Posted by: ourbakersdozen | December 1, 2011

First Chapter of Advent Journey with Mary & Joseph


Chapter One: The Census is Decreed

The sunlight filtered through the shutters over Joseph’s couch and tickled at Mary’s eyelids. Feeling the welcome warmth playing on her face, Mary woke. Stiff from the chill and the thin mat she had been sleeping on, she stretched and eased her legs over the side of the stone shelf that allowed for seating in the day and sleep at night. Her stirrings woke Joseph and he smiled across the room at his lovely bride.

“Stay, Mary, keep the covers over you while I stir the embers and get the fire going.”  It seemed as though she might protest but then smiled back at her husband so eager to care for her.

“Yes, Joseph, I believe I will wait a moment. Thank you!” She gently rubbed her swollen abdomen and whispered to the little one nestled below her beating heart. “Shhh little one – not so much stretching, Mama’s tummy will explode”

Joseph glanced at his little family contained under the woven cover that Mary pulled up over her shoulders and smiled. Was a man ever so blessed as he? Such a beautiful, loving, kind and yes holy woman God had chosen for him. He bent and stoked the small fire that warmed their cozy abode – in no time it would be warm enough for Mary to begin moving about on the clay floor as she prepared their breakfast without freezing her toes.

“There,” smiled Joseph, “The fire is going! In a few moments you can start with breakfast. While you wait I will just get some water from the mitveh* for you to wash with before you start breakfast. “

Joseph slipped quickly out the door before the chill wind could snatch away any of the growing warmth.  Mary offered thanks, yet again, for the caring person that the Lord had provided her as a husband. The shutters held tight against the cold dry winter winds and, earlier, had sheltered her from the glaring desert sun.  Likewise was the door that led to the courtyard where their gentle goat, Zelda, was tethered through the night – safely away from her garden.

Mary gave a small yawn and stood, allowing the cover to fall away. Shivering just a little she reached for her shawl and wrapping it around her shoulders she then reached for her belt and attempted to tie it around  her halug* just above her bulging stomach.   She could hear Joseph call to Zelda. In her mind’s eye she saw their crowded courtyard and the delicate blue flowers she had planted just around the bottom of their mitveh. Joseph had teased her that the little goat she had brought with her from Jerusalem would simply eat them. So far Zelda had ignored the little flowers, yet Joseph persisted in teasing her that one day Zelda would devour the tiny morsels of blue delight.

“Ooof,”  she groaned slightly, and chided her little one. “You are growing too much! Soon Mama will not fit in her halug and she will have to borrow one of Papa’s. “Tenderly she rubbed her belly and then in a few short steps she was before the wall where she stored her various foodstuffs. Josef was a good provider and they had many garlands of dried figs and other fruits as well as many jars of grain just waiting to be ground for bread. There was still a flat barley loaf left from Monday’s baking that she would share with Joseph along with some dried figs and warm fresh from her little goat. She would have to hurry and milk her before Jarib, the local goat herder, would arrive to gather her for the day.

A little later she and Joseph had just finished their early breakfast when they heard a commotion outside their courtyard. Mary recognized ten year old Jarib’s young voice, shrill and angry amidst the cries of a dozen or more bleating goats. They both hurried outside to see what was upsetting him.

Jarib’s halug flapped in the breeze as he angrily flung himself about, trying to free himself from the strong grip that a Roman soldier had him in. Jarib glared as the Roman laughed at his futile efforts to free himself. Suddenly, catching sight of Mary’s shocked face, the Roman sheepishly let the boy go… causing him to sprawl in the dusty road. The nanny goats skittered away from Jarib’s tumbling body and danced about the road, crowding the unfamiliar soldiers against the neighbor’s court wall. The dusty street would have already been crowded by just the boy and his goats. This unwelcome addition of Roman soldiers left everyone pressed against each other.

“Let that be a lesson to you, boy!” the Roman centurion growled. Then he kicked at the dust, spewing it all over Jarib’s curly black hair.

“Come on!” he growled at the other soldiers who were all grinning at the antics before them. Let’s get a move on – start knocking on these gates. The sooner we can get this worthless group of Nazarenes gathered by their well, the sooner we can move on! And the sooner we move on… the sooner we are home! Come on!” he yelled again as he cuffed one of the young soldiers who was moving more slowly then he would have liked.

Anxious with worry that Jarib had been hurt by this gruff soldier, Mary hastily bent over Jarib.  Joseph knelt as well and between the two of them they quickly had the young boy on his feet.  Angry tears threatened to overflow and leave trails on his dust-covered cheeks even as he shook his fist at the departing soldiers who were raucously moving down the road, alternatively kicking at gates and yelling over them as they summoned the neighborhood to meet at the local well. Then Jarib’s fear and humiliation at the rough treatment he had just received overcame him and he crumpled into Mary’s arms.

Joseph caught Mary’s eye over Jarib’s head and nodded. He picked up Jarib’s crook and started herding the goats towards the outer wall of their small town while Mary dusted the little shepherd off. “What had happened?” asked Mary quietly as together they walked toward Zelda to untie her. Jarib’s terse and angry explanation filled the air.

“Those filthy soldiers were pushing my beautiful goats all around, even kicking at them. Then they started arguing over which one they would take with them for their supper. Called me a dirty Nazarean! I shouted at them that if we were so dirty then they didn’t have to stay and certainly needn’t steal our lowly goats! That’s when their captain, the ugly swine..”

Mary’s gentle brown eyes chastised the boy without a word and he blushed.

“But Mary – They ARE swine!” he protested. Silently she held his eyes with her own and a gentle smile calmed him a little.

“Ok, not swine! But the miserable soldier grabbed me by the neck and started swinging me about, frightening my little goats still more!”

“Well Jarib – it all ended well. You are safe, none of your goats have been eaten and now you can take my little one with you. We will see you before sunset, no?” Mary had quietly untethered the little goat that now bleated hungrily, and stared wistfully at the herb garden that was neatly tucked into the furthest corner of the courtyard.

Smiling under Mary’s cheerful gaze, Jarib chirruped to the little goat who trotted obediently before him. Moments later Joseph was back and Mary had his hand-woven cloak ready, for a biting wind was picking up. Pulling her rough shawl tight around her shoulders she and Joseph made their way to the neighborhood well.

The normally cheerful town center was filled with worried and somewhat angry villagers. Merchants nervously stood before their stalls, hoping to protect their wares should a brawl breakout between the rough soldiers and unhappy husbands and fathers. There, Joseph and Mary greeted their neighbors and listened as the men and women nervously questioned each other. Why were the soldiers here? There were no zealots amongst this little neighborhood – not even in all of Nazareth were there any. What could Rome want with them? Hadn’t they all been paying their taxes? What was the problem?

The tallest Roman amongst the soldiers yelled at the crown for silence. Quickly all of the faces were turned to him and a small ripple of tension was released through the crowd in anticipation of his words.  The desert wind teased at the women’s shawls and men’s cloaks and little dust devils swirled among their feet.  The flapping of the tent walls from some of the merchant’s stalls punctuated the nervous silence. A small infant whimpered in his mother’s arm and her neighbor angrily shushed them. The captain’s cold dark eyes surveyed the crowd. Satisfied that he had their attention he pulled out a scroll and began to read.

“ ‘From Quirinius, governor of the provinces of Syria and Judea, by order of the Emperor, Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus.  By Imperial decree, a census of all of the inhabitants of the Roman world is being taken.  In accordance with this command, all residents shall return to the city of their birth to be registered, no later than the first day of Januarius.’”

Little more was heard over the gasps of the women and the grumbling of the men. Sarah, Mary’s closest neighbor, pushed her way through the crowd and grasped Mary’s elbow and leaning in close exclaimed; “Mary, whatever will you do? Joseph, she cannot journey so far – not while she is so with child?!?”

——————————————————————————————————————————————

 

**Her Lord The members of the Jewish faith still treat the names of God with great reverence, typically writing God as G-d or Lord as L-rd. In Temple time they had many phrases that were used to make reference to God such as El shaddai which translates asThe All Sufficient God’. I seriously considered using some of these Hebrew expressions but in the end I decided to keep to our vernacular and used Lord when they would refer to God.

Jews in ancient times did not refer to God by His formal name which was written YHVH (there are no vowels in Hebrew) and only the High Priest could utter this name and then only in the Temple during Yom Kipper – the Holiest day of the year.  Orthodox Jews still hold by this rule. God’s personal name is simply too holy to be uttered.  (When written by Jews it is written as G-D) In addition, the High Priests only ever pronounced His name, YHWH, within the walls of the Temple. The Temple was destroyed in approx 70 AD and, as such, YHVH was never again spoken aloud. This resulted in the correct pronunciation no longer being known. Mary and Joseph would never have used, in thought or in word, God’s formal name of YHVH – which Christians pronounce as Yahweh. If you visit hebrew4christains.com you can find, under the link ‘Names for G-D’, a list of the many names for God that Jews used then and still use today.

*Halug – the outer garment worn by men and women alike in Ancient Israel. It was a long rectangular article of clothing with a seam going down both sides and gather about the waist with a belt. For more detailed description go here.

*Mitveh – typically a large earthen vessel used to collect rain water in for ritual cleansing that was usually completed before the eating of any meal that contained bread. Especially pious Jews would also do this cleansing upon waking from their night’s sleep.  Descriptions of a typical home and courtyard from this era include a mitveh inside the courtyard. However, other articles I came across in my research refer to a mitveh as almost being like a bathhouse for total immersion for ritual cleansing that one would engage in following, for example, giving birth. For more details on ritual hand cleansing go to myjewishlearning.com.

 

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