People often ask me, sneering, "Joseph, how did it feel when she told you?"
Well, it didn't really happen that way. She didn't tell me immediately, you see. Shortly after our engagement, out of the blue, Mary just had to go up into the hill country to see her relative Elizabeth. Her father couldn't convince her to stay, neither could I. Something was wrong, I knew, but she just brushed aside our objections and left.
Six months later she returned, and by then everybody could see that she was pregnant. When I heard that she was back I rushed to their house, overjoyed, until she stepped through the door. For a long time I just looked at her, and then my anger began to rise. If this was how those rubble in the hills treated my fiancée, I would gather an army and slaughter every single one of them!
But she stopped me. "Nothing happened in the hills," she said softly, looking me in the eye. And then she started telling me about an angel appearing to her, telling her that she would have a child. I couldn't listen. Making up a fantasy to explain what was clear for all to see! This was not the girl I loved. I just ran out of their house, and kept running until I couldn't breathe anymore. And then I cried. Out there in the fields, I pounded my fists into the rocky ground and cried and cried and cried.
By nightfall I was spent, emotionally as dry as an old wineskin. I knelt with my face in the dust and tried to pray, but no prayer was to be found. Much later, when the town was dark and quiet, I crept back to my home, to my bed, to lie awake and stare into the darkness. My mind was spinning in circles. How could she? Why the lies? And above all, why didn't she hide in shame? How could she look me in the eye? Or her father?
And the worst thing was ... I still loved her. My heart actually wanted to be with her, even though the pain was like a knife through my chest.
Somewhere after midnight I made up my mind. She has shamed me, but I will not submit her to public humiliation. I will quietly break off the engagement, and then I will leave this town. Let them blame me, call me names... I loved her, and she broke my heart; but even though I couldn't go back to her, I would protect her from these people.
Somehow I must have fallen asleep, and as I lay there on my face something invaded my mind. Or rather, someone. And when it was over, I awoke and jumped up with a shout. He was gone, but his words echoed in my mind: "Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife" - that was about the only part I understood. "What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."
Shortly before sunrise I was banging on their door. Mary's father opened, half asleep, but when he saw me he was instantly awake, ready to protect his daughter from her crazy fiancée. I was still trying to explain, confusing him more with every blabbered word, when Mary appeared, as serene and beautiful as always. She pushed past her father, and looked up at me; the next moment I had her in my arms and we were both crying.
That very day I took her to my home. There was no big wedding - nobody would have come, anyway. Old Heli, still confused about what was happening, grudgingly gave his blessing. We loaded Mary's few possessions on my donkey and walked over to my home, ignoring the stares and the whispers and the upturned noses.
Together, we will get through this. If God could send an angel to set me straight, we will make it. There's just one thing I still don't understand. For all practical purposes, according to everyone around us, this baby was conceived in sin ... And yet the words of an angel keep ringing in my head: "He will save his people from their sins."
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