Christmas, the first time.
See her lying there, trembling. Her day of delivery approaches. She is tired, but sleep will not come; and so she wills the sun to return. Joseph will come for her then.
Joseph. She smiles. His name brings her peace.
In the morning, they will head south to Bethlehem. In the morning, the donkey will carry her away from everything she has ever known.
The donkey. As she remembers the dumb beast, her throat constricts and she pushes herself upright, now willing herself, “breathe, breathe, breathe.” Breathe. It will be hard to breathe as she is carried along, the impact from every step a blow to her tight skin. When will she finally burst? When will the miracle-child, now kicking her in the ribs, come? By the side of the road, under the rude stares of curious traders, as a spectacle to strangers? Maybe there will be a woman–oh, let there be a skilled woman–to ease the delivery and stop the bleeding.
“What if we are all alone?”
Breathe. No, they will not be alone. In the distance, as far away as memory lingers, she hears the rustle of wings. Do not be afraid. Always the first word and always the last. Do not be afraid. She lays back down, resting now at last.
See them flee, trembling. Brave men, rough and crude, they have met their match. The sky pulses, the ground swells and rolls under their callused feet. The world is ending. The animals flee. There is no rustle here, only words exploding in the air.
Do! Not! Be! Afraid!
They are scared enough to hear every word.
See him now, trembling. He crouches in the dirt, picks up a smooth stone, remembers.
Remembers his rage that night, that night long ago, the night when he was the first to know.
How he had considered his legal right to stone. His legal right to Mary’s death, to justice. How he had trembled then, picturing her face and hearing the screams. No. He had decided to just walk away.
Alone in his bed, the rustle had came with a command. Joseph. Do not be afraid to take her as your wife. And in the blinding light, he had obeyed.
Now years have passed, and the royal travelers have come and gone. With their gifts, they left behind a warning. The king is suspicious. Jealous. Furious. He cannot be trusted. And the angel comes again, this time with no comfort, only this–Get up. It is time to walk again. Get up. Take the child and his mother far away. Go now. The soldiers are coming.
But remember, Joseph, Do not be afraid. Remember the name of the baby. Remember what it means.
Jesus, the Lord saves. Just not in the way you were expecting. Go now.
See you reading, see me writing. We know this trembling. At times. At times when anxiety threatens to overcome us, when just a word or two shoves us into a place where we would not choose to be. At times when the world turns upside-down, or the long days seem never-ending. At these times we need to know that they trembled too.
They were scared. We are scared. And the rustling, exploding command was given to them so that it could be given to us. Do not be afraid.
It is there in the story. It is there in the songs. It was Emmanuel who kicked Mary in the ribs.
And it is because we are not alone that we need not be afraid.
Originally published in December 2012. Photo by Bert Kaufmann