The Long Expected Son

by Ashley Ross
The following is a fictional account of the story of Christ’s birth. The reader may be interested in the historical and cultural context outlined in this article regarding the Nativity story.

As Joseph and Mary crested the last hill into Bethlehem, Mary thought that she had never in her life been so happy to reach a destination. They had been traveling for several days, their trip made slightly longer by the frequent stops her condition required. She was just a few weeks away from giving birth to her first child, and as far as she was concerned the time to deliver could not come soon enough. Her body already naturally felt warm with the weight of the child she carried and the late afternoon sun only added to her exhaustion. No matter how slowly the donkey ambled, she felt a burning in her chest (the olives of the midday meal inching up toward her throat), and the bumpy ride was unrelenting on her aching back and hips. By the time they had made it over the hill, Mary was already longing for the sleep that would hopefully come as soon as they arrived at their lodgings.

They made their way through the streets of Bethlehem, bustling with people like themselves traveling due to the census, until they passed through a small garden and came upon a sturdy young woman wearing a rust colored tunic, two young children running around not far from her feet. Her bronze skin gleamed with sweat from the gathering work she had just completed, and her eyes were the color of young oak. In fact, Channah’s eyes looked just like Mary’s; it was a trait that all the cousins in the family shared. Though slightly older in years, Channah had always enjoyed Mary’s company among the family gatherings, and they shared many memories together from festivals and celebrations.

Though Channah looked forward to seeing Mary now, in her heart she was not sure what to make of this divinely announced conception. The family had been talking for months on end, and she seemed to be the only one with questions about the encounter. Could she ask Mary what this angel had looked like, or how she knew that this spirit had come from the Lord, how the family could know that what this messenger said was true? And yet, here was her trusted cousin, ripe with child and practically ready to burst. Of course Channah did not want to question Mary’s integrity, but she could not deny (and certainly dared not speak of) the hesitations she held regarding this story. Then again, she had seen what had happened with Zechariah… Between what she had witnessed while assisting with Elizabeth’s birth and now this announcement with Mary, Channah was truly at a loss for what the Lord was doing right now in their family.

Setting aside her heart’s hesitations, Channah smiled and greeted Mary and Joseph warmly. “Welcome! You must be weary from your journey. Please come in.”

She led them inside her home, a cozy one-room residence in which she lived with her husband and three children. In the corner of the main family room was a fireplace and cooking items, and a sleeping area not far from that. A doorway led off to a guest room in which Joseph and Mary expected they would be staying. On the other side of the main room a four-step staircase led down to a small lower level which at the moment was empty but would later house the family’s animals that were brought inside for the evening. Built into the floor of the living room on the high edge of the split level was a manger, which Channah would later fill with feed for the animals should they hunger in the night.

“I apologize that our guest room is already full with Ariel and his family. They have welcomed their fourth child now, praise the Lord! Since your family is smaller we thought it would be more comfortable for you to stay with us in the main room.”

“Thank you,” said Joseph with a nod, “We are grateful and honored to stay with your family.”

“Of course. Oh, and one more thing,” Channah said as she picked up a basket of dried dates. “These are for you,” she said as she handed them to Mary, who smiled upon seeing them. Not only was Mary craving these sweet fruits, but they were essential to eat in the weeks leading up to birth to help ensure a safe delivery.

Joseph and Mary began the process of settling in and unpacking their belongings. Over the next few weeks Channah was touched by Joseph’s tender care for his wife. He was a quiet man but a hard worker, not one to shy away from whatever needed to be done. With a considerate eye he anticipated his wife’s needs, both her physical needs for rest and comfort and her emotional needs for encouragement and assurance. She was now in the most arduous part of her pregnancy and Joseph showed every consideration for her that one would hope for a husband expecting his first child. Whatever hesitations Channah held in her heart regarding Mary’s story, it was clear that Joseph believed Mary — and the vision that he himself had seen — and that was enough for him. Secretly, Channah felt guilty that she could not also believe with that same kind of faith.

Eventually Mary’s time of pregnancy came to completion, and she began to show signs of labor. Channah’s husband and Joseph were sent away to give word to the aunts and female cousins who were also in the city for the census, which included Elizabeth, now that her days after her childbirth had been completed. Channah attended to Mary closely, reminding her of breathing rhythms and helping her with each painstaking change of body position. As Mary’s face contorted in pain with increasingly intense contractions, Channah could not help but think to herself that whatever the origins of this child, this birth would be one of blood and water, same as any other.

As Mary labored, Channah looked at the eyes that mirrored her own and noticed that there was an intent in them that she had seen before. Her mind flashed back to when she was attending at Elizabeth’s birth. She, too, had this same intent to her face during her labor, not a look of fear but of conviction that her bodily striving would result in a fulfilled promise of the Lord. For the joy set before her of seeing the Lord’s faithfulness, Mary had set her face on enduring to bring forth this child. Channah had but the briefest of moments to appreciate her young cousin’s courage before the rest of the relatives arrived and she was distracted by directing them to tend to the fire, water, and cloths that would be needed.

For hours, Mary labored while Joseph anxiously waited outside, appealing to the Lord to keep his bride and baby safe. As the child’s head began to emerge, Mary cried out in anguish, overwhelmed with emotion, her face wet with the sweat of the hours. Tears from deep within the well of her soul poured forth as the rest of her baby’s body emerged and the child’s loud cries echoed throughout the small house. “It’s a son!” cried one of the aunts triumphantly. Elizabeth took Mary’s face in both of her hands and leaned over, whispering into her ear. Mary nodded and then laid her head down, her eyes still closed as she continued to weep out of joy, pain, and all of the maelstrom of her heart that only the Lord himself knew.

While the other women tended to Mary, Channah was primarily responsible for attending to the newborn. She quickly gathered him up in her arms and began to clean off his face. When the cord was cut she set to bathing his body, holding his tiny frame with care. She began to soothe him, shushing and swaying as she had with her own boys not long ago. As she did so, all of a sudden she heard a voice in her mind clearly repeat the words of the prophet Isaiah: “The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

Channah froze and stared at the child’s face. In that moment the noise of the rest of the house faded into the background, and she became intently focused on the infant. She felt the warmth of his small body against her arms and was bewildered to find that her capable hands suddenly felt weak under the weight of a baby. His chest rose and fell with shallow breaths as he adjusted to breathing, and Channah became more conscious of her own breath. A sacred awareness fell upon her that the same air was sustaining them both. In all of the times that she had helped to deliver a child, it had never been anything short of wondrous, but this new life that had just been brought into the world felt different somehow — weightier, more profound. Miraculous even. This is the One we have waited for, thought Channah. All of the confusion she felt surrounding what God was doing in their family, all of her hesitations and doubts about the visions, and all of her uncertainty about what to expect from this birth found their rest in the undeniably real presence of the son.

Channah had no idea how long she stood there. It could have been minutes or an eternity. In any instance, soon enough Mary was ready, and Channah felt it was right to place the child into her arms. With the tenderest of care Mary wrapped him in swaddling cloths and gazed into his face, smiling as if she were meeting a dear friend that she had known her whole life.

Eventually the men were called back inside. As night was quickly falling, Channah’s husband brought in their goats and sheep while Joseph immediately went to see Mary and the child. Mary looked up at Joseph and said, “Our son.” Joseph smiled, tears welling up in his eyes as he looked from the child to his mother.

And as mother, father, and child were together as a family for the first time, one could almost hear the soft wind whisper into the desert night:

Immanuel, God with us.
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