Christmas–4. Virgin Mary

Posted: 2013 年 12 月 12 日 in Christmas

The Day Christ Was Born by Jim Bishop (Dec. 24, 1979; China Post)

Mary, the Virgin Mother

  1. Nothing is known of the birth of Christ beyond the New Testament. It is a great and joyous story, the happiest event since the dawn of history. Mary was born and raised in Nazareth. Joseph knew her, even though he was four years older. When Mary reached her thirteenth birthday, it was permissible to ask for her in marriage. The proper form was followed. Joseph first asked his parents if he could marry Mary. He was seventeen, an apprentice carpenter, and more than a year away from having his own shop. It was assumed that a serious-minded young Jew of seventeen was a responsible adult. Joseph’s parents discussed the matter of marriage and, in time, paid a formal call on Mary’s parents. Mary was not supposed to know of the matter, but had ex facto knowledge of it all along and had made known her wishes to her mother and father.

  1. When the two mothers and two fathers were agreed, the qiddushin took place. This is a formal betrothal, and much more binding than any other. The qiddushin has the finality of marriage. Once the marriage contract was negotiated, even though the marriage ceremony had not occurred, the bridegroom-to-be could not be rid of his betrothed except through divorce. If Joseph had died between qiddushin and marriage, Mary would have been his legal widow. Throughout the engagement, Mary of course, lived with her parents. At a time midway between engagement and formal marriage, Mary was alone one day and was visited by the angel Gabriel. She was alarmed, but not as frightened as she would have been had she not heard stories of such visits from the village elders. Mary lived after the days of the great prophets, the great visions, the visitations.

  1. Gabriel stood before her and saw a dark, modest child of fourteen. “Do not tremble, Mary,” he said. “You have found favor in the eyes of God. Behold: you are to be a mother and to bear a son, and to call him Jesus. He will be great: ‘Son of the Most High’ will be his title, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father, David. He will be king over the house of Jacob forever, and to his kingship there will be no end.” The words did not calm Mary. “How will this be,” she said shyly “since I remain a virgin?” Gabriel explained. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. For this reason, the child to be born will be acclaimed ‘Holy’ and ‘Son of God.’” She now understood the words. What the angel was saying, she reasoned, was something for which the Jews had been waiting for centuries: a messiah, a savior, God come to earth as he had promised long ago. Mary shook her head. Gabriel sensed that the child needed more proof. “Note, moreover,” he said, “your relative Elizabeth, in her old age, has also conceived a son and is now in her sixth month—she who was called ‘The barren.’ Nothing indeed is impossible for God.”

  1. The angel stood before her in silence, fading slowly from her vision. Mary’s impulse was to run and find her mother. She must tell. She must ask counsel. Exultation came and it was transmuted to anguish. She thought again of her mother and decided not to tell. If the angel had wanted her mother to know, he would have come when her mother was at home, so that both of them would have had knowledge of this thing. It must be the will of God that she keep the secret. Within a few days, Mary asked, as casually as possible, for permission to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Her mother thought of it as a touching sign of devotion, and sent her off with a family traveling south to Judea. Sometime before the visit of Mary, the angel Gabriel had appeared before the old lady and told her that God had answered her prayers. She would give birth to a son in June, and she must call him John. Someday he would be called the Baptist, and he would go ahead of the messiah, preaching and baptizing as he wants.

  1. Elizabeth was standing in her doorway as Mary came up the walk. Raising her hand in greeting, she suddenly burst into tears. “Blessed are you,” she said, “beyond all women. And blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Mary stopped, part away to the door. She could not speak. Elizabeth knew! Mary remained with Elizabeth until June, a week prior to the birth of John, Elizabeth’s child. The young girl was three months pregnant and her parents had sent word that she should be at home preparing for her wedding. When Mary arrived home, she saw her husband-to-be. Mary decided, from his attitude, that he knew nothing of the great secret. She would not marry him without telling something of it.

  1. “I am going to have a baby,” she said. The shock to Joseph was beyond measure. She had gone away three months ago, and now she returned to say that she was with child. Joseph looked at her tenderly and she offered no word of explanation. She looked away from him and wished that she might tell everything. The baby was going to need a foster father—who better than the man she loved, the gentle and pious and patient Joseph? The thought crossed her mind that he had been selected for the role for these very reasons. Then why, why had he not been told? Joseph went away from her to think. He loved this girl with all his heart. Now, he felt, she had betrayed him and he could not understand the betrayal. Joseph kept his awful secret. He could divorce her publicly. If he did this, he would be impelled to tell the elders the reason. The priests would adjudge her to be an adultress. There was only one penalty for this crime: stoning.

  1. Joseph was being put to a test. He did not want Mary to die. He could, under the law, pay money to put her away, to have her sent to some remote place. There, she could have her baby and remain. A third possibility would be for Joseph to swallow his pride, proceed with the wedding. He was dwelling upon the possibilities one night in bed, when he made up his mind. He would put Mary away privately. Within a few moments after the decision was reached, relaxation came to Joseph, and he slept. In sleep, he was visited by an angel. The spirit said to him, “Joseph, son of David, do not scruple to take Mary, your wife, into your home. Her conception was wrought by the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus; for he will save his people from their sins.”

  1. When Joseph awakened, he remembered the dream and he wondered if his forlorn hopes were reaching for rationalization. Still, the dream fulfilled an old prophecy to the letter: “Behold, the virgin will be pregnant and give birth to a son, who will be called ‘Emmanuel,’ which means ‘God with us.’” Joseph felt refreshed. He felt happy. He longed to hurry to Mary’s house, yelling: “I know! I know!” He waited until the proper time, after supper, and when she saw his first glance, Mary knew that he knew before he took her for an evening walk to explain. God had tried both of these young people, and they had not failed him. The following week, they were married and Joseph took Mary to his home.

The pagan origins of Christmas

 

 

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