of the sunset. “Don’t let them hurt me!”
Them. Their rules. Why must they be so difficult?
So it had happened. It wasn’t his doing. Sure, they had touched, shyly in the darkness that night several weeks ago. But it wasn’t him. It wasn’t him. How could this be? He sank to the floor, sighing.
“Mary. Join me?” He held his hand up to her.
She sat next to him, tears flowing. He had heard that this happened. Women were emotional when they were with child. It must be so. He put his arm around her and she shivered in the darkness as she leaned against him.
“What am I going to do? How is this supposed to work? Why me?”
“Shhh, my love.”
They sat in silence for a moment.
* * * * *
He was a good man, her Joseph. She knew she was truly a favored one among women. Her friends were betrothed to harsh men. Men who wouldn’t take the time to listen. Men who would rather report rule breakers than be rule breakers. But her Joseph. Her Joseph was different. He wasn’t wealthy. His social class was near the bottom. He was a nobody among the religious people. But he was gentle. He was kind. He didn’t hit and holler like the other men. And best of all, he cared and she could feel it.
“Joseph, darling…. Please love me anyway….”
* * * * *
She walked one way. He walked the other. It was as it was supposed to be that night. She to her mother’s table and the simple meal set and he to his mother’s table where a similar meal was set. They both picked at their food in silence while their families chattered around them. They excused themselves murmuring of long days and early mornings and lay in their cots on opposite ends of town, thinking of the future. Asking impossible questions. Wondering. Hoping.
A baby truly, truly changes everything.
Could they marry early and no one would know the difference?
No. Impossible. It just wasn’t done. They would know the reason.
“God!” Joseph whispered. “What am I supposed to do? You know it wasn’t me! I can’t disgrace her. I can’t let ‘them’ have their way with her. They are so cruel. What am I supposed to do?”
He fell into a fitful sleep while Mary, on the other end of town, lay in the darkness caressing her stomach. “I love you already, Sweet Baby…. But what do we do?”
Her thoughts wandered to Joseph. What would he do? He knew she wasn’t like that. He knew she would never do this of her own free will. But Them. They would have plenty to say. She was certain that when they found out, everything about her would change.
* * * * *
Three o’clock in the morning. It seemed things happened at 3:00 in the morning. Joseph woke with a start from a fitful dream. He’d married her anyway. And what was it? The Voice. It had said something about Mary. About the Baby. What was it?
Joseph rolled over but sleep would not come. What had the message been? He got up to get a drink of water, stopping to watch a bright star in the night sky.
“Do not be afraid!”
Wait…. what? Wasn’t that what Mary had said the angel had said to her that night? Do not be afraid.
Do not be afraid.
Joseph took a deep breath.
The light of the star mesmerized him as he recalled the message of the angel in the dream. “Joseph. Son of David! Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife! The baby within her is truly conceived of the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you are to name Him Jesus because He will save his people from their sins!”
This baby would truly change everything. He would change everything for everyone, not just for him and his betrothed. This Baby — He was the long-awaited Messiah.
“Them” and the rules. They didn’t matter anymore. Grace had come. Grace had overtaken Joseph and he knew exactly what was to be done.