Welcome to the continuation of our Advent journey! Read Day One here.
Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit . . .
~ Isaiah 11:1
She is gone . . . thank God, she is gone.
I grip the door frame as Mary disappears up the dusking street, my own breathing harsh and heavy in my ears. Then I see Ezekiel ben Jotham round the corner, and duck inside my shop before he can hail me with a greeting.
With shaking hands I clear the wood shavings from my worktable and fumble for my tools. My hammer, mallet, adze. I gather and set them in order in the falling darkness.
My fingers bump something, nearly knocking it from the worktable. I grasp the object and hold it to a wan beam of evening light from my one window.
A carved wood lampstand. I was making it, for Mary. For us.
The weight of what she has just told me crushes my shoulders, and I hurl the lampstand into the corner and drop onto my workbench. I bury my head in my arms, a sob catching and choking in my throat.
Ah, Lord God. How can this be? My betrothed, my beloved. My wife.
All my dreams, treasured and saved up like the bride price I collected coin by coin, now crumble to ashes by a few minutes of breathlessly-told story.
I had wondered, wrestled with a vague unease these three months she’s been in Judea with her cousin Elizabeth—she left so suddenly, with so little explanation. I tried to mark it to a young girl’s last fling of freedom before the burdens of wife and motherhood settled fully on her shoulders.
The irony of the last thought catches me with a humorless laugh that burns my chest, then simmers with a low-burning anger.
Why? Why would she sneak off, wait so long to tell me? If she—the thought chokes me—were taken advantage of by some worthless wretch, did she not know I would defend her to the last?
Or, little as I can bear to think it, did she never welcome our betrothal at all? Has she been trysting with some other lover all this time?
No. The thought pushes me to my feet, and I slam my fist into the worktable. The Mary I’ve loved and longed for would not do such a thing. It can’t be.
But could she really have concocted a tale such as this?
I pace the dirt floor of my shop, gripping my head in my hands. Yes, there’s an obscure prophecy that might indicate the Messiah being born of a virgin. Yes, we’ve been hoping and waiting for Him all our lives. But here? Now? To us?
Surely ‘tis blasphemy to even think it.
I throw myself on my cot, unable to consider an evening meal. The choices circle through my head like a taunting array of bullies. Deny the child as mine—true, but a shudder wracks me at the thought of stones pelting her body, crushing the life from her. God help me, I cannot accuse her.
Still take her as wife—how, when she carries the child of another? Even were her story miraculously true . . . a quaking seizes my insides. I could never—no.
Long hours I toss on my thin pallet. At last, staring up into the darkness, I know there is only one thing I can do, can possibly live with.
I will divorce her, quietly, with no accusation. It’s the only way.
The confusion eases from my chest, only to be replaced by a crushing grief and aloneness. I turn my face into my pillow and weep, till finally sleep creeps over me even as the stars wane toward dawn.
Then suddenly, I am no longer alone.
“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.
“She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
I wake, sweat dampening my palms, and fall trembling to my knees on the hard floor beside my bed.
Ah, Lord God!
Wonder, confusion, hope, surrender chase each other. So my dreams have been turned upside down. Because He had a far greater dream in store.
The quaking seizes me again. How can I do this? I’m a simple carpenter. Why me?
Do not be afraid.
I lift my head. Beyond my window the sky gilds rose and ochre toward sunrise. The fear lifts, the trembling easing from my limbs.
Originally posted December 14, 2013.