Grace OkemeMother would be back soon with the guests, the food had to be ready. Mary looked at the carefully kneaded dough in satisfaction as she checked the progress of the barley cakes. The lamb had been put to roast and things were fully on course. She sat to catch her breath for just a moment on the low kitchen stool. Life had been fair to her with her engagement to the handsome and hardworking young man. She didn’t mind the meagre resources. She was ready to work hard to build her dream home.

Somehow, her eyes seemed to blur a little as she kept her watch on the roast meat. Suddenly there was an illumination and there she beheld one who could only have been an angel. Her heart raced but she got up boldly to receive him. “Hail, favoured woman,” he addressed her But she was puzzled as he spoke of things to happen. The angel further explained telling her she was to bear a son, she would name him JESUS. Mary paused as the words dawned on her and being greatly confused. “How can that happen? I am a virgin.” The angel seemed to smile as he explained that she would conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost. “Elizabeth is now six months pregnant. Nothing is impossible with God.”  Wonder filled her heart as she spoke in faith her eyes glistened as she replied “I am God’s servant, let it be unto me according to his word. Then he left. Her eyes were wide open as she walked back to the stool. Her hair stood on end at the thought of the news she had received, more importantly, her mind was busy and her heart was touched by the daring implication of those sayings.

She remembered Abraham, Jacob, Joshua, Manoah and his wife, Gideon, David, Ezekiel, Daniel and all who had had encounters with angels. She never imagined this would be her lot as she ruminated carefully on the event. She believed the angel, she was thrilled at his words, but there was still much more to conquer. Who would believe her strange fairy tale?  She fumbled affectionately with the tassels that adorned her robe. A robe from her beloved Joseph. What would he think, would he believe her or put her away? Surely she could convince someone, because she remembered she had heard sometime in the temple, as the scrolls were being read, that the long-awaited Messiah would be born of a virgin.

Her thoughts went to her cousin and her face brightened. No wonder Elizabeth had remained indoors. She was excited for Eliza, made up her mind to go visit her cousin. She finished up with the chores and left the house that was already bubbly and headed for the next street.

Later on as time wore on, she requested to see Joseph. She sat under a tree, as he stood in front of her wearing a perplexed look at the hint of urgency in her voice. She tried to look calm as he sat next to her and held her hand.  “Joseph, I’m pregnant!” His hold on her hands relaxed as his eyes widened in shock. “How could you?” He exclaimed, “I thought we could make this work”, Mary sighed and told him of her encounter with the angel, he looked perplexed as she spoke, he loved her but he could not place the things she was saying, he had no remedy for the turmoil in his mind. It is against the law for an engaged woman to be pregnant by another. Mary hurried back to her home, her head low as depressing thoughts filled her heart. How many more battles would she have to fight? How much more obstacles lay in wait? She put a few of her belongings together and sat down on the mat mentally exhausted. As she adjusted the wick of the lamp to check if it had enough oil for the night, she made up her mind to pay her cousin a visit. Elizabeth was pregnant too and she was more than excited. Early the next morning with a veil around her head, Mary headed for the hill country ever so anxious to see her beloved Elizabeth.

******

That night, as Joseph lay his head to sleep, he lay down more to think than to sleep. He just had to put her away secretly. He loved her too much to expose her to ridicule, and much more even a painful death. He fell into a troubled sleep after tossing about all night long. Suddenly He could see one so radiant and bright. It could only have been an angel. His mind was filled with awe as he beheld the happening in front of him he could hear the voice tell him something clearly and he seemed to say the same words Mary had narrated earlier. “Don’t be afraid to wed Mary, Joseph. The child was conceived by the Holy Ghost and his name will be Jesus”. He sat up immediately as cold sweat broke upon his brow. Surely, this must be true he exclaimed. He thought of Mary, how lovely she was and how much he loved her. He made up his mind to wed her no matter the cost.

******

She had just rounded off her chores for the morning. The early afternoon sun seemed to spread his warmth directly to her. Zechariah had confined himself to his bedroom ever since his strange encounter at the temple. However, she consoled herself joyfully in the fact that fruitfulness will be a reality in her home, with her pregnancy at six months, it was certainly no longer a dream. The babe in her womb had been merciful to her, peacefully growing every day. She sat down to finish up her knitting.

Someone entered hastily into the compound. Elizabeth looked up quickly as she rose up to receive the visitor but she could already hear the salutation from a distance, it was Mary her cousin. Simultaneously, she could feel stirrings in her wombs as her baby leaped like he had never done before. She put her hand to the bulge as she paused in her steps. She laughed and spoke out in a loud voice as she received a sudden inspiration. You are blessed among women Mary, what a privilege to have the mother of my Lord visit me in my home. Shock and wonder filled Mary’s eyes as she rushed to Elizabeth. Elizabeth held unto her ever so tightly, she could feel the warmth that radiated from her. Peace filled her as she felt the baby’s corresponding kick. She was going to have Mary around to help for three months.

******

Mary was back home, she already had symptoms all about her. John, her nephew had been born, she was there to be a support for Eliza, but even more miraculously Zechariah had spoken, John must be a wonder child. She clutched her shawl more tightly as she bit back the nausea. Joseph had met her and ever so lovingly pledged to be with her forever. She couldn’t be gladder when he relayed his dream experience. She got confirmations every day of God’s hand upon her life.

With God, Joseph, Elizabeth, she could handle the cold stares of people as she balanced her water pot on her head. She held her head high and gazed ahead with eyes full of faith. The wedding was small and simple as they tenderly exchanged vows and tokens. Joseph led her hand in hand to their new home. She didn’t mind having to wake up to the scraping of wood and constant hammering.

******

One day, months later Joseph entered the house looking pale. Mary was nine months along and just when things had begun to take shape they would be required to move. He could barely eat as he beheld his lovely wife. He winced at the thought of taking such a journey in that state. She held his hand and spoke with such confidence and faith that made his doubts buckle. He saddled their few belongings to a donkey, as he prepared his mind grimly for the journey ahead. He would go to his hometown to Bethlehem to take part in the census.

Days and nights spent on the road were bearable because of Mary’s smile. She just seemed to radiate light and hope.  Was this the consequence of bearing the saviour of the world? He calculated carefully as they approached the City. Behold, the city was crowded, he was not accustomed to the hustle and bustle, he preferred to lead a quiet and calm life. He could already miss Galilee.

Mary had begun to groan in pain, the baby was close already. It was all he could do not to panic. The one he loved was in pain and there was nothing he could do about it. He couldn’t find a decent place to stay, much less afford a high class one. He trudged on further into the village, weary but persistent. He found an inn, but it was fully booked. He helped her into the abandoned stable and he propped her against a support. Concern was knit on his brows as he watched her labour. He conversed with the stable owner and got as much support as he could muster for an inexperienced young husband.

******

She knew the time was here that had been spoken of. She closed her eyes tightly and bit her lips to ward off the pain of the contractions. Soon a babe’s cry could be heard, strong and rich as it filled the room. Mary wrapped him tenderly in swaddling clothes all the while smiling down at him. She looked at her husband and beheld with content the relief his eyes, which was quickly replaced with wonder and awe. Never more had a manger looked this beautiful, with the saviour of the world in it. He looked so ordinary, so soft, and gentle, so blessed. From the window she could see a very bright star.

******

Micah kept his sheep with his fellow men. He’d had a hectic day and was ready to settle in for the night. But this night there was so much light in the sky by reason of a bright star, there was hardly need for night fires. He muttered as he kicked away the hay from his resting place. He had left the men arguing, he was sure they would retire soon. Suddenly a flash of light seemed to come from heaven, an angel had appeared, he spoke of great news. A born Saviour! A host of other angels appeared with him leaving the shepherds in outstanding awe.

Micah and the others huddled up, chattering excitedly. They began to hurry to Bethlehem. A company of them, having left the sheep in trusted hands, they arrived after much searching at the humble abode. They worshipped from their hearts as they bowed, much to the bewilderment of Joseph and Mary. They left there rejoicing and telling all who cared to listen of their experience. The people around only wondered in amazement, not understanding much of what they said.

******

Soon enough some very important men arrived, they were clad in gorgeous apparel, the kind that sparkled. They looked out of place in the rustic environment but they seemed to care less as they worshipped bringing forth gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, which had been offloaded from their camels. They told a tale of their visit to the palace, the star and finally the Baby King. They were wise men from the east. Mary kept all these happenings in her heart as she projected what the future would bring.

The little baby glowed from the manger sleeping peacefully, ordinary, yet divine. God in flesh, a promise fulfilled, deity in frailty, hope for mankind and saviour of the world. The heavens thundered with resounding joy. A king, a saviour, was born.

 ***

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