Some people like biblical fiction, a story based on the Bible but with details from the author’s imagination and historical facts. This is Mary’s story told by a fictional cousin, Joanna.
I am Joanna, from Nazareth. Mary and I grew up together, playing childish games, giggling over girl talk, and learning from our mothers how to keep a home, following the customs of the Jews and the Law of Moses.
I was already married when Mary became betrothed to Joseph the carpenter. Joseph was a God-fearing man who would provide sufficiently for his family. Mary, at times excited and at other times apprehensive, looked forward to the day when she would have her own home.
Although not perfect, Mary had a special quality about her. She loved God with all her heart. Our mothers and fathers taught us from the Holy Scriptures how we should put God first, desiring most of all to please Him. Mary encouraged me. She kept me close to God when I might have turned away. She was a good girl, kind to everyone around her. And she had the desire of all Jewish women.
“Joanna,” she said to me one day, “did you ever think you might be chosen to be the mother of God’s Promised One, the Messiah?”
“Yes, of course. How about you?
“Well, sometimes. But why would Jehovah pick a poor peasant girl from Nazareth? And who would believe it?”
“God’s ways are not our ways, Mary,” I said.
During the betrothal period, before she and Joseph lived together as man and wife, she left hastily one day to visit her cousin, Elisabeth. Elisabeth and her husband Zaccharias, the temple priest, lived in the hill country of Judea. When Mary returned to Nazareth, she shared exciting news. Elisabeth had a son in her old age, a miracle baby! We all rejoiced for the pious old couple, from whom God had removed the curse of childlessness.
Then Mary told us she was pregnant! Our sandals nearly dropped off!
“How can that be?” her family wondered. “Surely it’s not Joseph. Another man? No, Mary has always lived to honor God.”
She assured us Joseph was not the father of her baby. “He is my betrothed and totally honorable. Not another man either. God Himself is the father of my baby.”
The older women shook their heads and pursed their lips. “What, is she beside herself?”
Mary could not understand when Gabriel first appeared to her. After all, her wedding day had not yet come.
“He said, ‘that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.’ He told me that I was chosen by God to bear the promised One. God Himself would make it possible. My son will be His Son, Immanuel, God with us.”
“Weren’t you afraid?” I asked.
“Of course I was! This messenger of God had been in the presence of God Himself. How could I not tremble? And to think: God chose me!”
“What did you say?”
“What could I say? God chose me. How could I say no to the great Jehovah, who has always brought salvation to His people, Israel, a God of great love and mercy who expects obedience. How could I say no? I said, ‘Be it unto me according to thy Word.”
It did not take long for the news to spread throughout our small town. Those were hard days for Mary. I knew her well, my dearest friend and cousin. I knew she told the truth. Not everyone believed her though.
It was not easy for Joseph either. God sent the angel Gabriel to him with the message that Mary’s baby was indeed God’s Son. Joseph married Mary in a quiet ceremony, a little sooner that expected. Mary moved into Joseph’s home behind the carpenter’s shop. People soon stopped gossiping so much, but the doubtful glances and condemning looks broke gentle Mary’s heart.
I’m sure it was God’s intervention, the best thing for the young couple: the tax registration. As a member of King David’s family, Joseph had to go to Bethlehem to register. Joseph hesitated to take Mary, she being so close to delivery. The journey took four or five days walking. They joined a group that left Nazareth at the same time, making the trip safer.
We heard that Jesus came as expected. It was three years before they returned to Nazareth. Mary shared with me those difficult days: the birth in the animals’ shelter, the visit of the shepherds and later the Magi from Babylon, the hurried trip to Egypt to protect Jesus from wicked King Herod. Jehovah always intervened to protect the small family.
As we talked, we recognized how God fulfilled prophecy each step of the way, from Nazareth, to Bethlehem, to Egypt, and back.
Mary and Joseph had other children, boys and girls. Mary knew Jesus was different, yet how could a mortal mother fully understand? Jesus became a carpenter, like Joseph, and very close to God.
This child Mary had borne and nurtured was Immanuel, God with us, the Savior. The crushing blow came when she saw Him crucified on the Roman cross as a criminal. This man, her son, God’s sinless Son, betrayed by Jews, mocked by Gentiles.
I shared her pain as a sister might, but how could I know? Mary, from the depths of her being, committed herself to the service of Jehovah, this humble and gentle woman of God who loved and worshiped the Savior.