CHAPTER V. JERUSALEM AND NAZARETH
UPON leaving the Temple in which they had just been united, Joseph and Mary were absolutely alone. No friend accompanied them, no relative. None came to celebrate the festivities of these nuptials, although the very poorest of the poor in Jerusalem outdid themselves in rendering such an occasion one of rejoicing. It is at such a time that poverty and friendlessness seem doubly mournful.
Joseph walked beside his beautiful young spouse, descending with her the hill of the Temple, and through the winding streets which led to the gate of the valley. It was here, since his wedding, that he had secured a humble dwelling, and as they stood on the threshold of their home he took Mary's hand in his.
"May peace and joy dwell in this house with you, Mary," he said, and then remained silent, contemplating the bareness of the room into which they entered. It seemed very cold and mean after the gorgeous splendor of the Temple. "You are leaving great grandeur, Mary," he went on. "For a long time you have been accustomed to dwell within walls covered with gold; you have been used to splendid attire; you have been brought up in all the magnificence of the house of the Lord. Are you sure you will be able to endure this poverty?"
"In every station of life are we not under the guidance of the Most High?" asked Mary, and her smile was a benediction. "The only happiness I desire on earth is to serve God here as I did in His Temple."
She seated herself as she spoke, for the noon heat of the city had fatigued her, and throwing back her veil she glanced about her future home. Joseph watched her closely. There was neither doubt nor question on his fine and thoughtful countenance. Small, badly-lighted, poorly-furnished his home might be—but Mary, seated therein, transformed it into a palace. Her veils and tunic did not adorn her. She it was who adorned them, and simple as they were they derived grace and magnificence from her. She was endowed with splendor, and all the kings of the house of David, from whom she was descended, never shone brighter in the midst of the pomp which encircled them than did Mary in Joseph's humble home. She was beautiful and luminous as the morning star.
"Who am I to have so radiant a being for my guest?" thought Joseph, humbly. Aloud he said:
"Had I more to offer I would gladly place it at your disposal, Mary—but at least I give you this and all the labor of my hands. There you will find the room which is to be yours. Here is mine." He regarded her with gentle, reverent eyes. "Mary, the Lord has indeed united us, but I, for one, can not fathom His purposes. He unites us and He separates us. May His holy will be done! Only believe that you will find in me your faithful protector, your guide and your support, your father, your brother, your friend."
"God is gracious and kind to me, Joseph. In giving me to you He has indeed protected me," said Mary, her pure and innocent countenance shining with gratitude and joy.
"I rejoice that you feel so," said Joseph, gently. "But now I have something to say to you—an explanation to make." He seated himself on the stool before her. "Do not imagine that of my own accord I should have ventured to claim an alliance with you. I would not dream of offering such as you, dear Mary, my poverty and insignificance. But on the very day on which the richest and most illustrious of our young Israelites went to the Temple to seek you in marriage, a youth clothed in white appeared before me in the valley of the workmen. I had arrived only the evening previous, intending to seek work as a carpenter on the palace which Herod is building. Addressing me, the youth said, 'Leave the plane and the square and follow me.'
"I was troubled, but did not dream of disobeying. I left everything and followed the messenger out across the city, to the Temple, where I found myself saying words which had never entered my head until that moment. And then I was in the presence of the High Priest and of you, Mary. You are aware of the result. You became my wife in the sight of men, my well-beloved sister before God. Mary, I am positive my guide was one of His own angels.'' He regarded her with serene eyes. "What are we to do to fulfil the purpose of God in us?"
"I do not know," answered Mary. "But we will pray. God will surely continue to instruct us, since all that has happened has occurred because He willed it." She knelt, and Joseph followed her example. The divine harmony of those angelic sounds which Elizabeth had tried to describe to Zachary resounded in Joseph's humble dwelling. He bowed his head and remained so for some moments. Then Mary spoke.
"We have now only to pursue, in all humility, the course which the Most High has laid out for us. Joseph, we will love God and each other, and our brethren, and take up our daily work in thankfulness and peace."
Thus did Mary, the glorious ornament of the Temple, begin her new life in the home of Joseph the carpenter. No longer did she, as formerly, work the twice-dyed garments of Bozra; no longer did she embroider with gold and pearls and hyacinth the rich vestments of the High Priest. The time for such labors as these had passed away. Mary now contentedly arranged her rustic dwelling, keeping it neat and scrupulously clean. She studied Joseph's wants and tastes and prepared their simple food. Having provided herself with spindle and wool, she began the spinning and weaving of the coarse but good and warm clothing which both were to wear. Joseph went out to his labors in the morning, and when, tired by both toil and heat, he returned to his peaceful little home, he was sure of a gentle, smiling welcome, of a meal ready and waiting for him, though indeed this meal was but of barley bread baked under the ashes, with some cooling fruit, and a cup of wine from the fertile fields of Jericho. Refreshed and comforted, he looked upon Mary as an angel descended from heaven, and wanted to hear the details of her day that so he might listen to the music of her voice.
"What has gone on since morning?" he would ask, with gentle solicitude, and she would tell him of her occupations—though one day was very much like another. Sometimes a woman of the neighborhood, poor like themselves, would come to ask Mary to stay with her old and infirm mother. And the Virgin, seated beside the couch of the sick woman, would talk to her and comfort her. She knew how to soothe away the troubles, the inconveniences, and the sufferings of this present life by pointing to the future. She could show how misery might be sanctified, in order to obtain a reward at the end. Comforted and cheered, this poor soul looked upon Mary as a heavenly visitor, and she would smile upon her from her bed of suffering, and for hours after Mary had left she would contemplate the joys of paradise, of which the holy Virgin spoke so confidently.
Another time a poor woman traveling with her children, arrived and seated herself close to Mary's dwelling.
"My little ones are hungry," she said when the Virgin approached her with a question on her lips. "From the dawn of day they have cried to me for bread. But my hands are empty! I can give them nothing! Pity them and pity me!"
What an appeal to make to that loving heart! Mary re-entered the house and returned with food— her own meal and a portion of Joseph's, to satisfy the hunger of the little ones. Occurrences like these were part of every day, and though she dwelt lightly on her sacrifices Joseph did not find it difficult to surmise them.
"Mary, my dear sister," he would say, "I do not know what I have done to be rewarded by your presence in my house. Many a weary and miserable hour I passed before I knew you. Great misfortunes weighed upon my youth. My heart has known grief and sorrow. But since that day when you joined your life to mine I have enjoyed peace. I am buoyant and cheerful as I never was in the strength of my early manhood. I feel that I am far happier than I deserve to be."
Resting his head upon his hand, he gazed at her almost mournfully.
"One who has experienced life's sadness, who has known the weight of care, is almost afraid to welcome joy."
Mary looked at him mildly. "Why?" she asked.
"I fear I shall have to pay dearly for these days of peace with you."
"Ah!" said Mary, "we who live under God's protection must not allow trouble to take possession of our souls." She waited a moment, as if collecting her thoughts to comfort him. "If my presence renders you happy, Joseph, it is a reward God has given you for your chaste obedience. As to the disasters which may happen," she smiled brightly, "the Lord will not give us now the strength which we will require then. The manna which fell in the desert was but for one day's consumption—yet all were able to satisfy their hunger. God is with us. Let us adore and submit to Him in all humility of heart!"
"God is with us!" echoed Joseph, moved by her tender confidence.
So their sweet and tranquil life went on, Mary preparing herself by prayer for the inscrutable work destined for her by God.
Periods of tribulation come to all, in every state and condition of life. They are never easy to endure, though their benefit depends upon how we bear them. When God speaks, few hearts are so hardened as to remain rebellious. When real sorrow comes we want to run to Him, as little children fly to father or mother when hurt or wounded.
But if His gracious presence be for a time withdrawn from us; if, after having experienced great elevation of soul it pleases Him to veil His countenance from us; if we no longer feel His influence guiding our footsteps—how hard this withdrawal seems! We are lost in the gloomy clouds, the prey of unrest and dissatisfaction, and only by the most extraordinary efforts can we retain that serenity of soul which is so desirable and so necessary.
But the pure and chaste Virgin, the woman super-eminently strong, preserved peace unchangeable in her humble home. Her soul hovered ever in celestial regions. Neither noise nor silence, neither obscurity nor light could, for a single instant, cause her to lose sight of God.
It was not to be expected that Joseph's disposition could be as calm as this. He had known, as he had said, much trouble, and had emerged victorious from the struggle over his human nature. God brings many of us to Him by the trials of this world, and this was the path which Joseph had trod. Misfortune serves to develop the profoundest energies in the life of man, rousing a rugged opposition in the soul, from which will proceed, in the end, that spiritual calm, that sublime life, which craves but those heights to which the soul devoutly aspires. Joseph had reached the serenity of life through its struggles, and the struggles had left their mark upon him, as they must on every creature born of woman. No wonder, therefore, that he dreaded the change which in his heart of hearts he felt was inevitable.
* * * * *
About a year after the union of Joseph and Mary, the work on which the former had been engaged was completed. No other employment offering itself, they both thought it best to go to Nazareth and take possession of the little house which Anne and Joachim had inhabited and which, with its fields, constituted all of Mary's inheritance.
It was spring-time, and availing themselves of the departure of a great number of travelers who had come to the Temple to celebrate the Passover, they journeyed with them as far as the village in which Mary had been born. It was with intensest joy that the young Virgin entered under that roof which had sheltered her infancy. An aged domestic had remained its guardian, and he wept happy tears on beholding the daughter of his beloved master and friend. He pointed out to her the care which he had taken of the place during her long absence, in order to maintain it in the same condition as it was when Anne and Joachim died. Again and again Mary thanked him for his loving service and the respect paid to the memory of her dead parents.
In her turn she showed everything to Joseph. The small house itself, built beneath the shelter of the rock, which preserved it from the violence of the winds; the garden planted with lentils, sorrel, and one small plot of maize, another with beans and flowers. There was the fig-tree under which Anne had so often lamented her childlessness, and, nearer the door, the sycamore where she had realized that God was at last to bless her life and Joachim's—and where, also, they had resolved to give their treasure to the Most High in the Temple.
Mary seated herself, as Anne had done, upon the stool, and once again that scene of her childhood rose before her memory. Her eyes were moist as she turned them upon Joseph.
"My dear parents lived here many happy, useful years, Joseph. You are now my father, my mother, all my family; you, whom God has given me for a support and protection—you alone are worthy to live in this spot made sweet and sacred to me by their presence. Oh, may God grant you a long, long life in this dwelling! May we ever be examples of virtue to others as were Anne and Joachim!"
They went into the house, which consisted of a lower room furnished with everything necessary for a humble family. A pretty, spacious bedroom, which had belonged to Anne and Joachim, Mary offered to Joseph, preferring the smaller room, dug out of the solid rock, which she had always occupied, and of which she now wished to resume possession. It was lighted from far above by a crevice which could be covered from the inside, and before which the branches of a vine planted in the garden extended like a curtain. The flexible stems of the periwinkle-tree, with its blue stars agitated by the slightest breeze, hung in delicate festoons in the room. A spacious nest was still in the tree, concealed as formerly, and Mary was delighted to discover this, for with it the days of her infancy seemed to have returned. She slept happily and peacefully and dreamed of her mother, and in the morning, awakened by the warbling of the birds, she saluted God as the sparrows had already saluted the dawn, with ineffable love.
That room, that little hollow in the rock, which she occupied, the only ornaments of which consisted of a birds' nest and a few flowers, seemed very humble and empty. But to Mary it was a holy spot. There she had dreamed those seraphic dreams of her childhood. Perhaps they would come again, those sweet visions, those brilliant harmonies, which had made her early days so singularly blest.
Ah, with what artless joy she woke in that humble cell, filled with dear, familiar memories! Mary, beloved and exalted, angels will no longer rock you; hope will no longer brood within your azure eyes. The period of dreams, the time of hope, has passed. The divine promise will, ere long, be fulfilled. The heaven of heavens will be opened, to shower upon earth the Desired of nations. (Isaias xiv, 8,) Prepare thy heart, O Mary, lest it be overwhelmed by the weight of happiness which is in store for thee!
And thou, my soul, calm thyself. Let not the joy of telling the wonders which are about to be fulfilled in Mary, disturb thee! God of heaven, mighty and wonderful, illumine my mind. And ye, O angels of heaven and earth, sing aloud the wondrous glory which is to be shed upon the earth.
Angel of Earth
Who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in array? . . . The daughters saw her and called her most blessed, the queens . . . praised her. (Cant, vi, 8, 9.) She is fragrant spring, she is decked with roses, and her steps are like the lilies of the valleys.
Angel of Heaven
It is MARY! The Woman before whom will spring open the Everlasting Doors! Riches and glory are hers; magnificence and righteousness abound in her; she bears fruit more wonderful than fine gold and precious stones; she walks in the way of rectitude, the path of prudence, to enrich those who call upon her, to replenish the treasures of those who love her.
All nations call her Blessed. She shall bear, within her bosom, the Man-God.
Angel of Earth
My heart can not contain these happy tidings! It yearns to make them known! Open, ye eternal Gates, open wide, and proclaim the holy Virgin who is to bring forth the Redeemer of the world! Behold the Sanctuary! Behold the true Tabernacle in which the Lord will repose!
Angel of Heaven
Open, ye eternal Gates! Open before the blessed Mary! Of her the heavenly choirs continually proclaim: A virgin shall conceive and bring forth a Son, and Emmanuel shall be His name. (Isaias vii, 14.) The Lord is with thee, Mary! Thy pure body shall bear the Word of God— the immense Word, like unto the noise of mighty waters, which may be heard at the uttermost ends of the earth. The Holy Ghost shall descend upon thee, the Spirit of the Most High shall cover thee with His shadow!
Angel of Earth
Beloved of the Father, honored of the Son, sanctified by the Holy Spirit, even before her birth! Glory, therefore, to the pure and spotless Virgin, created from the beginning.
Angel of Heaven
The depths were not formed when the Immaculate Virgin was conceived by the decrees of the Most High; the fountains had not gushed forth, the mountains were not risen. Before the hills she was conceived!
Angel of Earth
Rejoice with me, all ye who love the world! Behold the pure Virgin, whose name is like a perfume spread abroad. From heaven hope has descended with her upon this earth.
Angel of Heaven
Mary, with thy comeliness and thy beauty, set out, proceed prosperously, and reign. (Psalms xliv, 5.)