Today marks the second Sunday of Advent. Christmas is now three weeks away, and to physically mark the passing of the days, churches today light the candle of faith. According to the author of Hebrews, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1). When thinking about the birth of Christ, many people had to have great faith. This story offers a glimpse into what might have gone through the heads of Jesus’ parents as they waited with certainty for the fulfillment of their hope.
(Note: I have chosen to use the transliterated Hebrew spellings of biblical names and places because I am an incurable nerd.)
The road was hard, filled with dust. Each step forward caused another flurry of dirt to swirl into the air, the wind tossing it to and fro into the eyes of the travelers. At the beginning of the day, people had chatted with one another, discussing what each would do when they arrived at their destinations. Now there was only silence. Stooped shoulders leaned forward into the gusts of wind, pressing on with one weary step after another. The setting sun warned of the imminent need to find a camping place for the night.
Yosef peered at the orange-tinged horizon, brow furrowing at the sight. He’d hoped to make it Betlechem by the end of the night. The main thing getting him through one more day on the road had been the thought of a comfortable, warm place to sleep that night. But the caravan had moved slower than he’d anticipated. They were still at least a half day’s journey from their destination.
Yosef looked to Miryam, who was slumping over the neck of the patient donkey which had plodded steadily all the way from Nazaret. Its head was drooping ever so slightly as it followed Yosef. Miryam’s eyes were closed, her hand resting on her swollen stomach.
“Are you all right?” Yosef asked, his voice rasping from the constant inhalation of dust.
“Yes,” Miryam whispered, not opening her eyes. “Just tired. Are we… Are we close?”
Yosef swallowed, returning his gaze to the sun. It was descending with great rapidity behind the hills. There was no way they could make it to Betlechem tonight. “It looks like we’re going to have to spend one more night out here,” he answered slowly, turning back to her. “I’m sorry.”
Miryam sighed, a long, heavy sound that squeezed Yosef’s heart. But her eyes fluttered open, and she managed a smile for him. “It’s all right. It’s just… he’ll be here soon. The baby.”
Yosef gave a nervous laugh. “Please don’t give birth on the side of the road.”
“We don’t have to worry about that,” Miryam returned, a small frown on her face. “He won’t come until we’re in Betlechem. You know that.”
Yosef’s gaze drifted to the ground. He knew the words of the prophets, of course. He took especial delight in studying the foretellings of the Messiah. According to the prophet Michah, the town of Betlechem would bring forth the Messiah. Yosef believed that. He longed for the day when the prophecy would be fulfilled. But… How can it be that the Messiah grows in the womb of my betrothed? The thought still set his mind to reeling.
“You’re doing it again.” Miryam’s voice was stern.
“What?” Yosef looked over his shoulder at her, his forehead creasing.
“That look.” Miryam motioned to his face. “You’re thinking. Worrying. Doubting.”
Yosef opened his mouth to argue, to insist he’d only been contemplating where they would spend the night. Then he sighed, and his shoulders slumped. “It’s still a lot to take in,” he admitted. She sat there before him—his virgin bride, nine months pregnant. The easiest thing would have been to assume she was lying when she told him about the angel’s promise to her. It was a most convenient story, that a messenger from heaven should have come and informed her that she had been chosen of Adonai to be the mother of the Messiah. Any sane man would have divorced her at once.
And yet… “The virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Such were the words of the prophet. Was anything really impossible with El Shaddai, the one who had given a son to Sarah in her ninetieth year? Yosef stood straighter, and he smiled at his young wife. “But our God is with us. Our son’s very name is the fulfillment of prophecy.” His smile turned into a grimace. “Which means we’d better get to Betlechem quickly. He’s waited long enough to come into the world.”