There was a rap at the door, breaking the silence, and Joseph began to move from the place he had settled to greet the newcomer. Sarah waved him off since she was much closer to the door, but that did no good. Joseph knew it would be completely inappropriate for his mistress to wash the feet of a guest to her home, especially if it was a man. His persistence was of value because Jesus’ brother, James, was at the door. James came in, shed his outer robe, handed it to Sarah, and unlaced his sandals so Joseph could accomplish his foot washing task.
Sarah marveled at how different James was than Jesus. “I guess that makes sense,” she thought, in light of what Mary had just said about Jesus’ actual “father.” James was a rugged man, having followed after his father, Joseph, in the craftsman trade. He had given that up in this last year to become more involved with the large group of Jesus’ followers who regularly met in Jerusalem and seemed to have fallen into leadership among them. Jesus had been slighter in build and, since he had gone into rabbinic school at the age of 12 (after that impressive showing at the temple), didn’t have the same physically demanding life of his younger brothers. Jesus had not been weak, though, by any estimation. The suffering he endured would have ended a weaker man’s life long before the cross. She had to turn toward an empty corner of the kitchen as tears once again escaped her eyes. Those images were still too vivid, even a year later. James, who visited often to check on his mother, was tossing Izzy into the air. Her laughter was infectious. Sarah smiled at her youngest blessing and wiped her eyes.
The guests quickly caught James up to the stopping place of his mother’s story. Mary nodded to him, wanting him to carry on with it, as he was now her oldest son. “Dad took little time for story-telling,” he began.
“For those of you who never had the chance to know him, he was a quiet, strong, and honest man who was quite calculated in all he did, as you might expect of a life-long craftsman. But there was one time that he related his part of this story to me as we worked together in the shop. I should say – he was working; I was sweeping and listening. It was Jesus’ thirteenth birthday, but he was not at home. It was the first birthday he missed, being at rabbinic school, and dad was sad and allowed himself to reminisce.
“‘You can’t blame me for struggling to believe her, can you?’ dad asked me, not really expecting an answer. She was promised to him but discovers she is pregnant, telling him that just two weeks before she had a visit from an angel with a message from Jehovah. Mom was young, but he had always known her to be honest. It was one of the things that attracted him to the idea of a life together. ‘But there is only one way to be pregnant,’ he said looking directly at me, ‘and that is to have been with a man… and that man wasn’t me! I reacted poorly… humanly,’ he confessed to me. Disgrace was a certainty, for both of them; maybe worse for mom. She had gone through the normal routine for women during their “unclean” time, though she was not bleeding, and was planning a trip to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, who she claimed was six months pregnant. He felt this was possibly the way out. Mary could leave before anyone was aware of her condition and never return. There would be questions, initially, but she would be safe, and he would not be implicated.”
James paused to take hold of Mary’s hand as she had begun to weep quietly. Sarah could not, for the life of her, grasp what that must have been like. An angel visits and you get pregnant without being with a man and then your future husband doesn’t believe you and wants to break off the engagement. That had to be a new definition for “alone.” James began again, and Sarah forced her mind back to the story.
“Dad couldn’t get to sleep that night, though he had worked especially hard during the day to try to erase the situation from his mind. Sometime in the last watch he must have dozed off, he said, because he began dreaming… mostly wild, nonsensical dreams. Suddenly, all the images were washed out in white and when his mind seemed to adjust a young man was standing before him. Mom’s description came to his mind instantly: This was the same being. Dad had stopped everything at this point and was clearly reliving that moment in time. I’m not sure he even remembered I was there,” James added but then continued,
“He was afraid, and added to that, he was embarrassed that he had not believed Mary. The angel smiled at him and said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Joseph. Mary has told you the truth. Jehovah is the one who caused her to be pregnant and she will have a son. Take her as your wife and when the son is born name him Yeshua, because he will save his people from the penalty of their sin.’
“Dad stopped talking and just sat for a moment, still lost in thought. Then, as if he was waking up from that same dream, he said, ‘I awoke refreshed and at peace, left my workshop just as it was and went to find Mary. We were married within the week and immediately after the days of celebration, she left to visit Elizabeth. I wondered if people would do the math and start rumors about Mary being pregnant before our marriage but the angel had said not to be afraid. That was the plan.'”
Mary was smiling again as James came to the end of his account. It was time to eat, and Sarah was ready. Her servants made quick work of assuring that everyone had enough to eat and drink. It was a night of celebration, after all. It was Jesus’ birthday. Sarah couldn’t help but wonder, though, what was keeping John. He said he had an errand to run, but she was sure he wouldn’t want to miss this night. It was his idea!