After eight days, Joseph came and circumcised the baby. How he 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!
We walked through the Beautiful Gate and up to the Gate of Nicanor.
It was then that 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, the old man 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 anointed one, we have waited so long for him.
But then he said something that made me afraid; this old man with his determined face and bright eyes. His face was very near, I could smell his breath.
He said that a sword would pierce my soul.
Something inside contracted, all the joy of entering the temple evaporated into a lump of fear. Fear and anger. I practically snatched Yeshua away from him. I want my son to grow strong and be happy, will I suffer for this? I will do everything in my power to protect him; he is mine.
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 felt that I did not want to hear the man’s words, even if they were true. I was coping with enough, and I felt that although I had been brave, I couldn’t be brave any more.
Thankfully 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. What I noticed most were her eyes. They almost sparkled! You could tell at once that she was a holy woman and also one who loved to laugh.
As soon as she saw Yeshua, the elderly woman 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.
We finished making the offerings and then went back to Bethlehem. I didn’t know whether to tell Joseph what the old man had 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 found work on the many building projects that the Romans have introduced.
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 light touch of his chubby fingers when he reached up to touch my face. There was pure joy in the gurgle of his giggles. He started to sleep much better at night and Joseph and I were thinking about having another child. But 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!
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 and one had a band of gold on his head. It glinted in the lamp light and I could see Yeshua watching it intently. 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 and 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 filled the house and 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 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 and they determined they would find him 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. Herod 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, asking 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 had the palace scribes not come to visit us? Why didn’t they travel with the Easterners to see the baby? Did they not believe the scriptures that they studied so diligently? Surely, if they were truly expecting a redeemer they would also have come? I frowned, feeling uneasy. There was something that I didn’t understand, and it nagged at me.
The men left. They planned to sleep in an inn and return 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 afterwards 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, so real, that he could not ignore it. Joseph said he had been told we must leave Bethlehem, leave Israel; Yeshua is in danger, Herod plans to kill him.
For a moment I paused, wondering why I too had not been warned. But then understanding flooded through me, as 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 now, God was telling Joseph alone what we needed to do, underlining his role, establishing him as head of our family. It was a kind act, asserting Joseph’s value, his part in all this.
I began to pack our things, Joseph was hurrying me, telling me to only take what was essential, we needed to leave.
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.
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, not Herod, not the Romans. We didn’t know what was going to happen, but we were part of the plan—and that was enough.
Thank you for reading.
This account necessarily involves some imagination but I believe it is also as historically correct as possible (and more accurate 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)
. . .this account of the Christmas story makes it seem very real and believable!