Monday 4 December 2023

MARY’S STORY by Christine Clark, mulled wine with a mince pie

Oh, I’m so tired. I’m glad I’m able to ride some of the time on Eysl, our donkey, though I do have to walk some of the time, to give him a rest too. I hope we’re nearly there. My back aches and I’ve had some pains – I wonder if that’s the baby coming. I haven’t mentioned those to Joseph – I don’t want to worry him. He’s already worrying about where we‘ll stay when we reach Bethlehem, what with so many people on the road going for the census, like us.

I’m tired and I’m afraid. I’m afraid of what people say about me being pregnant and unmarried. Afraid that the shame will mean we can’t find anywhere to sleep tonight. Afraid of what having the baby – the Son of God – will mean for the family. Will Joseph and I be able to have a normal family life? I’m afraid of what the future holds for us all.

I do love Joseph. I already did, when we got betrothed. But then, when I had to tell him I was with child, I was sure he’d want to walk away. He told me he thought he might, but without making too much of a fuss. But he didn’t, he said he’d stand by me and the baby. He told me he had a dream where an angel told him to take me as his wife, that what I’d said was true – that the baby was conceived by the Holy Spirit, that it’ll be a boy and we’re to call him Jesus. And that he’ll save people from their sins. I’m not sure how that last bit works – but we’ll see. I wonder if it’s what the prophets foretold all those years ago. Could he be the Messiah? My little baby?

This long journey has really given me time to think about when the angel, Gabriel he said his name was, came to me. I woke up one night to find him standing by the bed. He told me not to be afraid, that I was in favour with God. I would conceive a baby boy who we have to call Jesus. Then he said all sorts of stuff about the baby being great and having David’s throne and how he will reign for ever. It all sounded a bit unlikely – but somehow I believed him. Then I thought about how this could happen as I’m a virgin – Joseph and I want to keep ourselves till we’re married. Gabriel explained that – like he later told Joseph – the Holy Spirit would come to me and the baby will be the Son of God. He also told me that my cousin Elizabeth, who we all thought was barren and long past childbearing, was expecting a baby too! He said nothing is impossible with God. Well, he was right, Elizabeth has had her baby – a little boy. They’ve called him John.

I am not sure I really understand … that the baby is not just a gift from God, but a gift of God. I don’t really get it, I just know it feels completely right. Anyway, I told Gabriel that this was all fine and I accepted what my God has given to me.

But thinking about it now, I’m not so sure – it all feels a bit unreal and very scary. I’m quite surprised I said yes to Gabriel. It’s an awful lot to take on. Looking at it in the cold light of day, I can see all sorts of problems, and doubts and fears creep into my mind. But somehow, from somewhere, I got the courage to say yes.

Being unmarried and pregnant hasn’t been easy and there have been lots of nasty remarks made back in Nazareth. But it’s good that Joseph is being supportive. I expect most people think the baby is his. Mamma and Pappa are OK about it now, even if they don’t really understand the Holy Spirit bit. But our family has always gone to the synagogue regularly – I think that helps to understand things from God.

We’re getting near Bethlehem now and it’s starting to get dark. There are lots of people around and we join a throng of people entering the gate. I am glad I am back on Eysl’s back again as my pains are getting worse and more frequent. I won’t mention them to Joseph yet as he’s got enough to worry about, trying to find somewhere for us to stay. He’s trying all the inns and rooming houses but everywhere is full.

Eventually I have to tell him that I think the baby is on its way. He tries one more inn but it’s full, like the others, except this time it’s the innkeeper’s wife who answers our knock. She takes one look at me and says that if we can’t find anywhere else, we can always go round the back to the barn, where at least it will be dry and warm. By now I’m glad of anywhere.

We find the barn and it is dry. The animals in it make it warm so really it’s almost cosy. Joseph helps me down and I just sink onto a pile of hay – the pains are coming quite fast now. There’s an old lamp on a shelf which Joseph lights. He puts Eysl into a stall with some hay and water then comes back to kneel down by me. I think he realises it won’t be long till the baby comes so he helps me get a bit more comfortable and then rubs my back while encouraging me. It’s the first time for both of us but at least I have seen my cousin back in Nazareth have her baby, so have some idea what’s going to happen.

The pains were the worst I have ever known. But the moment the baby came out, that was all forgotten. Joseph cut the cord then laid the baby – Jesus – on my breast and we both just gazed at him with love and wonder. Jesus gave us both a long hard stare then fell asleep. Joseph helped me clean myself up a bit and I helped the baby suckle, then we all three settled down on the hay to sleep.

We were woken by voices and Joseph was up, quick as a flash, with his knife out ready. But it just turned out to be a group of shepherds, down from the fields. They approached us cautiously, so I could see there was nothing to fear – in fact they seemed quite shy of us. The oldest one said they’d been told that their saviour, the Messiah, had just been born in Bethlehem and that he would be found in a stable, lying in a manger. They’d been told this by an angel and after he’d told them this, he was joined by a lot more angels, all singing. Joseph and I looked at each other – this was too much of a coincidence: more angels! Just like the ones we’d seen. Then the shepherds knelt down and gazed at the baby long and hard, like he was something they’d dreamed of and were now being given. Well, I suppose that he was, really. After they’d gone, we were both quiet, thinking about what they’d said.

I gave the baby a little more milk and then we settled down to sleep again. But we were woken again by more visitors, but this time of a different kind. Three richly dressed gentlemen, foreign-looking, came in. They didn’t seem to be put off by the poor surroundings but came straight over to me and the baby and knelt down. I was a bit embarrassed but they were very kind and said they’d been travelling a long way to see the baby. Apparently they’d followed a bright star that was now over the barn. Joseph looked out to see if this was so – and it was. A massive star it was, right overhead. People in the streets were standing looking up at it. These men said they were magi who studied the stars and knew this one was leading them to something special. They brought the baby gifts, the like of which I’d never seen! Gold, frankincense and myrrh, they said they were.

After they’d gone, I couldn’t sleep but lay awake thinking about it all. About Gabriel the angel and his message about conceiving by the Holy Spirit, and then the angel coming to Joseph in his dream. The shepherds and magi being led to us – they were such a contrast, really poor people and really rich. Almost like it was two extreme groups of people. So if Jesus is the Messiah, it’s like he’s come for everyone, rich and poor alike.

I was still feeling rather fearful about everything, what with the strange happenings, and people the like of which I‘ve never seen before. But I was also peaceful and happy, like something wonderful had happened, not just to me having my baby, but to everyone.

The next morning Joseph told me he’d had a dream and an angel had come to him again. The angel told him we were in great danger because King Herod would be searching for Jesus to kill him. Joseph was to take us to Egypt and we were to stay there until told to return. I didn’t need to be told twice – no-one was going to harm my child. We hastily gathered our few things together. I held the baby close to me inside my cloak, got on Eysl and away we stole.

It was a long journey to Egypt, a lot further than from Nazareth to Bethlehem. We mostly travelled by night for fear of the King’s soldiers seeing us, sleeping by day wherever we could find somewhere safe. People were kind and when they saw how tiny the baby was, gave us food and sometimes shelter.

We’re now living in Egypt, where we keep ourselves to ourselves. Being a good carpenter, Joseph finds enough work for us to get by and the baby thrives. We don’t talk much about Jesus’s start in life but I do ponder on it in my heart, marvelling at what has happened and wondering where it will all take us.


About the author 

Christine is fairly new to creative writing. As a publishing editor she is far more used to messing about with other people’s work than writing her own. But she finds she loves writing and it is now her go-to creative outlet. Christine writes features, short stories and researches local history.



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