A Letter from Joseph

Dear Dad:

You were right! Being a husband and a father is a big job. It takes everything you have in you, then 100% more!

It’s a good thing too, because our lives got off to a really awkward and harsh start.

Man, when she told me she was pregnant, you could have knocked me over with a feather! Then, when she said the Ruach HaKodesh did it, I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything. That’s a good thing for a husband to keep in mind, I think. Taking time to think before you speak can save pain all the way around.

When the angel told me that Mary’s child would save people from their sins, I became agitated and confused inside. The only thing I knew that could accomplish that was a temple sacrifice! Did God really intend to burden Mary with raising and loving a child that would be slaughtered?? All my protective instincts rose up in me then. No one should have to go through that, least of all Mary. I was relieved when the angel told me to take her as my wife. At least she wouldn’t go through it alone.

Protecting your family takes a lot. You have to know your strengths and limitations, and be able to stand a lot of pressures, including social ones. We were keeping to ourselves, but people were noticing her pregnancy and talking. A lot. Behind our backs and to our faces. So much for gossip being a sin. I knew it was really bothering Mary, even though she pretended otherwise. That’s why I decided to ask her to come with me when I went back for the census.

She jumped at the chance! Can you imagine it? She was under so much stress from gossips and hate-mongers that riding on a donkey over rough terrain inches from giving birth sounded like a vacation!! But I never even considered leaving her to face people alone. Sometimes when someone you love is under a lot of stress, the best thing to do is get them out of the situation. Even if what you have to offer them isn’t exactly ideal.

I tried to make sure she was comfortable, and moved the donkey as slowly as I could. I remembered what you taught me about doing your best to not push your family through something just to get it done. I guess we didn’t move fast enough though. Oh, I STILL get mad thinking about all the places we stopped once we got to Bethlehem, trying to find someplace to sleep! I know the city was crowded, but you can’t tell me those innkeepers couldn’t see how badly Mary needed to lie down somewhere warm and comfortable. Or maybe they could and they just didn’t care.

Whatever the reason, we ended up in that stable, and I was FURIOUS! This child, who I had come to love almost as much as his mother, deserved more than being born here! The place smelled like manure, animals were milling around, and all we had for bedding was what we brought along. I was still fuming and mumbling under my breath while I got us settled in. Then I heard it…Mary’s first scream from her labor pains! Oh, I so wasn’t ready, but she needed me…

Finally, the baby was born. Poor Mary, she just looked exhausted. We got the baby named, wrapped and settled in. I changed the blankets so she wouldn’t have to sleep in her water and blood, and we sat back and tried to relax for the first time since we started the trip.

Oh, man, now who are these guys?? Great, I just got Mary comfy, and we’re supposed to entertain visitors?? But she sat up smiling, like she’d been expecting them. They started talking to her, and Jesus started fussing from the extra noise. Wonderful, I thought, putting my head in my hands. I’m tired and at the end of my rope, and we just got the baby to stop crying. How did they know we were here, anyway? Oh, I see – a STAR led them to us. Great.

I made an exasperated noise, and Mary looked up at me and started to laugh really hard! Later she told me she just couldn’t help herself. “You looked so cute trying to be polite, with your teeth gritted and that vein on your forehead throbbing away!” She took my face in her hands and kissed me, whispering, “It’s okay, Joseph. I’m not ready to sleep yet anyway.” I realized then that even though I may know what’s best for my family, sometimes they know what’s better and I have to trust that.

Then the “Wise Guys” as I had dubbed them, brought out presents. As they gave them to Mary, my jaw dropped! I knew what things went for in the marketplace. These items, if we bartered them right, could support our family for three or four years! Oh, well, I’m done trying to think about anything else tonight. Sinking down next to Mary, I closed my eyes and fell asleep listening to her and the “Wise Guys” chattering.

A few hours later, I awoke with a start, covered in sweat. Another angel had appeared to me, and said we had to get up and go to Egypt, NOW! No, I thought to myself. Mary and the baby need their sleep. We’ll leave in the afternoon. That will be more than enough time. I was so busy thinking I didn’t notice Mary watching me until she spoke.

“Joseph, what is it? Are you ok?”

“I’m fine Mary, it’s nothing. Go back to sleep.”

She arched an eyebrow and looked at me. “Joseph.” She said firmly.

I let out a great big sigh. “Another angel appeared to me.” I looked at her, hoping that was enough. Nope. “What did this angel say?” she pressed. Both of us were whispering so we wouldn’t wake the baby. “Nothing we can’t do just as well in the afternoon. You need your sleep, honey.”

She just looked at me. And waited.

I heaved another great big sigh, was quiet for a bit, then let it all out at once. “The angel said I had to take you and the baby right now and run to Egypt because Herod is trying to find the baby and kill him.”

Mary didn’t even take time to think. Wincing, she started to get up. I caught her in my arms and helped her, protesting the whole time. I even offered to stand guard outside so she could sleep a few more hours. Mary turned, gasped a bit from the pain, and put her hands on my shoulders.

“Honey, I know this doesn’t seem right or fair, but I’ve trusted the angels so far and been blessed. I have a strong, healthy baby, a kind husband, and hope for a good future. Let’s keep trusting. I’ll get the baby ready while you pack the donkey.”

Well, any guy who’s lived past his twelfth birthday knows when there’s no more point in arguing with a woman, so I got the donkey and started loading. My stomach was in knots with worry. We don’t know anyone in Egypt. What’s going to happen to my family? How am I going to support us? Unthinking, my hands closed around one of the boxes the “Wise Guys” had brought. Standing up, I felt a flood of peace and realization as I looked at it. God has prepared us for this moment, my heart whispered, and God will help you live in this.

Mary came out with little Jesus as I finished packing. She was still moving slowly, and my heart ached for her all over again. When she leaned against me to rest for a minute, I could feel how bone weary she was. I helped her up, got the both of them settled, and picked up the donkey’s rope. Still a little grumpy, I looked back at Mary:

“I hope God knows that you’re gonna catch a serious case of sore donkey butt if we have to keep moving all the time and you never get a proper chance to rest.”

She stared at me for a moment, and then burst out laughing! It wasn’t a little laugh either. It was the belly rolling, soul-cleansing kind. After a few seconds, I joined in and there we were, two fools laughing in the middle of the night, riding that fine line between knowing everything will be fine and losing our minds. I was leaning on the donkey so I wouldn’t fall over, and she had these big tears streaming down her cheeks. Finally we both ran out of steam. Mary smiled at me. “We’re going to be alright, aren’t we?” Still snorting, I replied, “It doesn’t look like we have any other choice, does it?” Leaning over, she winked at me. “Come on then,” she whispered. “Outward and onward to Egypt.” Winking back, I picked up the donkey’s rope again. “At least it’s all downhill from here.”

Mary groaned good-naturedly and we moved off down the road together. She sang to the baby to comfort him, and I whispered morning prayers under my breath.