The wind was stronger this afternoon, Mary thought. Colder, too. Though wrapped tightly in her own cloak and Joseph’s as well, the young woman shivered, as much from the implications of what lay ahead as from the weather itself.
It had been the most amazing year of her brief life, and yet she sensed it would quickly pale in comparison to what was to come. Shifting her weight as much as possible on the back of the little donkey that transported her down the bumpy road, she thought back over the previous months, even as she fixed her eyes on the broad shoulders and strong back of Joseph, who faithfully led the way. How she had grown to love this good and gentle man since first they had pledged themselves to be married! And how she had once trembled at the thought of telling him of the baby who grew inside her….
It had all started with the angel, of course, who had come to her on an otherwise ordinary day, as she went about her common tasks. The appearance of the angel had so frightened her that she had scarcely been able to breathe…and yet a peace from above had accompanied the epiphany, assuring her that God had ordained it so. As a result, she had listened…and believed.
She believed when the angel told her that she was blessed among women and had found favor with God.
She believed that she would conceive and bring forth a Son, who would be called Jesus.
She believed that Jesus would be great and would be called the Son of the Most High.
She believed that the Lord God would give Jesus the throne of his father David.
She believed He would reign over the house of Jacob forever and there would be no end to His Kingdom.
And she believed all this despite the fact that she didn’t understand it.
“How can this be,” she had asked the angel, “since I do not know a man?”
In other words, she was a virgin and would remain so until her marriage to Joseph, so how could she conceive a child? She didn’t doubt the angel’s proclamation; she simply wanted to know how it would happen.
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).
Even now, as the long and difficult journey continued, Mary practiced what she so often did with the words and memories hidden in her heart: she treasured and pondered them, considering in awe how some of the prophesy had already come true, and wondering how the rest would yet unfold. For here she was, some nine months after the angel’s appearance, nearly ready to deliver the baby so miraculously conceived and about whom were written so many promises. And perhaps for the thousandth time she wondered, Why me, Lord?
The question brought another, more recent memory to mind, and Mary blushed at the reminder. When she’d heard that she and Joseph, along with everyone else “of the house and lineage of David” (Luke 2:1) would have to make the trip to Bethlehem to accommodate the decree of Caesar Augustus that “all the world should be registered,” Mary found herself asking, “Why now, Lord?” Though Mary was a godly, devout woman, she was also young and inexperienced…and understandably frightened at the prospect of giving birth under less-than-desirable circumstances. How much better to be at home with family and friends when the time came! Instead, here she was, jostling along behind Joseph as he trudged toward Bethlehem.
Despite her discomfort and apprehensions, Mary smiled as she continued to hold tight to the donkey with one hand and laid the other across her swollen abdomen. The baby wasn’t kicking tonight, as He usually did. The realization brought an initial stab of fear, followed quickly by the thought that perhaps the Holy Child was preparing for His entrance into the world. Mary’s mother had told her that babies sometimes rested just before beginning the birthing process.
Oh, no, not here, she begged silently. Please, Lord, not on the road! At least let us arrive safely in Bethlehem first. Surely someone there will take pity on us and grant us a safe, warm place to sleep, or… She pressed her eyes shut, breathing deeply to summon the courage to complete the thought. Or to bear this Child.
And then the angel’s final words from that life-changing encounter floated to her on the wind: “For with God nothing will be impossible” (Luke 1:37). The heaviness and concern in Mary’s heart lifted, and she smiled again, repeating aloud the words she had spoken before the angel left her: “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
The donkey stopped in its tracks, and Mary opened her eyes to find Joseph gazing back at her, a look of love and wonder on his face. “Yes,” he agreed, nodding. “Let it be to us according to His word.”
Mary answered him only with a smile, and her beloved Joseph turned his eyes back to Bethlehem and resumed the journey. For a long distance, neither of them spoke…not even when Mary felt the first twinges of pain dart across the front of her stomach and into her back. Her eyes widened and she caught her breath each time they occurred, but she continued to focus on the angel’s promise: “For with God nothing will be impossible.” Somehow she sensed, even as the sun began its descent and the air cooled with the coming night shadows, that they would make it to Bethlehem in time. What would happen then, or even in the years to come, she had no idea. But she was at peace now, as the knowledge that the God of the impossible was leading them, going ahead of them, providing for them…and, indeed, ordering their steps to accomplish His purpose.
“Thank You,” Mary whispered, even as the pains increased in intensity and frequency and Joseph finally announced that he could see Bethlehem in the distance. “Thank You, Lord God, Maker of heaven and earth, for the blessing of this Life within me, ready to be born and bless the world…according to Your word.”