“… After eight days, Joseph came and circumcised the baby. We were in the main part of the house by then, and when Joseph appeared with the sharpened knife, I knew what he was going to do. How the baby wailed! It felt cruel, though I knew it was the right thing to do, even in this strange place we must obey the Jewish laws. We also formally gave him the name Yeshua, the name we had been told to give him by the angel, all those months ago. I wondered if Joseph minded, people would know it wasn’t a family name. (I also had no one called Yeshua in my own family, though I did know a boy from my childhood with the name.)
After forty days, we had to travel to Jerusalem, to pay for redemption at the temple. As Joseph was from the tribe of Judah, we had to pay five shekels of silver. We couldn’t afford a lamb, so bought two pigeons to sacrifice. It was nice to leave Bethlehem and to have some exercise at last, to see people and to take my baby into the world. I felt quite excited as I approached the temple, our holy place. I didn’t recognise anyone, but everyone could see we had a new baby and lots of the women came over to see him. I felt so happy! It almost made up for my mum not being there, it was nice to show my baby.
We walked through the Beautiful Gate and up to the Gate of Nicanor. A timeless place, even the stones seem holy somehow, and permanent, like they will always stand there. The house of God.
Then something strange happened. As Joseph and I walked through the temple, a man approached us. He came to look at Yeshua, and indicated that he wanted to hold him. That was a little unusual but there was something about him, something that made you sure he was a good man, someone you could trust. When he looked at the baby, he got all emotional and prayed, thanking God and saying that now he could die in peace. He blessed me and Joseph too, and then he leant towards me and said something which was very strange. He said Yeshua would cause “the fall and rising of many in Israel” and would be “a sign that would be opposed so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
What does that mean? I know that he is God’s own son, and that he is part of the plan to establish God’s reign on earth. Will he be opposed? Surely everyone will accept God’s annointed one. We have waited so long for him.
Then he said something that made me afraid. His face was very near, I could smell his breath. He spoke in a low voice – with all the bustle and noise of the temple, I’m not sure that anyone else heard. He stared into my eyes, and said that a sword would pierce my soul.
It made me very frightened, I practically snatched Yeshua away from him. I want my son to grow strong and be happy, will I suffer for this? I knew I was tired, not getting enough sleep, and it was hard to care for a new baby in a strange place without my mother to help me. I didn’t want to hear the man’s words, even if they were true. Who was he anyway?
The man left us, and almost at once an old lady approached. She was ancient, her white hair showed under her mitpahath, and she leant heavily on a stick. But what I noticed most were her eyes. They almost sparkled! You could tell at once that she was a holy woman, but also one who loved to laugh.
As soon as she saw Yeshua she started to pray loudly, thanking God, and telling people nearby that if they wanted Jerusalem to be redeemed, they should look to the baby. I was glad that no Romans were allowed in the temple, we would have been in trouble. Several people stopped when they heard her, and stared at the baby. But no one else approached, and I kept tight hold of him. How strange it all was. I felt that I had had enough of strangeness now, I needed a bit of ‘normal’.
We finished making the offerings, and then went back to Bethlehem. I didn’t know whether to tell Joseph what the old man told me. I kept thinking about his words, worrying about what they might mean. I was so tired, I decided I would wait and maybe tell him later.
The months passed, and we settled into life in Bethlehem. We moved into a little house and Joseph worked on the many building projects that the Romans have introduced. It’s a good time to be a carpenter, there’s lots of work to be had.
Yeshua continued to thrive. He grew into a sturdy toddler and would walk around the room, holding onto the stools and baskets. I loved to feel his solid weight when I carried him on my hip, the snuffle of his breath on my neck when he slept against me. He started to sleep much better at night, and Joseph and I were thinking about having another child.
Then everything changed.
It was one evening, still quite early, but we had filled the lamp with olive oil and lit the linen wick. Joseph put it on a bushel basket, so the room was well lit and we could talk about the day. Suddenly, there was a banging at the door.
Joseph went at once and there, in the road, was a group of Persian travellers. They had dismounted from their horses and were peering intently into the house. They told Joseph they had seen a star, and had come to worship the king. I was so glad I hadn’t gone to bed yet, they were terribly grand.
We let them into the house, and I went to get Yeshua. He was damp from sleep, and his tired eyes looked blearily around him. I wondered if he would cry, but he seemed fascinated by our strange visitors. They wore their hair in long curls, one had a band of gold on his head. It glinted in the lamp light, I could see Yeshua watching it intently, watching the reflections from the lamps. Their clothes were patterned with birds and flowers.
We offered them wine, it was clear they were tired from their journey. I was embarrassed that we only had two stools to offer them, but they didn’t seem to mind, and in fact insisted that I should sit on one with Yeshua, they were happy to sit on the rush mat. They didn’t really sit anyway, they wanted to kneel before Yeshua.
Then they gave him gifts. They were beautiful to look at. They gave him gold, signifying that he is a king. They gave him frankincense – the strong aroma filling the house. I wondered if Yeshua was to be a priest, even though he is not descended from Levi. They also gave him myrrh. Myrrh is costly – but is for embalming a dead body. It was a strange gift for a baby, and I wondered what it meant.
They told us their story before they left. In their Persian home, they were magi, watching the stars and foretelling the future. Many months ago, at the time of Yeshua’s birth, they had seen a special star, which they knew meant a powerful new king had been born. They determined they would find and worship him. Unfortunately, following the star caused them to go to Jerusalem first (I always knew that star gazing was a misleading activity!) They went to Herod’s palace, and asked where the new king was. (This was scary, Herod had shown he was not a king to be trusted, and his cruelty was well known. I would not have wanted to visit his palace.)
However, it sounded as though he had decided to be helpful. He asked the scribes to research the early scriptures, and they discovered that the promised king was to be born in Bethlehem. The king told the Easterners and asked them to find the king and then return and tell him the exact location, so that he too could worship.
I wondered what would happen next. Would Herod himself come to visit my precious baby, or would we be summoned to the palace? This was not a comfortable thought.
I also wondered why the palace scribes had not come to visit us. Did they not believe the scriptures that they studied so diligently? Surely if they were truly expecting a redeemer they would also have come?
The men left. They planned to sleep in an inn, returning to Jerusalem the next day. We could not offer them lodging in our tiny house, and they seemed content to leave now they had seen Yeshua.
I returned Yeshua to bed, and soon after, Joseph and I also went to sleep.
I had not been asleep for long when Joseph woke me. He shook me awake, then went to light the lamp. I could see his face was tense, and instantly turned to check Yeshua was well. He was sleeping soundly.
Joseph told me I needed to get up at once, we needed to leave. He said that he had had a dream, like the dream when the angel told him that the baby inside me was God’s son. It was so intense and real, he could not ignore it. He said he had been told we must leave Israel, Yeshua was in danger, Herod planned to kill him. While he was talking he was flinging things into sacks, packing up our few possessions, rushing to leave.
I didn’t move at first, and sat wondering why I too had not be warned. And then I realised – God had told Joseph to take care of me and Yeshua. That was a hard task for a man, to care for a son that was not his own. So God was now telling Joseph alone what we needed to do, underlining his role, establishing him as head of our family. It was a kind act, it’s so important for the men to feel in charge, so they have the respect of those around them.
I began to help pack our things but Joseph was hurrying me, telling me to only take what was essential. We were to go to Egypt. Egypt! Could this be right? Was Yeshua not to be king of the Jews? I packed hurriedly and we left that very night.
As I carried Yeshua to the cart, I wondered, what would the future hold? Would we ever return to our home town? The future was uncertain, but I knew that something bigger than us was happening. Whatever happened, God had a plan and no one could alter the course of that.”
This account necessarily involves some imagination but I believe it is also as historically correct as possible (and a lot more correct than some of our Christmas carols!)
If you are aware of any historical errors, please tell me and I will modify it.
I used a variety of sources including:
The gospels of Matthew and Luke
Geoffrey Bromily (1995)
Joseph P Amar (university of Notre Dame)
Thank you for reading.
If you enjoyed this, you might enjoy Hidden Faces by Anne E. Thompson. Available from bookshops and Amazon:
Hello Anne. Thank you for this story. I read both parts this morning and I believe it’s so important to get away from the cosines of the sentimentality of Christmas cards, school nativities, and even as you write after the story, some carols. A few years ago I began a new personal Christmas tradition. On my days off I’m always awake before anyone else, and so I come downstairs soon after 6.00, make myself a cup of coffee and have a quiet time. A few years back I had read a book by Philip Yancey called The Jesus I Never Knew. The second chapter is entitled Birth: The Visited Planet. So, for the last four years (apart from one) I re-read this chapter. Philip starts by writing about the various scenes that are on the cards he receives, then he writes this, ‘ Inside, the cards stress sunny words like love, goodwill, cheer, happiness, and warmth. It’s a fine thing, I suppose, that we honour a sacred holiday with such honey sentiments. And yet when I turn to the gospel of accounts of the first Christmas, I hear a very different tone and sense mainly disruption at work.’ What I love about his book and your Mary’s Story, is that they both strip away the extra things that have been added over the years to make the original accounts more nice and less sanitized, and in doing so less real. For me, reading both the Visited Planet chapter and your story over the last couple of days has really helped me appreciate in greater depth the wonder of the first Christmas.
I hope you and your family are having a great Christmas and I wish you all good wishes for 2018. It was lovely to meet you at Hever Castle back in September, and I look forward to reading your blogs in the new year.
I will have to look for that book, I haven’t come across that one (I read one of his years ago, about grace. At least, I think it was him.)