As the westering sun fell beneath the distant horizon, the small band of travelers quieted and began the work of setting up camp for the night. Packs were opened and the women in the group got themselves to the work of preparing the evening meal for their families. Mary shuddered and sighed.
“Are you cold, my love?”
“No, Joseph, I am afraid.”
“Of all things, I suppose.”
Two days into the journey to Bethlehem, the newly reunited couple sat down together. Joseph began to unpack their bit of belongings while Mary looked off into the distance, wondering what the next day would bring. She was tired and weary, weighed down by the burden of the nearly grown child in her womb. She would give birth tomorrow. Of this she was quite sure. Around them, the other members of Joseph’s family and several others who traced their lineage to Bethlehem talked among themselves in hushed tones. Mary and Joseph had chosen a spot to camp that was a little bit removed from the rest of their group, hoping to secure a measure of privacy that only newly reunited couples can truly appreciate.
“Why are you afraid?”
“I have been suffering from some very fearsome dreams as of late. Dreams as troubling as I have ever dreamed. I am afraid for our child, Joseph,”
“But we have received glorious assurances regarding the one who grows in your womb. The angel has announced that he is to be great, that he is to be the Son of the Most High, that he will reign over an eternal kingdom; that he will be the Messiah. Why are you troubled? God is with us.”
“But Joseph, please try to understand! My dreams are nightmares! They belie the glorious message of the angel, they mock it! The dreams threaten danger for us and our child. They scream of suffering and death! The dreams are evil, Joseph, evil. There are times, when upon awakening, that I can hardly remember the strong and comforting message of the angel. The dreams make me doubt the truth of his message, and now, often, I find myself doubting that the angel even appeared to me. That, too, seems only as if it was a dream, though in my heart I know better.”
Joseph took time to ponder what Mary had said. In truth, he did not know how to respond. There seemed to be no fast arriving answers to quiet Mary’s heart. He thought of his own disbelief on first hearing of Mary’s tale. He remembered his anger at her, and the deep disappointment that she had caused him, and he, himself, shuddered at the consequences of his intended actions, had not the angel of the Lord appeared to him in his own dream. Off in the distance, Joseph noticed a shepherd settling down in the fading daylight with his flock of sheep. Hoping to find the right words to say, Joseph drew Mary’s attention to the shepherd.
“How peaceful he looks with his sheep. I imagine he is speaking words of quiet comfort to them, even now. See how they lie down in the grass! They know that their shepherd watches over them as we know that our Good Shepherd watches over us. Perhaps we ought to lie down together in imitation of them. We have had our meal, what is to keep us from sleep?’
In their bed-roll, Mary moved closer to Joseph and held him fast. He reciprocated by hugging her even more closely to him. The cold fear in her heart slowly began to subside in the warmth of Joseph’s embrace.
“We have seen the hand of God at work so powerfully in our lives, Mary. Think of the miracle when you went to visit with Elizabeth. Think of the miracle of our reunion, and of the joy of our wedding. God is in all of these things. God has done well with us, He has promised us His blessing!”
“But my soul is torn, Joseph. There are times when I can truly magnify the Lord. I am happy, and I am blessed beyond all imagination. My heart rings out along with my voice with songs of thanksgiving and joy. You, my love, have witnessed this. But at other times, I am overcome with the fright of an evil presence. It is as if this evil presence does not want me to even have this child. It has caused me to think of unspeakable things, especially while we were separated, and when I endured the jeers and disbelief of my family. I want to be at peace, Joseph. I want to have faith.”
It was completely dark now, and the fires of the encampment were beginning to die down. A hush settled over the plains, and the stars began their nightly conquest of the sky, piercing the darkness with their persistent light.
“We will be safe, my dear, for we have found favor with God. We know not the road ahead of us, nor can we predict our end. But we have been in the company of angels and we have dreamed dreams of angels. Our fears, while real cannot overcome our hopes. Our calling is from God, and with God, nothing is impossible.”
“I know all these things, Joseph, and I know them in my heart. Will you pray with me, Joseph? Will you hold my hand and ask God to help me to truly rejoice in God, my savior? Will you pray that I will rejoice in the good understanding that the Mighty One has done great things for me? Will you pray that we both will have the strength to be His servants in all that He calls us to do?”
Joseph took Mary’s hand and began to pray. The words, stumbling at first, eventually rolled forth with strong cadences from his determined heart. And Mary heard comforting words of hope and healing for her soul, sent from the father above, working their way into her troubled heart. In this place of unequaled intimacy, neither of them noticed the host of angels keeping protective vigil over them in the darkness of that night. But both of them slept in heavenly peace.
Have a truly blessed Christmas, Wayne