They Rocked the Cradle that Rocked the World ~ chap. 3

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3 –JOSEPH

Two Fathers, One Son

God has selected Jesus’ human father. He is strong as a rock and fiercely loyal. His ability to love is unstoppable. He loves Mary completely and without reservation. He will love Jesus the same. And the gaps in Joseph’s character? God will fill them in. For he is the other Father.

Very soon Joseph will learn of his destiny.

  • BC 6
  • Road between Provinces of Judea and Galilee, Palestine

Far away, Mary turns in the direction of home and steps into the pages of human and divine history that will indeed include her Joseph.

As her small caravan makes its way up into the mountains. Mary’s mind wanders from one thing to another. She prays fervently. She is more frightened than she ever has been. The fear not only persists, it grows.

Oh, my God. Will my parents disown me? Will I be stoned?

The traveling party is now in the foothills. One step at a time her gentle donkey takes her closer to her destiny. Will it be glory or doom? Sometimes she puts her hand over her womb and looks up into the sky.

Oh, my God. I am so scared.

Tears are her constant companion as she envisions her rejection.

Sometimes her body grows so limp with worry, she nearly falls off her donkey. But a kindly woman in the group has noticed Mary is apparently not feeling well, and rides next to her. Whenever it looks as though the little woman is about to pass out, the woman reaches over and touches Mary’s hand.

“Are you all right, sweetheart?” the new friend always says.

Each time, Mary straightens back up and brings her mind back to the here and now. But it is only temporary.

She thinks back to Joseph and their wedding plans. She’d had everything worked out. What she would wear, what would be served at the wedding feast, and who her maids in attendance would be.

Joseph had even begun etching invitations on small pieces of wood. He is so patient. And full of delightful surprises. Now, it is all gone. Well, a big wedding feast isn’t so important. The big thing is Joseph’s love.

On the donkey treads with its precious passenger. Patient. Reliable.

Oh, my God, will Joseph turn me into the authorities and have me stoned to death? Please, God, don’t let it happen. I’m so scared.

They pass the city of Cana. She is almost home. She must stop the tears. She must return to her old confidence. Oh, I’ve only been thinking of myself. What about my baby?

Jesus is indeed growing within her. Mary is very tired, and she senses her baby is too.

The journey. Such a long journey Jesus has made. From Creator to created. From All Powerful to completely dependent. From the infinite universe to a little womb. From being everywhere at once to confinement in a body. A miniature body at that.

Her donkey sways and plods with the little lady on its back. Now and then Mary thinks the heavenly Father’s Spirit enters her womb and he, too, gently rocks his baby boy.

  • Nazareth, Province of Galilee

 Up in the hills, Joseph looks over the two trees he will need to keep his business going the next three weeks. With his ax, he cuts off all the branches close to the trunk and throws them out of his way.

That complete, he stops, takes some big swallows of water and sets his water skin down on one of the tree stumps. He walks over to where he had laid his robe on the small tent he had slept in the previous night and wipes his brow with it. He sits on the larger tree stump to rest his stocky frame.

She’s never going to be gone from me this long again. I love her too much. I could never let her go again.

He looks up at the white clouds playfully bumping into each other. Oh, Jehovah, God, bring her back home to me soon.

Rest over, he expertly strips the bark off the two trees with his adze.

Time for another break, but not nearly as long. He must finish everything before dusk. He eats a few fresh grapes he had bought at the market that morning on his way out of town.

Oh, Mary. Why did you have to go away? Jehovah, keep her safe. Keep my Mary safe.

Back to work. Hovering over one of the tree trunks, he uses the back side of his axe to tap in wedges along its length. Then with full muscle he hammers them in with the precision learned from his father down in Bethlehem until he has split the log.

He moves the wedges over just about a finger span, and repeats the process to make his first board. He goes through the exercise until he has all the boards he can glean from the two trees he had cut the day before. He muscles the heavy cargo onto his wagon, waters his ox, and starts back toward Nazareth.

She said she wanted one last vacation alone before the wedding. What was she thinking? I know she’s sometimes independent, but she didn’t have to go so close to our wedding date.

“Oh great Jehovah,” Joseph says aloud. “It’s been three months. What is she doing down there? Don’t ever let Mary leave me again. I can hardly stand it.”

When he reaches home, there is a small parchment attached to the gate latch. Wiping some of the sawdust off his rough hands, his fingers touch it, and fold around it. Time stands still. His other hand pulls at the twine around it. Slipping. Slipping. Almost off. He drops the twine to the ground. Careful not to tear anything, he begins to unroll the scroll. He sees it is in Mary’s unique script. A little more to unroll the rest. Then a little more. Time. Time takes too long. Now he sees the whole message.

My dearest Joseph. I returned home last evening. I must see you as soon as possible. I have never stopped loving you. Mary.

“Yes!” he shouts to the world. “She’s back!”

He opens the double gates and leads his ox and wagon into his small courtyard. Hurriedly, he takes the yoke off and leads the animal to a water trough. Unloading the cart and taking the ox back to the livery will have to wait.

He tugs off his dirty clothes as he goes through the courtyard, leaving them on the ground. He shakes the sawdust out of his normally black hair and splashes water from his wash bowl onto his grimy face. He shoves his head as far into the bowl as he can, and pours water over it. He rises, slings the water out of his hair, pats it down with his hands, and picks up a discarded shirt to wipe water off his face.

Rushing into his small quarters, he grabs clean clothes off a hook and puts on more decent sandals.

Within moments Joseph is out the gate and rushing up the street.

Before long, he comes in view of Mary’s home. His heart beats faster in anticipation of his reunion with his sweetheart. He touches his hair to make sure it is in place for his Mary. Anything and everything for his Mary.

He knocks on the gate. The latch moves from inside. Joseph grins in anticipation. The gate slowly creeks open. Hurry! Hurry!

But it is Mary’s mother.

“Mary’s upstairs on the roof, Joseph.”

His future mother-in-law does not look happy.

What is wrong? Something’s wrong? Was she injured? Has she changed her mind about the wedding? What’s going on?

He takes broad strides toward the stairway to the roof. Sarah takes hold of his arm and looks up into his young, confused eyes. “Be gentle with her. She’s still our daughter. We still love her.”

Something is wrong. What is it? Oh, Mary, what is it? Whatever it is, I’ll stand by her and help her through it. My love for her knows no bounds.

“Okay,” he responds aloud. “Just let me see her now.”

She nods in agreement, and Joseph springs up the steps, three at a time.

He stops.

There sits his Mary. Nothing wrong that I can see.

His grin returns, wide and unrestrained, his eyes flash in fantastic love. He starts walking over to Mary, the love of his life, when her mother’s hand once again stops him.

“Wait. Not yet,” she whispers.

Mary looks at Joseph with eyes of love and fear.

“Joseph, I love you with my whole heart. I have always loved you. You are the only man I have ever loved. Do you believe that?”

“Of course, Mary. I believe you.”

What an odd question.

Then Mary slowly stands. Joseph is unsure what she is showing him, not wanting to know.

She lets her cloak slip down to her feet.  “Joseph, I am pregnant.”

Joseph stares in disbelief. Confusion takes over his eyes, his lips and his demeanor. Deep breathing builds up as if getting ready to fight an unknown, unseen enemy.

His fists clench.

He puts a hand up to his forehead. He turns and looks away and then back again, hoping he only imagined what he was seeing and what he has just heard. But the love of his life is still pregnant.

Mary does not say anything. She just stands there. Tears. Waiting for him to say something.

“Mary! How could you do this to me?”

Joseph turns, jumps down the stairs and bounds out of the house, leaving the gate open behind him. He throws the gift he’d brought her at the wall of her house.

He stumbles down some street in some village somewhere. Somehow, eventually, in a time where there is no time, a familiar gate appears. He staggers toward it, not completely aware that he is doing it.

Joseph puts his head down on his closed front gate. With his fist, he pounds it relentlessly. “Mary! Mary! Not you! Why? Why?” he cries out to an unseeing and uncaring world. And though he is talking to Mary, he is glad she is not around to hear him. He is now aware that he never wants to see her again.

He sobs uncontrollably. Betrayed by innocence. But not innocence after all. The ultimate betrayal.

His voice, his sobs, swirl through his head and rush to the ears of Satan who laughs in sadistic excitement.

God wants to reach down and comfort him, but Joseph is not yet ready.

Somehow Joseph manages the lock and stumbles through the gateway to his courtyard, and toward his little living quarters, the living quarters he had thought he and Mary would be making into a home. But he cannot go inside.

“Oh, Jehovah God, why? Why, God? Why did it have to happen? Oh, God, not this,” he bellows at the sky.

Stumbling around the ox and wagon he’d forgotten he left there in his hurry, his hand lands on a bowl of water where he’d washed less than an hour earlier. He pushes it over and down onto the ground in retaliation. Retaliation on Mary. He works his way from object to object, throwing everything he can see with young, strong arms. The arms that once held Mary protectively.

He turns and, tramping over the mud and broken pottery on the ground, he finally makes his way into his quarters.

The man! Who’s the other guy? Who did this to her? He kicks the stool in the middle of the room.

Did Mary consent? Was she raped? He takes hold of the stool and throws it across the room.

He picks up a piece of fine clay on which he had sketched a picture of her and throws it at the wall. He drops to his knees and remains there a few moments as though begging providence to back up and start all over again with this morning.

Was it someone she’s known for a long time? Has she been seeing someone behind my back? What’s going on, Mary? Mary!

He sits now on the floor with her picture. All broken. Crushed. Cut to the heart. Unhealable. Inconsolable. Betrayed with the ultimate betrayal.

Oh, Mary… Oh, Jehovah God… Say it’s just a dream.

Sprawling completely prostrate now, he hits his fist against the floor. He is bleeding. Bleeding from the broken pottery. Bleeding from the broken promise. The broken heart. The broken life. “Oh, Mary… Oh, God…” he groans.

Joseph opens his eyes and it is dark. No sounds on the street. It must be very late. Too late. Too late to do any work. Too late for Mary. Too late for him. Too late for happiness.

Getting up, Joseph stumbles toward the courtyard and pauses in the doorway, momentarily forgetting what he’s doing. Forgetting because there’s nothing to remember. Only betrayal. And a treacherous emptiness.

He turns back into his quarters and throws himself across his bed on top of the crumpled covers, and stares at the dark ceiling with unseeing eyes. He pounds his bed mercilessly, turns over. Then over again. And again. How can he sleep?

Turning, he sits up and puts both open hands up to his head and his ears, hoping the echoes of betrayal will go away. But they haunt him. He raises his fists to heaven. “Why, God? Why did you do this to me? Why?”

His masculine nature wants to fight. But who is the enemy? Who can he cut down?

Rushing out through his door into the blackness of his night, he fumbles with a flint to light a fire. A fire to burn the wick in his lamp so he can see.

Joseph sets the olive-oil lamp down and steps over to the wagon filled with the boards he’d brought home earlier in the day. The day of hope and promise. The day of betrayal and utter nothingness.

He jerks the straps off, scourges the boards with them, then throws them down. He grabs the first board and slings it at the storage bin. No more neat piles. No more everything in its place, because now nothing is in its place.

With some strange force coming out of his abyss, he grabs each board, slinging it in the same general direction. He does not care that he is tearing up his bin like his heart has been torn up. He does not care that he is damaging his wall like his life has been damaged.

He must do battle. Battle the boards, the wall and the unknown force that has invaded his world.

The wagon empty, he remembers the doors he’d just begun for the mayor’s new house.

Gotta get them built. Gotta get them done. Gotta do it. Gotta concentrate. Gotta cut and pound, cut and pound, cut and pound.

With all the uncontrollable energy that possesses him, Joseph attacks the wood with a vengeance—cutting, pounding, avenging, thinking…

I’ve got to turn her in to the court. No, I can’t do that. That’s Mary I’m talking about. Mary’s the love of my life. Mary was the love of my life.

He cuts and pounds…

I know. I know what I can do. Yes, that’s it. I’ll pay for her to have an abortion. I know it wasn’t her fault. Someone forced her. Mary wouldn’t betray me like that. She can have an abortion. Then, in a few months, we can be married—celebrations, the wedding parade, the wedding feast, and everything.

Cut and pound.

It’ll all be put back together again. Our dream will be intact. We can go on living as though nothing ever happened. I can forgive Mary. I know I can. I could even move her away from here after the wedding and we could start all over again. No one would be the wiser for it.

Surely, if it means forgiving Mary and getting married after all, God would be for an abortion. God loves forgiveness and marriage. God would approve of the abortion. And the baby wouldn’t ever know the difference.

Cut and pound.

The baby? The baby? It’s growing inside her? It’s already got life? I don’t think I could bring myself to bring it up to her.

And think.

Adoption. That’s the answer. Maybe someone in Mary’s family would adopt it. There’s got to be people around here who can’t have children of their own. Mary could just give it up; then we could go on like nothing ever happened.

No. The baby would still be around. What if the baby looked like Mary? Every time I saw it, I’d be reminded of the betrayal. The betrayal? Yes, the betrayal. What am I going to do?

And weigh.

Annul the engagement. Divorce her. That’s what I’ll do. I’ll quietly send her the legal papers ending our engagement and marriage. That way nothing embarrassing is discussed in the courts to get people asking questions.

Then she can do whatever she wants. Maybe I’ll even move away. Maybe Mary would be better off without me. Maybe I’d be better off without her.

“Oh, Mary… Oh, Jehovah God!” he shouts at the universe. “I don’t know what else to do,” He groans. “Oh, Mary… Oh, God…” Only God hears the helpless whisper.

In a timeless moment, the doors are completely built. The sun, like everything else, betrays him as it shines brightly and unashamedly down onto his courtyard.

He takes a deep breath and puts his forearm up to his brow to decide what to do next. He wants to disappear. He cannot. He will wash up and write out a bill for the doors before delivering them. On his way, he will stop at a lawyer’s shop to draw up a bill of divorcement.

Making his way across the courtyard to his small room, he sits down on his bed, unused the night before. Slowly he takes off his dusty sandals. His logical mind engaged. His emotional mind shut down. The walls stare at him, and he notices the broken pieces of Mary’s picture. He leans back on his pillow. And closes his eyes.

“Joseph! Joseph!”

Startled, he sits straight up in bed. Instinctively, he puts his hand on the hammer he keeps at his bedside.

“Hey, where’d you come from? How’d you get in here? Get out of my house before I do something you’ll regret. Do you hear me? Get out! Now!”

The vague form of a man at the foot of his bed stays. “Joseph, descendant of David…”

“Huh? How’d you know that? How do you know my name? And my ancestry? Lucky guess. Just get out of my house!”

“Joseph, do not hesitate to make Mary your wife!”

“Mary? Mary? Are you the man who…” He can’t quite say it.

“Make Mary your wife,” he repeats.

Joseph’s white-knuckled grip on the hammer loosens and he laughs nervously. “You are kidding me. Who are you, anyway, telling me what to do?”

“Listen to me, Joseph. The child in her womb…”

“The child? It’s already a child, even though it’s not yet born. But… Who are you?”

Joseph completely lets go of the hammer, but he keeps it nearby just in case.

“The child,” the stranger says, “has been conceived by the Holy Spirit.”

Joseph simultaneously tries to comprehend what is said, and fights it.

“The Holy Spirit?” he repeats. “The Spirit of Jehovah God?”

He stands, points a finger at the intruder and lets his guard down to debate him.

“Are you out of your mind?” he objects. “The Holy Spirit does not make women pregnant. You must really take me for a fool. Get out of my house!”

“Joseph, Mary will have a son.”

“A son?” He’s caught up in the conversation even though he knows he should be kicking this stranger out. For some reason, he cannot.

“Mary will have a son.”

“Number one, I could care less what she has. And number two, how can you possibly know she will have a son?”

Without responding, the man continues. “You shall name him…”

“Me?” he interrupts again. “Oh, I’ll not be around when she has that babe. We’re getting a divorce. I’ve already decided. No more Mary for me. It’s good riddance as far as I’m concerned. I don’t know why I ever let myself be taken in by her, anyway.”

“You shall name him Jesus.”

Joseph cannot resist the man. He cannot resist what the man is trying to tell him.

“Jesus?” He’s startled by the name. “Jesus means deliverer.”

“That’s right, Joseph. This Son of God will deliver people all over the world and in all ages from their sins.”

Suddenly, it dawns on Joseph that this man talking to him knows too much to be just an ordinary man. He is speaking with far too much authority. What is there about him?

Joseph sits back on his bed, for some reason feeling drawn into the conversation more than drawn to get rid of him. His message is magnetic. But why? Who is he, anyway?

Anger has given way to curiosity. Now curiosity gives way to possibility. He stares at the man and tries to comprehend his words. Thinking. Absorbing. His head swimming.

Again he objects. He must. But in a different way.

“You mean this is God’s baby I’m supposed to raise?” He doesn’t believe he is saying this.

The stranger smiles. “Precisely.”

“No! No! It’s not possible. God can’t have a son.”

“He can have a brain child.”

“A what?”

“Any time God speaks to mankind, that is his brain child. He’s about to put his words in the form of a human so you can see them for yourself.”

“This is hard.”

“God spoke for centuries and people didn’t quite catch on. So now he’s going to speak through the life of a man. That man is who Mary has conceived.”

Does he dare? Dare to believe? Oh, how he wants to. For Mary’s sake, he wants to. It would put things back the way they were.

Walking over to his little window, Jesus looks up at the sky, his hands holding his head. He turns and stares at the now silent stranger. He looks down at the pieces of Mary’s picture.

Can he take the plunge? The plunge that makes no sense to him, but makes much sense to him?

“How can I do that? I’m not strong like God.”

The stranger smiles and takes Joseph a little deeper. He quotes an ancient prediction. “This will fulfill God’s message through his prophets. Don’t you remember the prophet Isaiah?”

The stranger standing next to Joseph’s bed quotes it. “Listen! The virgin shall conceive a baby! She shall give birth to a son, and call him Emmanu-El, which means God is among us.”

“A virgin? Is Mary still a virgin?”

Joseph lunges at the idea. How he loves his Mary. How can he give her up?

“A virgin?”

Doubts return with his hated unmanly tears.

“No, that can’t be. Virgins can’t be pregnant. Mary has betrayed me.”

Again the stranger waits while Joseph thinks and absorbs and struggles. Momentarily he looks over at the stranger, then picks up one of the pieces of Mary on the floor.

Without looking up, he whispers, “Who are you?”

In his heart, he knows. Somehow he knows. One more plunge of faith. A big one.

“Are you…? I guess this sounds bizarre, but are you an angel?”

The stranger smiles.

“You are, aren’t you?”

The instant Joseph comprehends and believes, the angel disappears. The young man opens his eyes and jumps up. It had been a dream, but a dream of reality. A dream of hope beyond hope. A dream that will change his destiny and the destiny of the entire world.

He raises his eyes to the ceiling and shouts aloud, “Mary’s a virgin! Mary’s still a virgin!”

Turning, he looks for his scripture scroll of Isaiah. “Where did I put them this time?” He rummages around his one room, then the courtyard. He it on the ground next to the broken bowl. Some of the water has soaked the edges.

Grabbing it, he turns it quickly in his hands. It will not turn fast enough. Impatiently he puts the scroll back on the ground and rolls it all out in front of him. He straddles it, scanning and searching for the word to jump out at him—the word virgin. Frantically. Desperately.

“There it is. Mary’s still a virgin. Mary is the virgin.”

Joseph’s excitement recalls another statement of the angel, and his mind climbs deep, deep into the Word of God.

Jesus…Emmanu-El…God with Us. God’s Spirit. Oh, Jehovah God. This is your baby.

His soul grabs at the thought and hangs on to it relentlessly. He looks up at the sky. “Oh, Jehovah God. How can I ever be a father to your baby?”

Joseph once more has startled himself. Did he really hear what he thought he heard? Did he really say what he thought he said?

Looking up into the sky, he shades his eyes from the sun and watches the clouds race by. Confusion returns, and along with it, fear.

He continues to stare at the fleeting clouds above. Clouds willing to flee with the hope that has risen in his soul.

Something swells up inside of him. Something deep within him begins to rumble and quake. His whole body slowly begins to shake—very slowly, very steadily as he continues to search the heavens.

Rising slowly and steadily from the depths of his soul, his being shouts to the heavens beyond the sky he sees.

“Jehovah God! Creator of the universe!”

His heart beats faster. “How can I be a father to your baby?”

His eyes search the heavens for an answer.

“How can you give me this kind of responsibility? I am just a weak man. I am not strong like you. Oh, Jehovah God, I can’t handle it!”

But Joseph hears something deep in his soul.

“We fathers will work it out—you and I.”

He turns and sits on the ground in the solitude of his crowded courtyard. He struggles to comprehend. He stands and goes back into his room. He sits on his bed. He moves to the floor. The floor next to where he had shattered his picture of Mary.

He stands.

His hair in shambles, sawdust permeating his clothes, tear stains crisscrossing his rugged face, he runs out the gate without locking it.

“I must get to Mary. I must tell Mary. I must help Mary. She needs me.”

Bolting down the street, he races toward the home of his bride. Seemingly the homes and shops he passes jump out of his way. Seemingly the wind picks up his feet and delivers him to the familiar gate. He pounds on it and rattles the latch. Deliriously, he pounds.

“Mary! Mary! Open up. Please Mary. Forgive me, Mary. Please, you’ve got to come to the gate. Please, Mary!”

The gate opens and this time it is Mary’s father. “She’s back up on the roof. We’ve been expecting you.”

Joseph once more takes the stairs three at a time, spots Mary, and kneels in front of his beloved, his bride, the mother of God’s baby.

He puts his head in her lap and sobs. Mary sobs. Their tears mingle and rise higher and higher through the universe. At last they reach the throne of God and swirl restlessly at his feet.

God reaches down and touches those tears. Now, somehow, the young couple way down on earth, feels peace like a river.

“We’re still getting married,” Joseph whispers. “God has chosen us to raise his baby. I think I understand now. We’ve got to follow through. He’s put his trust in us. Oh, Mary, how I love you.”

“I love you too, my dear sweet Joseph. I always did and always will.”

The two sit alone together. Together facing something they cannot explain to themselves, let alone to other people. Together facing what seems to be the impossible, and which of course is the impossible.

“Why did God choose us?” she whispers.

There is no answer.

“Mary, all I can say is that I’ll do the best I know how,” Joseph responds. “It won’t be enough.”

“God doesn’t want us to do anything other than give him a normal home so he can grow up,” Mary replies. “That’s all. He’ll do the rest.”

“What about our wedding? No one will believe us.”

“Oh, I didn’t really need a big wedding, Joseph. We’ll be just as married without all the feasts and parades. I’m only worried about how you will handle what people say about you,” Mary adds.

“Not as much as the things people will call you, Mary. But, don’t worry. I’ll stand by you all the way.”

“Me too, Joseph. We’ll stand by each other.”

Late in the afternoon just before dark, Joseph returns alone to his home. The home where the angel of God had actually appeared to him. And changed his life forever.

As he walks in, he sees his scripture scroll rolled out to the place he’d read earlier. He reads it again and again. Then he prays.

One father praying to the other Father.

“Can I do it, Jehovah God?” he asks over and over.

Joseph understands all the hurdles he will have to overcome to protect his son—his and God’s son. At least he thinks he does. There will be so many. Many more than even Joseph comprehends. But God knows. And God is ready to do what is necessary.

_____

Over the next four years, God will speak to Joseph and give him specific instructions to help his young family out of some very tough situations.

God has spoken one time to Mary and that is sufficient. He will speak four times to Joseph. There will be a lot of things for the two fathers to talk over.

The two fathers will need that time together. They will need to confer together. Develop their strategies together. Plan their future together. The two fathers must be strong.

So, on this night, as Joseph drifts off to sleep, God in heaven looks down on this solitary man and knows he made the right choice.

They will share their fatherhood together. Joseph has faith in the heavenly Father. God has faith in the earthly father.

Together, not even hell will be able to stop them.

Tell me what you think, friend.

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