Thanks for continuing to read Mary’s story in real time. Just a day after Mary’s arrival, Elizabeth offers her a little backstory to her own situation, her miracle.
You can go here to read previous entries. Follow my blog so you can get notification of new postings (see sidebar). Or the book is available for purchase if you prefer not to wait. Note: there are Hebrew words sprinkled through it. You can find a listing of them and their definitions here. The next post will be April 17.
The sun streams in through the window. Mary opens her eyes, feeling the warmth on her face. She looks around briefly, confused: the room she shares with her brother and sisters has no window…
This isn’t your room, that’s why, she reminds herself, and closes her eyes, remembering now she was in Elizabeth’s house. This was to be her home for the better part of the next year. Mary had explained everything to her aunt the previous evening, anxious to get it out of her heart. In response, Elizabeth simply offered her a warm smile and told her she was welcome to stay.
With a sigh, Mary rises from her bed and gets ready. Her stomach growls—between the anxiety and the traveling, she had barely eaten in the past week. But her appetite was back now. She makes her way downstairs, expecting to find the hustle and bustle she was accustomed to with three younger siblings, but there’s no one. The house is quiet.
She looks around. The place is bigger than her home—it was bigger than Joseph’s house. Her uncle was not wealthy, but as a priest, he was taken care of. He was blessed and that counted more.
Mary peers into her aunt and uncle’s room, but it’s empty. She goes outside and walks around the house to the back, where she finds Elizabeth sitting in her garden, pulling up weeds. Elizabeth looks up as she approaches and smiles.
“How did you sleep, my dear?” she asks.
Mary takes a seat beside her.
“Good, though you should have woken me up earlier. I never sleep this late.”
“You were tired. You need your rest now more than ever,” Elizabeth gently reminds her. “Have you eaten? I left a plate for you on the table.”
“No, not yet.”
“Well, come on,” Elizabeth says, reaching for her. Mary allows the older woman to lean on her while she rises. Her belly seems bigger now that she is standing above her and Mary can’t help but stare. Is this what she would look like in a few months’ time?
“Are you coming?”
Mary meets her gaze and realizes she was not paying attention. She follows Elizabeth into the house and sits while her aunt pours her a cup of milk. She notes her uncle’s absence and asks, “Where is Dod Zechariah?”
Elizabeth sits down across from her and offers her a tired smile.
“At the synagogue.”
“Imma said he was senile.”
Elizabeth chuckles and sits back, her arms resting on her belly.
“It’s good to know the gossip circles are still going strong. And your mother knows better than to believe everything she hears.” The humor in her voice has not faded, but there is something of a reproach in her words.
“Is that why you didn’t say anything about being with child?” Mary asks, the food on her plate still untouched. Elizabeth points to it and says, “I’ll answer your questions, just eat. I don’t want to send you back to your mother, emaciated.”
Satisfied, her aunt states, “Now, let’s start with your uncle…”
* * *
Elizabeth smiles with fond recollection. Her iyshah, Zechariah.
“I wish you had known him when he was younger. He was quite the romantic. He would bring me fresh flowers from the field whenever he came to see me. He would tell me stories about the heroes of old and would share how he knew that Adonai had not abandoned his people and had greatness planned for us. He was a young man, full of faith—a faith that did not dissipate even when we married, and it was obvious I could not conceive. He prayed and brought offerings to Adonai and waited. Still I remained barren. It was as if Adonai stopped listening. I don’t think Zechariah ever stopped praying—for the people he ministered to, for the land, for our lost brethren—but I do think part of him stopped praying for us.”
She pauses, the fond look lost to sorrow.
“There are moments, Mary, when you will doubt Adonai is still listening or that you even heard him correctly. But don’t ever doubt that he is real, because he is. And he does hear you; and just like he did our forefathers, he will surprise you.
“Your uncle’s lot fell on the Festival of Tabernacles last year. As he had done for many years, he traveled to Jerusalem and got ready to serve. Dressed in the robe of the ephod, he tied a robe around him and entered the Holy of Holies, where he lit the incense, as the worshippers prayed outside. Then a malakh appeared beside the altar. Zechariah immediately became fearful, thinking perhaps he had sinned before Adonai and not accounted for it. But the messenger comforted him and said, ‘Fear not, Zechariah: for Adonai has heard your prayer’.
“Imagine, Mary, Adonai heard his prayers: the ones he offered for the people and the ones he offered for me, years and years ago.
“Then the malahk said, ‘Your wife Elizabeth shall bear you a son, and you will call his name John. You will have joy and gladness; and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the L-rd and will drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And many of the children of Israel will he turn to the L-rd their G-d. And he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the L-rd.’”
Elizabeth stops again. As wonderful as it was retelling the story, it pains her to remember the next part. She furrows her brows and continues, with a little less enthusiasm than she started with.
“You have to understand, Zechariah had prayed for a long time without response and I had ceased my monthly flow and it seemed as if Adonai had forsaken us…but I suppose there’s never any good reason for doubting Adonai’s word.
“Zechariah asked the malakh how he would know this. The man answered, ‘I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of Adonai; I have been sent to speak to you to give you this good news. But because you do not believe me, you will be mute and deaf until the day these things happen.’ And that’s what occurred.
“Well, you can imagine the people waiting for Zechariah became worried. Were they actually going to have to pull him out? Had he committed some egregiousness sin?” – Elizabeth chuckles – “You know how people are, always in need of something to talk about and Zechariah gave them that when he came out unable to speak or hear. Some said he had seen a miracle, but others simply chose to believe he had gone senile.
“He finished up his week and came home. He couldn’t tell me what happened, but he wrote down what he could and left the rest to Adonai. I won’t say I believed him whole-hearted, but I wanted to. I wanted everything he said, and I set my heart to it. And when I found out I was with child, it was the happiest moment of my life, of our lives.”
“Why didn’t you send word, then?” Mary interrupts.
“What did your mother say when you told her?”
Mary doesn’t respond, her face betraying the turmoil of emotion inside her. Still Elizabeth knows.
“She didn’t believe you, right?” she offers.
Mary nods, sadly.
“It’s alright. I don’t begrudge her. Sometimes we just have to shut out the gossipers and let our faith overtake us. Adonai will fill us with enough grace to deal with the naysayers so that when the time is right, they will have no choice but to believe. That’s why I said nothing and stayed hidden; I knew no one would believe without evidence. Does that make sense?”
Elizabeth pats her niece’s hand. “I’ve told you enough stories for now. Finish eating.”
Mary dutifully obeys.