Come, Thou long-expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in Thee…
Evening light glints on the soldiers’ helmets as they disappear in a cloud of dust.
I stare after them. Lord, if I’d known you meant literally for the Messiah to be born in David’s town, I would have taken her weeks ago.
As the hoofbeats fade, the murmur of voices around me rises in an angry swell. A census brought God’s judgment upon us in the days of King David. To many of my people, being counted by a heathen emperor is still worse.
Ezekiel ben Jotham bumps my shoulder, forgetting to snub me. “So where does this send you, Joseph? I must head for Tiberius.”
“Bethlehem.” I turn and head down the rocky street toward home.
Ezekiel falls into step beside me with a low whistle. “That’s a good four-days journey.”
“Longer, for us.” My gut tightens.
Ezekiel halts. “Ah—yes.” He steps back from me, trying to slip the guardedness of past months back over his face. But the bond has sprung up between us again, and he can’t quite manage it.
“Well, then.” He shifts his feet and briefly clasps my arm. “God go with you.”
Warmth spreads through my chest. “And with you.”
Mary is asleep when I reach home, curled on her side by the fire where our supper simmers. Her hand rests on her mounding belly, her head pillowed on her other arm.
I crouch beside her, watching her gentle breathing, then rest my head in my hands. Ah, Lord God, she is so close. How can she manage such a journey?
Again the enormity, the almost laughability of it all leaves me light-headed, and I study my calloused hands with their cracked and dirt-crusted nails. Why me? Why my Mary, precious though she is? I press my chin against my hands and look through the open doorway at the slow-appearing stars, the angel’s words tracing through my memory once more.
Joseph, son of David.
I would chuckle at Augustus thinking this census his idea, if it weren’t for her lying before me, so heavy with child.
Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.
The same trembling, the awe pours through my veins as on that night nearly six months ago.
She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.
Mary blinks and pushes herself up with a smile that makes me swallow. “You should have waked me. I sleep before I know it these days.”
Supporting her belly with one hand, she crouches to stir the stew. “Will you eat?”
I take her hand and draw her down beside me, her nearness still setting my heart to a gallop. “First I must tell you something, beloved.”
Do not be afraid.
For Mary’s sake, I must not be. I must trust, and obey. He must know what He is doing.