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The Visitation
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by Christine Marciniak

And Mary Went to Visit Her Cousin Elizabeth

The hill country of Judea, where Elizabeth lived, was a several days journey from our own house, so naturally my father would not allow me to make the trip unaccompanied. And although I needed time to think things over, I did not want to travel by myself. This country is not a peaceful place.

            A merchant friend of Father’s was going to be traveling to the area and agreed to see me safely to Zechariah and Elizabeth’s house. The journey was good. Josiah, the merchant, was not the talkative sort, and left me to my own thoughts. And I had plenty to think about.

            Though, I must admit, most of the time I spent deliberately not thinking about what the angel had said. It was still too much to absorb. And then there was the question of what Joseph would say. I knew that I had to trust in God to make everything all right, but yet, I was nervous about what to tell Joseph.

 Fortunately the departure for Judea was so rushed that I didn’t have much time to speak to Joseph before I left. There was no time alone with him at all, which under the circumstances was probably a very good thing.

I believe what the angel said will come to pass. Logic tells me that it is impossible. But yet, Elizabeth is with child and all said that that was impossible. Nothing is impossible with the Lord. We are taught that. Why then should it be so hard to believe that the Lord would make the impossible happen?

And why me? I mean, well for crying out loud, why me? I am not worthy of such a great honor. I am only a young girl living in a small town. Why should God want me to be the mother of his child? How is it that I should have a role to play in the prophecies of old?

And this may be a great honor – and it is, I mean of course it is – but it certainly complicates my life. How am I going to tell my parents? It is shameful for a girl to be with child before she lives in the house of her husband. Will my parents believe that an angel of the Lord appeared to me and told me that I am to bear the Messiah? Would I believe it if my child told it to me? No. But then, my child is going to be the son of God. 

My head was aching.

And Joseph. He will assume adultery. Of course he will. How can I explain this to him? He could have me stoned. He won’t have me stoned. That can’t happen, because then I wouldn’t have God’s son, and He must have a way to get me out of that mess. I’ll have to trust in God.

Of course I had to trust in God. But it is not so easy to simply act as a spectator in your own life.

And then there was the matter of when would I know that I was pregnant. Had it happened at the time the angel told me about it? Would it happen in the next few days? The power of the Most High will overshadow me, that’s what the angel had said. What would that feel like? Had it already happened? I couldn’t even ask my mother what the early signs of pregnancy are before I started on my trip. My breasts were beginning to feel a little sore. Was that a sign? Was I already with child? God’s child.

Finally – yet too soon, we reached the town of Judah and I took leave of the merchant’s caravan and made my way to the home of Elizabeth and Zechariah. Being a priest, Zechariah lived well, and had a large home with lovely courtyards, and a servant girl. The servant girl answered the door at my knock, led me into the courtyard and went to fetch Elizabeth. Although the house was near the center of the town, the courtyard was peaceful. I wanted to sit and rest my weary feet, but I knew I should wait until my kinswomen greeted me and offered me a seat.

Elizabeth entered the courtyard, walking with one hand on her back, looking tired and uncomfortable, she smiled when she saw me and I said. “Greetings kinswomen, God’s peace be with you. I have come to help you out while you wait for your child to be born.”

Elizabeth rushed to me, suddenly not looking quite so tired or uncomfortable. She took my hands in hers, “Mary, most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” She drew me over to a bench by a fountain and we sat “And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

I could hardly believe what I was hearing. Elizabeth already knew. I didn’t have to explain anything, she knew and thought it was wonderful. Why had I doubted God at all? He would make everything right. My heart felt light and giddy. The words of a psalm came to me.

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he was looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him. He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Elizabeth laughed softly. “It is an appropriate song my child. God will take care of you, you know. He has singled you out for great things.”

“And he has told you about them?” I asked.

“Not in so many words; but I know. The child in me knows. My child is destined to prepare the way for yours. I do not know what that means exactly, but I do know that my being with child helped you to accept the reality of what was to happen to you.”

“Oh yes. And it has happened, hasn’t it?”

“Yes, you are with child.”

I shivered slightly when she said this. So it was all real. “Were you scared when you first found out you were pregnant?”

Elizabeth shifted her weight on the stone bench. “At first I was just giddy with the joy and the implausibility of it. But once the reality of the day to day settled it; yes, I was scared. I wondered how a woman my age was going to make it through pregnancy and childbirth – younger, stronger, women have died giving birth. But I just figure that if God got me into this he can get me out; and I trust he will get me out of it alive.” Elizabeth smiled at me and patted my hand. “What you need child is a cool drink and a rest. I will have Esther prepare a room for you and you can relax.”

“But I came here to help you.”

Elizabeth struggled to her feet. “There will be time enough for that. For now – you rest.”

I hadn’t realized how tired I was, but several days of walking in the hot sun, and sleeping on the ground at night had taken their toll. When Esther led me to a small quiet room I gratefully lay down on the soft bed and promptly fell asleep.

The days passed languidly. Elizabeth really didn’t need me there, at least not to help with any physical labor. She had Esther to clean the house, to cook and to fetch the water. But I think it was God’s plan that I come. Elizabeth understands and we can talk.

Oh, and do we talk; from sun-up to sundown. Zechariah often leaves the house, whether all of our womanly chatter bothers him, or if it is too frustrating to hear us talk and not be able to join in, I do not know; he can not say. Elizabeth has been starved for conversation she says.

“To only hear the sound of my own voice, night and day, it was driving me crazy. I don’t know why God has afflicted Zechariah so, I can only trust God that there is a reason and all will be revealed in time.”

“Well, you had Esther to talk to, yes?” I ask.

“Yes,” Elizabeth says, but with a hint of ‘no’ to her voice. “Esther is a sweet girl, and very competent. But she was taught to be very differential to her employers. She’s afraid to talk to me, it seems.”

We sat in the courtyard, enjoying the late afternoon sun. “You said that your son is being sent to make way for my son,” I said to her, “what do you think that means?”

“Perhaps it was simply so that you would believe what God could do,” Elizabeth answered. “Or perhaps there is more to it. God does not reveal his plan to us, does he, dear.”

“Oh, I wish he would,” I sighed. “I want to know how things are going to turn out. I trust the baby will be born healthy, that would seem to be essential. But what will his life be like? Will he be happy?”

“He’ll be God’s son,” Elizabeth said with a smile.

“Yes, but what will that mean for him. What kind of responsibility goes with that? All our lives – for generations, we’ve been waiting for the messiah. And here he is,” I patted my belly, which still did not show outwardly any sign that I was with child. “What will he have to do? How will he save our people? Will he lead a mighty army against the Romans?” I shuddered at the thought. “That would be so dangerous. I don’t want him to be hurt.”

Elizabeth patted my knee reassuringly. “God has a plan,” she said simply.

“I want to know what it is,” I responded wistfully.

Elizabeth smiled at me. “Do you really think it would be easier if you knew all that God had planned?”

Yes. No. I don’t know. I just know that somehow I am part of God’s plan and I must trust in him.

“My time is near,” Elizabeth said to me one day.

“How do you know?” I asked, “Do you think I will know too? How can you know when you’ve never had a child before?”

“God let’s you know,” Elizabeth answered with her patient smile.

When I lay in bed that night, I felt a new roundness to my belly. The child in me is growing. It is real. It is exhilarating. It is terrifying.

Elizabeth was correct. The next afternoon her pains began. A neighbor woman came to help. She was well-versed in what was involved in the birthing process. It seemed to take a very long time. It was well past dark before the baby emerged, a wonderful little boy. When I commented that it had taken an awfully long time, the neighbor woman, Leah was her name, smiled at me, “Not so long,” she said. “For some women it can take days.”

Days! I’d been concerned about carrying the child. Now I was concerned about giving birth. I also realized that I needed to get home. I felt brave enough now to face Joseph and my parents when I told them of God’s good news for us all. At least I hoped they would all think it was good news.

There was a caravan heading toward Nazareth. They were leaving in three days. I arranged to travel with them. It meant that I would miss the circumcision and naming ceremony for the baby, but it was time to go.

The journey home was much like the journey to Judea. The difference was that now I knew I was with child, and I was at peace with it. The hard part lay ahead. I needed to tell my parents and Joseph. Over and over in my mind I rehearsed the words I would say to them. But no matter how many times I tried it, the words, “Mother, Father, I’m going to give birth to the Messiah, who was conceived by the power of God most high,” just didn’t seem like something parents would be too keen to believe.

I told them as soon as I got home. They sat, no emotion showing as I spoke. Did they think I was insane? They surely thought I was impure. Where they trying to decide what to do about me.

“Daughter,” my father said when I was finished. “You have always been a pure and holy child. I am not surprised that God has chosen you for this honor.”

I blinked twice, trying to reconcile what I had heard. He believed me. God was truly at work in my home. My parents hugged me and told me that they would help in any way possible.

What I really needed their help with was something I knew I had to do on my own. I needed to tell Joseph. My father volunteered to tell him for me. But, as tempting as that offer was, I declined. I felt strongly that this was something I needed to do.

I did not have long to wait. Joseph came by that evening. We sat on the roof, eating figs, my parents opting not to chaperone us this time. “Mary,” Joseph said, “you look as if you have something weighing on your mind.”

“I do,” I admitted. Where were my carefully rehearsed words? “An amazing thing has happened, Joseph,” I said.

He smiled his gentle smile, “And what is that, my love. Did your kinswoman Elizabeth give you some fine linen as a gift for your betrothal.”

That would have been a fine thing, I thought. “No, it is truly amazing. An angel of the Lord came to me.”

Right away I knew I had lost him. I could see it in his face. He did not believe me. It looked as if he wanted to believe me, but he couldn’t. Why, when God had touched Elizabeth and my parents for me, why couldn’t he have done the same with Joseph?

            “An angel?” Joseph said.

            I proceeded valiantly with my explanation, even though I knew it was no use. “Yes. An angel. And he gave me wonderful news. I’m to have a son.”

            Joseph smiled now. “I see, you are dreaming of our future children.”

            This was so hard. “No,” I said quietly, “I am with child now.”

            Joseph’s face crumpled in sadness and disbelief, “But Mary,” was all he managed to say before I interrupted him.

            “It’s not what you’re thinking,” I assured.

            “You don’t know what I’m thinking,” Joseph said.

            “What else could you be thinking? You’re thinking I was with another man.”

            “I am thinking that,” Joseph acknowledged.

            “But I wasn’t,” I assured. “It was the Spirit of the Most High. I’m going to have God’s son. The Messiah.”

            Joseph clearly did not believe me. “I am going to go home now, Mary. Our betrothal will have to be called off. But, I think I can do it quietly, without bringing any extra shame to you. I am very sorry.” He left then, and my eyes filled with tears.

            I wanted to scream at God. How could you take him away from me? I was so happy with him. Why did you have to interfere and chase Joseph away? Trust in God. Yes. I trusted him, but my heart was breaking.

            The next day, Joseph was at our house again. My father met him at the door. “Joachim,” I heard Joseph say, “I must see Mary.” He didn’t sound angry, or even sad.

            “She is feeling poorly, Joseph,” my father said. It was true, I had spent most of the day abed, nursing my broken heart. “I don’t know if she wishes to see you.”

            “Please, Joachim. I must see her. I understand now and I must tell her.”

            My father relented and let him in. I sat up on my pallet on the floor. Joseph came and sat beside me. “Mary, my dear Mary.” He took my hands in his, “I’m so sorry about yesterday. I did not understand. But I had a dream. An angel, Mary. I saw an angel of the Lord and he told me that you were pure of heart and that the child you were carrying belonged to God. I am to be stepfather of God’s son, Mary.”

            “Oh, thank the Lord,” I cried out. Suddenly I did not feel like lying abed any longer.

            “We must complete our betrothal immediately.” Joseph said earnestly, “then people will not gossip when the baby comes. How soon can you be ready to move into my house.”

            My linens weren’t done. I was months behind. “Today,” I said to Joseph. “I can move in today.”

To see the first part of this story, see The Annunciation

Feedback, ideas? Email christine.marciniak@gmail.com.

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