I was young when I was faced with some monumental changes in my life. There happened to be a man whom my parents thought would make me a good husband. He was quite a bit older than I was, but this was common in those days. Men had to be able to sufficiently provide for a wife and family before contemplating marriage and by the time they were ready they often sought out younger women who were strong enough to bear and raise lots of children.
Joseph was a carpenter and was quite poor. Though I didn’t know him, I could tell he was a hard worker and would be kind to me. I had to marry somebody from my own tribe- the tribe of Judah- because I had no brothers and was the first-born daughter. This was the only way I could inherit my father’s land.
That’s when he showed up at my house one day and asked for my hand in marriage. This meant that my family would be deprived of my household help, so my father needed adequate compensation for his loss. After a long session of negotiating a proper price for me while my mother and I sat there watching, Joseph and my father reached an agreement and all eyes turned to me.
I had about thirty seconds to agree or disagree to the arrangement. If I disagreed Joseph would leave and I would never see him again. If I agreed there would be a legally binding betrothal ceremony, and a series of closely chaperoned “get acquainted” meetings would be scheduled. We would never be alone together until our wedding night, which would take place only after Joseph’s father determined that the house he was building for us was finished and suitable. As you already know, I agreed to marry Joseph.
During this waiting period of our betrothal, I was visited by the angel Gabriel. When he appeared seemingly out of nowhere he said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” When I heard this I was perplexed. Why was he greeting me in such a way? While I was still pondering over his greeting, the angel continued and said, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” I asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” I said. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left me.
It’s difficult to describe the emotions I felt immediately following that conversation. Awe. Fear. Confusion. Joy. And then I thought of Joseph. What was he going to think? Would anyone believe me? Then I remembered what Gabriel had said about my cousin Elizabeth being pregnant. Surely if anyone could relate to my situation it’d be her. She had been barren all of her life, which was a huge disgrace for women during my time. And now she was pregnant in her old age- clearly an act of God! I decided to travel the journey from Nazareth to the hill country of Judea- about a 3-5 days journey to visit her. But before I left, I knew I needed to talk to my fiance.
That conversation with Joseph was the most difficult I have ever had in my life. I saw the pain and the hurt in his eyes as I told my story. He probably figured I made up the story about Gabriel in order to protect the man I had committed adultery with. I knew how absurd it all sounded, but it was the truth.
Now, there’s something you must understand about my culture. In those days, being engaged to somebody was so binding that if a woman’s fiance died, she would be considered a widow. So you can imagine how seriously my culture took unfaithfulness during this betrothal period. Joseph could have brought me before the priests and accused me of sexual promiscuity- a crime punishable by death. Even if they let me live, my life would be ruined! An unmarried girl was supposed to remain a virgin and no self-respecting man would take a bride who wasn’t. And in those days there was no such thing as a single mom. All I could do was trust God.
God was so good in giving me a kind and righteous fiance. Joseph showed mercy and decided to divorce me quietly so that I wouldn’t be disgraced. Believe me, this was still incredibly painful to face. I was blameless, yet how could my fiance believe such a thing was possible?
After our heart-wrenching conversation, I left to visit Elizabeth for many months. The separation helped some, but I knew my return to Nazareth would be difficult. I was right. Family and friends whom I loved judged me. But when I saw Joseph for the first time in many months I saw genuine love in his eyes. Smiling softly, he told me, “We will name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” Relief and joy washed over me in those moments. I found out later that at some point while I was away, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and confirmed to him that what I had said was true. My husband displayed such courage, obedience, and purity as he continued our engagement and abstained from consummating our marriage until after our son’s birth.
To Be Continued…