I knew it would happen. I just didn’t know when — Joseph’s nervous proposal of marriage.
He actually looked unsure of my answer as he held both my hands in his and waited for my response. I thought I was more transparent than that. I’d been dreaming of this day for years. In fact, my playmates and I had role-played the scene a few times; the difference being my friend who played Joseph acted much more confident and macho, and usually fell into a heap of giggles before I said yes.
When I looked into his dark, serious eyes, I realized no amount of practice could prepare me for such an emotional moment. I lifted his fingers to my lips and kissed them gently. “Yes, Joseph. Yes!”
His breath came out in a whoosh, and I laughed, glad I hadn’t made him wait longer. I’m sure Father had toyed with his emotions when the boy had asked for my hand. My father had a strange sense of humor, but he loved Joseph, as everyone did. Honorable and godly; there was no doubt he would be a wonderful husband.
The preparations had already begun for our wedding. Messengers had been sent out to invite guests. My mother had a small army of women setting up accommodations for the out-of-town friends and relatives. Father was taking inventory of his animals, hoping the whole affair wouldn’t drive him into bankruptcy.
The smell of smoke brought me out of my reverie. The flame in the small lantern on the table in front of me had snuffed out as it ran out of oil. I was supposed to be praying.
“I’m sorry, Father,” I whispered. “My excitement is causing my mind to wander. Thank you for Joseph. Thank you for all the blessings you’ve bestowed upon your servant. I deserve nothing, but you give me everything.”
I held my palms up. “You will always be my first love. My heart belongs to You.”
When I opened my eyes, the lantern was burning brightly in front of me. I hadn’t heard anyone come in to refill it. I looked toward the door. No one. But a movement to the right caught my eye.
My heart pounded furiously as I identified the apparition standing there as a ghost or an angel of some sort. He had an ethereal beauty, and I knew the glow around him was not caused by the small lamp.
His smile was big and oddly comforting. “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!” he said in a warm voice.
Was I dreaming? My thoughts had been scattered before, but now I feared I had completely lost my mind. Favored? Why would I be favored? I squeezed my eyes shut and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. Protect me, Father, I pleaded silently.
I felt a touch on my arm like a warm, wet cloth that caused a calmness to spread over my whole body. I felt weightless, but steady. I could feel the fear seeping out of me even as I heard the being’s next words.
“Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God!”
I opened my eyes and looked into his. They were deep and intense but quieted the rest of my anxious thoughts.
“Me? Favor? Why?” I seemed incapable of forming full sentences.
The smile stretched across his face, crinkling his beautiful eyes. “Mary.”
Hearing my name on his tongue that way made me feel special. I leaned in to hear his words.
“You have been chosen. Your faithfulness to God has been acknowledged. Your name will be remembered for the rest of time as being the mother of God.”
I opened my mouth to respond. Was I going to argue? Could I vocalize my belief that he could have the wrong girl? I was no one important; just an average Nazarene looking forward to her wedding to a wonderful man. But no words came. It was as if I had suddenly become mute.
The angel went on with words that shook my whole being with awe and wonder; words that would be imprinted in my head forever. “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”
Son of the Most High? The Son of God? I will give birth to the Son of God?
I managed to whisper my doubt, feeling my face grow hot as I told him, “I’ve never been with a man. Joseph and I have not… I mean, how could I conceive and have a child without… that?”
He touched my head. “Is your God not capable, child?”
I swallowed hard. Of course He was. I’d heard of all the miraculous things God had done for our people. He was the God of the Universe. The earth belonged to Him.
“How?” I choked out.
His warm smile proceeded his response. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. You will not experience the touch of an earthly man. That way the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.”
My heart raced inside my chest again. The Holy Spirit would impregnate me with God’s holy baby? This was too much for a young girl to comprehend or believe.
He spoke as if he could read my mind. “Our God is a God of miracles, Mary. Did you know that your cousin Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age? People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. The word of God will never fail. Nothing, you see, is impossible with God.”
Elizabeth pregnant? I knew how much she wanted that; how much shame she felt over being barren. Was this real? Could all this be true?
Peace fluttered into in my soul like ashes settling down after a windstorm, and I knew. I knew the man who stood before me was a messenger from the Almighty God. I knew his words were true and everything he said would come to pass. I knew, even as I knelt there, my womb now held life where there was no life before.
I nodded at the angelic man in front of me. My voice was so quiet it was barely audible. “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”
The twinkle in his eye was not unlike a wink. And then he was gone.
I was alone. I had to tell my fiancée that I was pregnant. That I bore God’s Son in my womb. A new kind of fear knocked on my heart. Oh, Joseph.
I pressed my forehead to the floor. This time as I prayed to my son’s Father, my mind did not wander. I prayed for wisdom and courage to talk to my betrothed.
You might think this an odd story to choose for Valentine’s Day weekend. Yet, when I consider loves stories, this one takes the lead. Forgive my boldness to fictionalize God’s Word, but this is how I imagine it might have played out. Of course, I have romanticized it because I’m a romantic at heart. It was actually customary for the parents of the bride and groom to arrange a marriage, sometimes without even consulting the young couple. There was a good chance that Mary had not yet grown to love her betrothed, but merely had an allegiance to him as the man her parents had chosen for her to marry.
My romantic version aside, the love that Mary displayed that day was love toward her heavenly Father.
Mary’s love was selfless. She said yes to God when it didn’t make sense for her to say yes. Who would believe her; that a virgin could become pregnant without ever knowing a man? If Joseph left her, she would be ruined. But Mary loved God enough to trust that He would work out the details. She loved Him enough to let Him interrupt her plans to marry a carpenter and live happily ever after in an ordinary life. She said yes to Him, calling herself “the Lord’s servant”, (Luke 1:38) and allowing Him to take control.
In my imagination, her yes to Joseph’s marriage proposal had been easy. It might have been premeditated; the subject of her dreams. Mary may have been a romantic too. Or the acceptance of Joseph as her husband was the result of a yes to her parents, whom she loved, with no romantic involvement on her part at all. Either way, the beginning of their fairy tale marriage was the simple part. The contract had been signed, and they were betrothed. Their future as husband and wife had been secured.
Well, so they thought. But God had other plans for Mary and Joseph; plans that were unconventional, that had the potential to shame both families and cause scandal in the community.
Her yes to God jeopardized everything. But real love includes trust. Mary trusted that her God, the Father of the child within her, would work things out.
In the next scene of the story, conflict entered as Joseph learned of Mary’s pregnancy. He thought he was marrying a virgin. This was not what he had signed up for. In a mindset completely opposite to today’s way of thinking, his first idea was to divorce her quietly to prevent her public disgrace. Another angel visit was required to ensure that this marriage proceeded as planned. God was in control.
Daughter of God, your story is one of love too. You and I are called to exemplify love on our stage. That’s not always a mushy, feel-good kind of love; the romanticized version. Love can be challenging. But we are reminded in 1 Corinthians 13:7 that “love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” God’s love flows through us into our families, our neighbors, our coworkers, and those we pass on the street.
On this Valentine’s Day weekend, look past the chocolates, flowers and mushy cards to see the prime example of love:
God, our Father, sent His Son… yeah, that’s love.
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