The Grandmother's Story
I know you have all heard this story many times before, but I had a unique opportunity to see things slightly differently from what you have already read.
My name is Anna, my husband is Joachim, and our only daughter is Mary. She was conceived very late in my life - I was blessed, and Mary is a beautiful and wonderful daughter. She is kind, obedient,
helpful - all the sorts of things a girl should be. And we found the perfect man for her - Joseph. He is stable. strong and clear headed - he has his own carpenter shop and is doing ever so well at
it. A sort of understanding was reached that when Mary was 16, they would marry.
But then one day she came to me, looking flushed and excited, and said, "Mother, I have something to tell you, and I don't know how you are going to take it." I was intrigued of course, and ushered
her into the front room where we would have some privacy.
"I'm pregnant," she said. My first reaction, I am ashamed to say, was anger. We had raised Mary to be moral and upright. She knew well the rules about keeping herself pure for her wedding night. And Joseph - I was shocked that he would do something like that to her. But before I could start shouting she quietly said, "It is a miracle. God has chosen me to be the mother of the Messiah."
"What are you talking about you silly girl? Do you mean that Joseph isn't the father? How could you do that to him?"
But she still looked calmly back at me and said in a low voice, "An angel visited me and told me that I was God's chosen one and the power of the Almighty would come upon me and that's how I got pregnant."
Of course, we Jews have been waiting for the Messiah to come for ages. Whenever a holy man of miracles appears in one of the towns, we hope and pray that it is him, and that he will somehow manage to get our country away from the control of these dreadful Romans.
But still I was cautious. "Mary," I said, “there are certain signs that a woman gets when she becomes pregnant. Do you know about those?"
"My body seemed different from the moment the angel spoke to me. I could feel my womb swelling in anticipation and my breasts longing to provide milk for my baby."
I still couldn't quite believe that this was all happening. "What does Joseph think about all of this? I presume you've told him."
She suddenly looked sad and said, "Yes, I told him straight away, but he couldn't find it in his heart to believe me. He said that he would release me from our betrothal vows." I put my arms around her, and from her body came such a warmth and glow, that all my worries were put aside. I knew my girl was speaking truly - this was a special baby from God, and she really was blessed amongst
"And you are going to have to do all this without his support then? Wait till I see him. I will tell him what's what. How could he doubt you who never in your life told a lie?"
"Please don't say anything Mother. Leave it to God. I think He will find a way to make it all right."
The next week, when Joseph came to the house. I wasn't my usual welcoming self. How dare he doubt my daughter. What a schmuk! How could he leave her to face this pregnancy on her own?
But he smiled at me and said, "It will be all right, Anna, you will see." I don't know what he said to her then, because they went off to have their conversation in private - but her face was enough witness to the fact that he had agreed to the situation. She later told me that an angel had visited him too and explained the whole thing.
And another thing emerged. This new grandson of mine has already been given a name - Jesus they have to call him. Not that it isn't a good name, but you might have thought we could have had some choice in the matter. And there are quite a few Jesuses around here already. Only the other week a neighbour, Naomi Barrabas had a little boy and she named him Jesus too.
But now that all the excitement has died down a bit, we had to plan for the wedding. It would have to be a rather low key affair. I knew the neighbours would be counting on their fingers the months before
the baby was born, and we didn't want any more gossip than necessary. And you can't really go around and say, "My daughter is pregnant with the Messiah, now can you? Can you imagine what they'd think?" Joachim was prepared to leave most of the wedding preparations to me, but he approves of Joseph, and seems to accept this strange special baby almost easier than I can. He says it's all in the prophecies. I don't know. It seems to me that you can make almost any prophecy come true if you try hard enough.
But Mary is still only 15, and very innocent in the ways of childbirth and raising babies. So I thought it would do her good to go and see my niece Elizabeth, Zechariahs' wife - another one who had
a surprise pregnancy late in life. She was due in a few months' time, and if Mary was there with her, they could make the swaddling clothes for their babies together. And Mary could see how birth works, and help Elizabeth through those first tiring days.
Mary enjoyed her time with Elizabeth, who seemed to know right away about the origin of the new baby, without even being told. And she seemed to think her baby was going to be something special in God's plan too. I don't know why God should have chosen our family for all these special honours. I hope we can be worthy of them. Joseph was busy making a cradle too, and all sorts of boy-type wooden toys. I sure hope they don't spoil this baby - just because he is so special.
So time went on, and the birth was fast approaching. Mary kept well for the pregnancy and had hardly any of the usual problems that most women have to put up with. And then the stupid Romans had to go and make an order for the census to be taken. All the men had to go to the towns of their family roots to be enrolled. Joseph is from the House of David, and their town is Bethlehem. It's miles away - easily a week's walk. It wouldn't be so bad if he could go on his own, but he insisted that Mary should come with him. He said it had to do with the scriptures being fulfilled. This census thing is for men - nobody counts the women. And she could deliver any day from the size of her. I told them what I thought, but much good did it do me. They were determined, and so they prepared for the journey. Joseph hired a donkey for Mary to ride on - and she packed her special baby clothes
as well as food for them for the journey. But if Joseph thought that I was going to let my only daughter - only 15 - go off and have her baby on her own, he had another think coming. So I packed my things too, and set out on the journey with them. We had to walk quite slowly, as am I not as young as I used to be, and my knee hurts a bit now. Mary tried to have me ride on the donkey some of the time, I wouldn't let her do that. I didn't want to be the one responsible for her going into labour before her full allotted time.
The journey took us seven days, and we managed to find adequate accommodation at inns along the way. But when we finally arrived in Bethlehem, wouldn't you know it? The place was packed. All these men coming for the census - and all the good rooms in the inns were taken. The first place we went to, I think the inn keeper felt a bit sorry for us, because he said that if we didn't have any luck
anywhere else, to come back and he would see what he could do. And of course, we didn't have luck. You would have thought that these men would offer to give up their rooms to a very pregnant woman, but none of them was having a bar of that. They looked at us rather oddly anyway and made comments about her place, and mine, being at home where we belonged. So eventually we made it back to the first inn, to see what that kind man had in store for us. He apologised that he couldn't do better, but he showed us into his stable - which although pretty basic, did have a welcoming feel to it. We thanked him for his kindness, and he left us to it. Mary was looking rather uncomfortable
by this time, and I recognised that she was probably starting in labour, and sure enough, she whispered to me that her waters had broken. Joseph looked bewildered, but I set him about doing the practical things - making a fire, getting water from a nearby stream, finding a container to boil it in - anything to have him out of the way
I settled Mary on a sort of bed in the straw, with blankets on top to make it less scratchy. She said the pains were getting closer, but were still bearable. Time went on, and a few hours later, the fire
was lit and the place was warm and comfortable. I knew things were coming to a climax, but had a sudden urge to relieve myself and went outside just for a few minutes to the inn's outhouse. When I returned, not five minutes later, the baby had already arrived. That was the quickest and easiest birth that I'd ever seen, or not seen, to be more exact.
Joseph was tying the umbilical cord with some silk threads we had brought for that purpose, and Mary gently washed his little perfect body with a soft warm cloth. She wrapped him in the swaddling that she'd brought - everyone knows that new babies are much happier when they're held tightly, just like they were in the womb. But baby Jesus wasn't crying, he was taking much more interest that a newborn baby normally would, and seemed very content. None the less, Mary put him to her breast and he suckled away happily. It was a lovely contented scene, and I was so pleased that I had come to be a part of it. I asked if I could hold the baby for awhile. There is nothing like the smell of a newborn baby. And he looked just like Mary had done when she was a baby. I supposed he could hardly look like Joseph! I could feel myself fill up with joy holding him. Joseph had his turn too, and then they put Jesus down to sleep in the bed Joseph had fashioned for him out of a manger, with extra blankets and sheets of course to make it more comfortable, and he settled down to sleep. I shooed Joseph out of the room, and told him to go down to the inn, to have a drink with the friendly innkeeper, while I helped Mary clean herself up after the birth. Men don't need to know about these things.
So life progressed for the few weeks that we spent there. We had lots of visitors once word got around about the birth. All sorts of strange people came and seemed pleased and excited to see the baby, and somehow they knew about the idea that this was going to be the Messiah. I'm sure I didn't tell anyone, so I don't know how they found out. But Mary and Joseph were welcoming, and made everyone have a drink with us, and let them hold the baby if they wanted to. Some even brought gifts for him.
Joseph had to arrange for Jesus to be circumcised, as is the rule in our religion. The rabbi did it at the synagogue, and Jesus didn't even cry. I had hardly heard a peep out of him, he was such a good
baby. He was feeding well, and despite our rather basic efforts at keeping his supply of clean napkins washed and dried, he didn't seem to be suffering from his primitive start. Mary also had to go to the synagogue to be purified as our religion demands women to do after a birth.
We had made plans to set out back to Nazareth the next day. I made sure everything was washed and clean, and packed the bags, and we were to have one last night in the stable. But when I awoke in the morning, I was alone. Mary and Joseph and the baby were nowhere in sight. I couldn't believe they would desert me like that - but then I saw a note Mary had pinned to the manger where Jesus had lain. "Mother, please forgive us for leaving like this. But Joseph has had a dream that Jesus' life is in danger, so we are to flee to a far away country to keep him safe. I will let you know as soon as I can where we are, and how things are with us. Thank you for all you did for us and God be with you always, Your loving daughter, Mary."
I burned the note. I would have liked to keep it, but thought perhaps if she was right and the authorities would soon be coming to look for Jesus, I didn't want to leave any clues. They had left the donkey for me to ride back to Nazareth, which was very kind of them. I'm sure Joseph would have found another one for Mary to ride as soon as they could safely do so.
So that is my story - of how my grandson started his life. I thought it was about time somebody knew that I had a part in it too.