The Annunciation

Although I was only fifteen years old, I knew enough to realise that I was expecting a baby. As I helped Susannah, the Rabbi’s wife, prepare the family meal, I was queasily aware of my belly. I hoped that my father and brother would soon have finished their conversation with the elders, and we could go home together.
“Don’t worry, girl,” Susannah chided. “Things happen. You’ll be fine. My Reuben will see that everything is managed discreetly.”
I wanted to weep. Everybody would know. I would be disgraced. Look! Susannah had guessed already, and I wasn’t six weeks gone.
“There now, child, of course I know. There’s only one reason why a girl would come here with her father to speak to the Rabbi and the elders.”
“It happens most years, Mary. A girl will be betrothed and then have to marry a little sooner than planned. The baby comes early. Everybody can count the months, but nobody says anything. You’ll still be a respectable married woman with a fine child.” I stayed silent.
“It’s not Joseph’s child, is it?” Susannah spoke casually, almost without interest you might think. I shook my head.
“Well, that’s not so good, but Joseph, he’s generous and he wants a wife. At his age that’s not always easy”. Her eyes were far away as she thought about how things could be worked out. “Tell me about it, girl. Maybe I can help.”
I started slowly. “It was six weeks ago – the first hot day of the year. Everybody was laughing and joking as we got on with spring-cleaning. Dad and Jesse were in the lower part of the house, mending the animal stall, and I had just come down from the upper room with an armful of bedding to wash.
Then I saw the stranger. He was standing right beside the door, and he seemed to shine. He was tall and straight. His face was like a king’s, very handsome and stern.”
I looked doubtfully at Susannah. She nodded, slowly and thoughtfully. “Go on,” she encouraged me.
“Dad noticed him too, and stepped towards him with Jesse following. ‘Shalom’ said Dad. The stranger held up his hand and they stopped. I thought Dad was trying to say something, but no sound was coming out.
‘Hail, Mary,’ said the stranger. ‘You have found favour with Yahweh.’
‘Don’t be afraid.’ His voice was beautiful. It was gentle and yet, had he shouted, rocks would have tumbled from the mountains and the sea risen in tumult. ‘Yahweh is pleased with you,’ he said. ‘Listen!’
’You are going to become pregnant, and give birth to a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called Son of the Most High. Yahweh will give him the throne of his ancestor David. He will rule over the House of Jacob and his reign will have no end.’
What would you have thought, Susannah? All I could think was how on earth could I be pregnant? I’d never done anything that would get me pregnant. So I just said, ‘I’m sorry, sir, I don’t see how that can be. I’m not married yet, and I’m a virgin.’
‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and so the child will be holy, and will be called the Son of God.
And, Mary, your kinswoman Elizabeth has conceived a son, and is now in her sixth month. Everybody said that she was barren, but nothing is impossible to God.’
He stopped speaking then, Susannah, and stood looking at me. It was the strangest thing. Somehow I knew that I had to choose. There was the life I had always dreamed of as a wife and mother, loved by my family and respected by my neighbours – or there was the promise of the….angel.”
“What did you answer?” Susannah’s voice was hoarse.
“I said ‘Let Yahweh’s will be done.’”
Susannah sighed. “You did well. It will be hard for you, though. It’s lucky that your father and brother witnessed the angel. Is that what they’re telling the elders?”
I nodded.
“Even so, you’ll have to go away. Go and see Elizabeth. Have the baby somewhere else. The townsfolk would accept an illegitimate child if you were discreet, but some people might call your story blasphemy.”
She was right, of course, and Joseph, that good, dear, trusting man took me to Elizabeth, and then to Bethlehem. And since then, what a life it’s been! We fled from Herod’s soldiers into exile in Egypt. My son grew up, worked miracles, healed the sick, even raised the dead. And then that terrible day; I can’t talk about it; it was a day no mother should ever have to see. My soul was pierced with the agony.
I know it was Yahweh’s will. I believe that through it great good will come. My son’s closest disciples told me that they’d met him again after that day, talked with him, eaten with him. But he never appeared to me. Perhaps that was best. He who died was flesh of my flesh; He who rose – who was he? My son died; it was Yahweh’s son who rose.
And so I wait. I’m old, my braided hair is snow white and my face is furrowed. Yahweh’s will has been done, as it had to be. And yet I wonder greatly.
You see, I could have said “No”.