Hello Zachariah. Here we are in Jerusalem for Passover. Why, it’s been twelve years since we’ve seen you! And what a twelve years they’ve been!
I suppose John is off doing whatever it is that twelve-year-old boys do in the middle of this huge crowd. I don’t know where Jesus is.
You want to hear my story? After you saw Gabriel himself, you’re interested in my story?
Yes, I am sure Mary told you her perspective on Jesus’s birth so now you want to hear mine? Well, Zachariah, I hope you have a while. Pull up a stool. You are getting to old to stand for such a long story!
It all started years ago. When I was just a few years older that John or Jesus my parents began looking for a wife for me. Such a custom! Picking a mate for your child. I’m just glad I had wise parents. What a man can get stuck with, scares even a strong carpenter like me!
Well, my parents chose Mary for me. She was still a child. I watched her grow up knowing she would be my wife. Oy, was she beautiful! It was very easy to love her. The day the betrothal became formal was the happiest day of my life! The whole world knew that this beautiful girl belonged to me. The idea of waiting a whole year to take her into my home. . .oh, Zachariah, it seemed like an eternity. How I loved her.
About two months after our betrothal, she went to stay with you and Elizabeth. I missed her! I had grown accustomed to watching her passing my shop on the way to get water from the well or seeing her bargain for vegetables in the market. Oy, I think I memorized everything about her.
That’s why I immediately noticed something was different after her three month stay with you. When she came back–well, she was–well, you know all about it. There was a quiet beauty and strength about her that had not been there before. But I also saw lines of fear etched into that beautiful face. And then it came out. She was pregnant.
Oh, Zachariah, I can’t tell you how my world crashed in around me. My lovely Mary. All my dreams went up in smoke. I was in such despair I hardly noticed the smirks, or the nudges people made as I went by–some blaming me, some pitying me. All I could feel was utter rejection and a crushing loneliness. And on top of it all, Mary kept insisting that she hadn’t been with a man but that it was God’s Holy Spirit who planted this child in her. It was the feeling that she thought me a fool, someone not worthy of honesty that hurt the most. She was to be my wife! I expected some respect.
And was I angry at you, Zachariah! I blamed you. What kind of home do you have when an innocent young woman comes to stay with you and Elizabeth and when she leaves, she is pregnant? I blamed you for not watching her, for letting who knows what kind of creature into your home.
But I loved her in spite of it and couldn’t see her stoned. I knew the law. I had the right to have her killed for betraying me. My parents urged me to do that. They said I could save face in the community. People would blame Mary, not me. I could get on with my life, find a loyal wife. Despite their pleas, I couldn’t. I decided to quietly divorce her, to let her go be with this man she obviously wanted more than me. That’s when it happened.
It wasn’t Gabriel, but it was an angel who came to me at night. He understood how I felt and didn’t condemn me. He lovingly told me that Mary was telling the truth. Her child was conceived by God. Her child was. . .well, let me tell you exactly what the angel told me. I’ll never forget his words. “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife: for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son, and you shall call His Name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
Then I understood what Mary felt–scared and excited all in one! We talked, Mary and I. We talked with her parents. They were confused. Both of us said we had seen angels. I think they thought– and they still might–that we had just broken our vows before God and had been together. It was hard for them. But we decided that Mary would immediately move into my home. We had a quick, informal wedding, then she came into my house. But though we lived together, she remained pure, a virgin until after Jesus was born. I made sure of that!
Some evenings we just sat and looked at each other. Why us? Why would God chose us to raise the Messiah? What had we done to have this great honor? Did we have the strength to endure the gossip we daily heard on the streets? Could we remain kind to the people who sent disrespectful glances our way, turned their backs when we walked into the synagogue, or passed along slanderous remarks?
But we learned that God has a plan and His plan is perfect. The night the Baby was born. . .oh, what a day! I didn’t think we would make it to Bethlehem on time. Poor Mary. Sitting on that old donkey for the hundred miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem and then only finding a dirty stable open to us!
I tell you, Zachariah, it was hard to believe at that moment that God knew what He was doing! I even entertained the thought that we might have imagined the whole thing. I wanted to believe it was God, that the Child really was to be the Son of God. But after months of silence even I began to wonder. Oh. . .but God! Oh, is He good!
After the baby came, we wrapped Jesus and placed Him in the manger so we could get some sleep. We thought we needed rest, but God had other plans. He was out announcing the birth of His Son to the shepherds on the hills outside the city! They came tumbling into the stable, waking us all up! They couldn’t stop talking about the angels and their songs in the night. The innkeeper and his wife stormed in to complain about the noise, but they stopped in their tracks with amazement. There in the manger was the Baby and on ground all around were shepherds on their faces, worshiping and praising God! I almost chuckled at their expressions! If I had any remaining doubts, they were completely swept away.
The innkeeper found us a house for us after the crowds left Bethlehem. We were glad for more than dirty straw to sleep on, believe me.
When Jesus was eight days old, we brought him here to the temple to be circumcised. Even that tradition turned out to be something we could never have imagined! Do you remember Simeon, the righteous old man who always hung around the temple?
Yes, Zachariah. That’s the man I mean. The one who was always declaring that the Holy Spirit had told him he wouldn’t die until he had seen God’s Messiah. Well, as we brought the pair of turtledoves for a sacrifice as the law requires, He came rushing over to us, waving his arms. He stopped in front of Mary and bowed his head, tears running down his cheeks. He reached out for the child, and Mary hesitantly placed Him in the old man’s arms. Oh, you should have seen the expression on his face! It was a combination of tears and radiance. He held Jesus up in his arms and raised his face toward heaven. Then he started to pray. “Now, Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to leave this world in peace, for You have kept Your word.” Moving Jesus down so he could look into His eyes, he continued. “My eyes have now seen Your Salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all these people.” He turned in a circle, raising Jesus up again, showing Him off to everyone around him. He called out, “Here is a light for revelation to the Gentiles who have never known and a praise and honor and glory for Israel, the people You chose as Your very own.”
Mary and I just looked at each other. We were speechless! What did this all mean?
Then Simeon handed the baby back to Mary, put his hands on our heads, and once again raised his face to the heaven’s in prayer. He asked Jehovah to bless us, to keep us safe, and to walk beside us to guide us every step of our lives. Then he stopped. A look of deep sorrow came over his face and he began to weep bitterly. He reached out and tenderly placed his hands on each side of Mary’s face and looked into her eyes. “Listen carefully,” he whispered. “This child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel.” He shuttered, “And He will be a sign to be opposed. Be prepared,” he warned. “A sword of deep sorrow will pierce though your own soul.” Then he shook his head as he removed his hand from her face. “And He will cause the thoughts of many hearts to be revealed.”
Oh, yes, Zechariah, it was a very intense moment, and we weren’t sure what to make of it all. But before we had time to react, even time to get our thoughts together, something else happened. Anna, the old widow who had lived on the temple ground ever since her husband had died many years before came rushing over. She began dancing around us, raising her hands to heaven singing praised to God and saying, “O thank You great Jehovah!” over and over. Then she called out loudly, “If you are looking for the redemption and deliverance of Jerusalem, rejoice! God has heard the prayers of His people!”
We were still speechless as we walked back to the house where we were staying. Each of us was trying to understand what had just happened. It was as if we had seen the angels all over again and were rehearing their message to us. We finally talked about it, trying to remember each word, wondering what it all meant.
Oh no, Zachariah, that was not the end of the story. More amazing things were yet to happen.
Wise men from the East showed up. Yes, a whole caravan of travelers—rulers, wise men, servants—and yes camels heavy with supplies. They came right up to our house saying God had placed a star in the sky and through it had told them that a King had been born, a King of the Jews. And Zachariah, that star led them clear from their country to our front door! They came in and brought gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. The entire town of Bethlehem was in an uproar! A crowd gathered outside our door trying to figure out who these visitors were and what they wanted with us.
That was the night the angel came to me again. He told me Herod would try to kill Jesus and that we must flee at once. We got up in the dark, gathered our things and left for Egypt before daylight.
How our hearts ached when we heard of all the boy babies killed in Bethlehem! Herod was such an evil man. But God, blessed be His name, had saved His Son! Herod is dead, and here we are in Jerusalem again. Jesus celebrated His first Passover here at the temple last night. But now, Zachariah, it is time to go. I may never see you again, especially if it takes another twelve years. By then we two old men may be gone. Growing old isn’t fun, is it? But God be praised, what a life we have had! And what sons we have, Zachariah! God is so good!
(Picture by my grandson, Jashton Gieser)