Painting from 1600s of Elizabeth and Mary

Bible Backstories: How Miriam and Yossef got to Bethlehem, part 2


Author’s Note: Bible Backstories stories follow an almost journalistic pattern—a straight narrative line that strips away whatever extraneous, maybe emotional, reverberations. Consequentially, even heroes rarely seem conflicted about what they are told to do, or what someone else was told to do that has a direct effect on the other guy. As a result, it gets harder to think of Mary or St. Paul or Elijah as neighbors, people in the store, or getting gas. Hence, a series of re-imagined, familiar stories about people who live next door.

Read part one of this post here.

Painting from 1600s of Elizabeth and Mary
Painting from 1600s of Elizabeth and Mary

In a couple weeks Yossef and I were texting each other like pros. I’d been thinking of him as a sort of magical, calm guy who would solve every problem and make everything perfect. Until we got into the conversation about telling my parents. Reality was right there between us. He said I needed to write them immediately, preferably with a letter from Auntie E who was now very close to the birth. The thought of dropping that stone on mom and dad turned me to jelly.

I texted Yossef when Auntie E went into labor. The next day their little boy was born. He was all red and bellowing.  Auntie E just wrapped him up tight and held him against her until he dropped off to sleep. She was exhausted. And now we had to plan the bris.

Of course, mom and dad were coming down since they’d had the head’s up from Yossef, and they were bringing him with them. And me, well, I was six months along, so you know what I looked like. No robe ever made between here and Egypt would cover me. So they arrived at the house, with lovely gifts, perfect fruits and baked sweetmeats and a lambskin blanket. And Yossef had carved a ewer and bowl out of olive wood—so perfect.  As if they were his aunt and uncle, too.

I kind of hung back as they greeted each other and looked at the baby. Yossef slid over next to me and took my hand. “You didn’t tell them, did you?”

“I just couldn’t.”

“You’ll have to now.”

And mother was upon me and then shrieked. There was a lot of stuff about family shame and how could I and whatever would people in Nazareth say. I took a deep breath. “Mother, I have never lain with a man.  Ever. I’m not sure how this happened, except that, like my cousin here—it has something to do with God. So—no more hysterics. Please.”

I thought her racket was awful until I heard her silence. Auntie E gathered up the baby and Uncle Zacharias and left us alone in the garden. With Yossef.

“Tell them what you told me,” he said softly.

Mother turned on him and hissed, “You knew?!”

“Stop. Mother. Father. I will tell you all I know and you will listen and believe me.”

Mother sniffed, but she sat down. And I told them not only about my dream and what happened when I arrived here and how Auntie E was the one who told me I was pregnant. And then I told them about Yossef’s dream—about becoming the baby’s father—even though he’d only ever kissed my eyes and forehead. And then they just sat there, looking at the ground. Yossef left to go check on his house. Except for mother muttering that it seemed like maybe God could have sent her a dream, that was the end of the conversation.  We had dinner and went to our rooms and the next day was the bris, during which my father announced my engagement to Yossef.

Then, another miracle. Mother and some of the cousins all piped up when the rabbi asked for the name of the child—“His name should be Zacharias!” Uncle Z grabbed his tablet and scribbled “His name is Yonatan!”  The uproar that started was loud, even by the standards of the last two days, until Uncle Z stood up and stood by Auntie E and said—out loud—“His name is Yonatan!” and then sang a wonderful song of praise. And Yonatan, who had been sort of whimpering because of the bris, laughed. Out loud. That little tiny red baby just laughed. And then we all laughed and danced and ate and drank.

In a strange way, Zacharias’s getting his voice back made my parents think there must be something to this rash of miracles that was going around.

I was really sad to see them go the next day—with Yossef—saying I should stay there, to cut back on scandal.  Yossef and mother would come back down in another month and we would live in his wonderful house, together, to wait for my baby to arrive.

Except it didn’t quite happen that way.

I got bigger and my time, Auntie E said, was maybe a week away. Although first babies are slow. And mother and Yossef hadn’t even left Nazareth yet. I felt like texting him every hour, but Zacharias said, “Trust God, Miriam,” and took my cell away. Why did God give him his voice back anyway?

Five days later, mother walked through the gate, shook her head at my size, but hugged me anyway. Yossef kissed my cheek softly and put a carving of a tiny baby in my hand. Then he was off to see to his house.  Apparently, the family with the twins were staying another week because of the ridiculous Roman census.  Even Yossef had to go up to Jerusalem to register with all the rest. He came over for suppers, and slept in the little cave-shed behind his house.

I just got bigger and bigger and I was so bored, always shut up in the house or garden. So I got Hagar, one of the housemaids who’s younger than I am, and made her come with me. We made it across town to Yossef’s house. She helped me down the stone steps alongside the house. We could hear Yossef pounding away on something. He came out and helped me onto a bench he’d built next to that shed and we held hands and watched the clouds. The view of the hills across the valley was so beautiful.  Mother and Haggai made tea.

“I’m sorry we aren’t in the house upstairs, Miriam. But it will just be a few more days. They are good people and I don’t want to send them away with all the crowds the census has brought in. The shed doesn’t smell bad, and they only have a donkey and two goats.”

As he said that, I had my first real contraction, after which I had another one and another. And it got dark and before I really understood what was happening, I was propped up in another spiky bed of straw. Clean, bless Yossef. Mother and Haggai stayed with me and wiped my tears and gave me tiny sips of water. Yossef paced back and forth in front of the door. When it hurt so bad I was screaming, he came inside and crawled into the straw behind me—even though Mother was so shocked she couldn’t even look at him. But he held me up and I didn’t sink into the straw and die, which is what I wanted to do.  And then it was over and mother laid a slippery little boy in my arms, all wrapped in whatever she scrounged up for blankets.

“Oh, Miriam. He’s so beautiful.” Yossef touched the baby’s eyelids and forehead and then took his tiny fingers.

I could only whisper, “This is what God wanted me to have? This baby?”

“He is a gift,” Yossef said. “His name is Yeshuaa.”

“How do you know,” I said.

“Bright Light told me.”

I nodded. “Bright Light is always right,” cuddled the baby and fell asleep.

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