We continue the gift-giving from Thursday. Rosalie Sugrue sends this Advent or Christmastide reader’s theatre (our church did them one year the week after Christmas. This series is included in Gifts in Open Hands — More Worship Resources for the Global Community (Pilgrim Press, 2011)
Christmas Women — Meditations for Advent
Women talking with Women
Sharing encounters with Mary
Rosalie May Sugrue
1st printed 2001 for APW
1) Elizabeth (Mary’s cousin), Luke 1:5-13
I had a special dinner waiting for Zechariah. I was so proud of him! As you know Anna, not many small town priests get the honour of entering the Holy of Holies. I’m so glad you saw him go in. Didn’t he look fine in his robes? If only you had been there when his duties were over! He arrived home in a terrible state. He tried to tell me what had happened but he couldn’t speak – not one word could he get out. I was really worried, thought he had contracted some terrible illness. But he looked healthy enough, in fact he looked…radiant is the word that comes to mind. Well, there he was flinging his arms around and trying to mime something. This is crazy, I said, and went and got the slate. When I read what he had written I was staggered. But then, I thought, why shouldn’t my husband receive a vision. He is a good man. And he is married to a good woman. I’ve never believed barrenness to be a punishment for wrongdoing. Many good women have been barren – Sarah, Rachel, Hannah and Samson’s mother.
Zech was keen to go to bed right there and then but I wasn’t having a good meal wasted. I’d put a lot of love into this dinner – his favourite food, special candles and all. Besides, Zech had walked a long way and he needed to keep his strength up.
I was pregnant within the month. I didn’t dare believe it until three months but deep down I knew. Well over forty and never felt fitter. The bump was hardly showing when we got a visitor. It was my cousin’s girl, Mary, the one engaged to Joseph, the carpenter. She should have been at home preparing for the wedding. It was a shock seeing her. I hadn’t told the family – well, what if things hadn’t turned out OK? But she knew! She hugged me and called me blessed.
I know I can trust you Anna. The thing is the girl was pregnant. Don’t breathe a word of this. It is a difficult situation – the child isn’t Joseph’s. Yet, when she told me she wasn’t distressed. Turns out, she too had been blessed with a vision. The very moment Mary told me she was pregnant my child leapt in my womb. I’d felt little flutters before but this was a real kick, a kick of joy. I knew it was a sign.
Mary stayed for three months. We crafted our own song of joy based on Hannah’s. We did our exercises together and made baby clothes. She does exquisite work for one so young – you should see her swaddling cloths! It was a good thing Zech couldn’t talk because he wouldn’t have got a word in edgeways! Of course I did feel sorry for him, especially after our son was born. He so wanted to bless him.
The child was perfect. The birth hadn’t been too bad. The labour was strong but steady. The midwife said I was pushing well. Young Mary was a great help, sponging my brow, rubbing my back and clasping my hand. I was so tired but what a wonderful feeling holding my own baby – a son for Zechariah. He didn’t need words to tell me he loved me.
The neighbours were all around with little gifts. They were astounded when I told them our boy would be called John. There are no Johns in your family they said. You must call him after your husband. They mean well, but really, who do they think they are!
Anyway, they pestered Zechariah asking him to nod agreement. Instead he reached for his slate and wrote, The child’s name is John. Why John they shrugged?
”John,” shouted Zechariah, “is the name God has chosen.”
Well, that knocked them for a six, really shut them up. Zech and I just hugged each other and didn’t care what the neighbours thought. We had our son. We had each other and God had lifted his punishment. Life can be wonderful Anna.
2) Anne (Mary’s mother), Luke 1:36-42
Our Mary is a good girl – always was, always! No one could want for a better child. A beautiful baby! Right from infancy she was contented, smiled at six weeks and didn’t stop. As daughters go she was pure delight – sunny natured, helpful, thoughtful, and clever too, a dab hand at weaving. You should see her seamless garments! And there is no denying that she is maturing into a beauty. Only fifteen but Joseph, the carpenter, has been besotted with her for years. He’s quite a good catch – his business is well established. He doesn’t own any land. My dream was a farmer who could have lifted our circumstances but Joseph is well thought of, a good tradesman and a good man. Yes, I know he’s coming up thirty but he is kind and considerate. What farmer has those qualities! I was happy with the match-makers choice and so was Mary.
But, something went wrong. I felt it in my bones the moment I returned from the well. Mary had been crying. You can’t hide the tell-tale signs from a mother. Wouldn’t tell me anything! She was withdrawn for days. I didn’t push it. Teenagers can be difficult. Then all of a sudden she changed, and I mean changed, not the happy out-going child of before, she was a different person. Seemed mature, if you know what I mean, at peace with herself, yet quietly excited, as if she had a special secret. I wanted to believe it had been merely nerves and now she was reconciled and looking forward to the wedding.
Then, I saw her packing. “What is the meaning of this?” I demanded. She told me she was going to visit my cousin Elizabeth. It all came out. She had a secret alright! My fears were not idle. She was pregnant. I was pretty mad, I can tell you. “This is the very worst thing that could happen to us,” I said, and she went on about angels. Said the Angel had told her Elizabeth was pregnant too. Angels indeed! Well, that did it, I let rip. After all we had done for her. We would never be able to hold our heads up again. It suited me just fine to have her out of the house. And as for Elizabeth being pregnant, the woman couldn’t pass for forty-nine in the shade. My parting shot was, “Just you stay with old Lizzie until she has this miracle baby.”
Of course I was sorry afterwards. She is a good girl. We would have cared for her, no matter what. I’m sure she knows this. She left a letter for Joseph. The poor man was utterly distraught but he got over it. I told you he is a good man. He says he will do what is best for our Mary. I’m going to a grandmother. Being a grandmother is not the worst thing that can happen.
3) Woman Traveller Luke 2:1-5
Jolly silly idea if you ask me – having to travel to the town where your husband was born just to be counted. Why couldn’t they count you where you are living now? You could say which tribe you are from. However, it’s not every day we get to go on a journey. We are going on a holiday, I told the girls. You are going to see your grandparents.
It was no small task organizing everything. I turned the children’s bedrolls into bags to wear on their back with spare clothes tucked inside. Luckily mine are old enough to walk. Martha’s son is heavy for a three year old. She made a sling to carry him in. Her Tim took him on his back at times. It was the girl, Mary, I felt sorry for, she was almost due. Joseph made her a stout walking stick. What she needed was a donkey but landless people don’t have donkeys.
We got quite friendly on the way. Well you do, don’t you, all travelling together. She was such a pleasant person. My girls just loved her. She wasn’t worried about the birth. Said the baby would come in God’s good time. Easy to tell it was her first, but far be it from me to scare a young woman. I’d helped deliver Martha’s son, now that was a difficult birth, such a big baby. She’s lucky to have him, the first two didn’t go full time, stillborn, both of them.
When we arrived at Bethlehem the place was fair humming and quite booked out. Of course we were going to Tim’s parents. Martha and Saul had family too but Joseph’s parents had died. They intended staying at an inn. Every inn we passed had a no vacancy sign up. Mary told us not to worry. She was a calm one, that Mary – in my opinion, a woman of faith.
4) Inn-keeper’s Wife Luke 2:6-14
What a night! We were chocker! Not a bed anywhere. Not so much as a blanket to spare. The guests were all calling for ale. I was run off my feet. Not that I minded. This census thing is certainly good for business. It’s not often Quirinius does anything useful.
Anyway, Dan had barred the door but people kept knocking. When someone pounded with a stick Dan unbolted the door with a curse. It was lucky I was nearby because I saw these travellers. The man was supporting a young woman. She was heavily pregnant. Dan was in no mood to give directions but I couldn’t just shut the door on a pregnant woman. I moved over to tell them about the Three Mile Inn, being on the far side of town it was always last to fill. Then I saw the woman clutch her husband. She was more than merely pregnant.
I took charge. Got Dan to move a couple of horses out of the stable and tether them round the back; sent the boy to open a fresh bale of hay; we made a reasonable bed. I asked among the guests for a mid-wife and sure enough there was one. I gave her a lantern. It wasn’t very dark considering it was mid-winter. Strange really as the moon was only a slender crescent. The light was coming from a star. I’d never seen this star before. But, as you know I was busy. When finally all the guests had bedded down I checked the window for another look at that star and I’ll swear to my dying day that the whole sky lit up, bright as day it was, and I heard music!
A moment later the mid-wife came in wanting more hot water. I blurted out, the child’s been born! It’s a boy, she said.
I took them some breakfast late in the morning. The couple were so gracious in their thanks – lovely people! Her name was Mary. You’d never guess where the baby was sleeping?
5) Anna (the prophet), Luke 2:36-38
I am an old woman and I have seen many things. I was widowed when my son was but six years old. My daughters were one and four. But I managed. God took care of us. They grew to be fine people and have families of their own. I will be grateful all my days. It is my privilege to serve God with prayer and fasting.
I fear for this land of ours so long occupied by Rome. There is much unrest and many godless people. Yet recently I have seen signs of hope. It is my belief that a messiah will come and deliver Israel from her oppressor. I dare think that such a one has been born. I talked this over with my old friend Simeon. He listened carefully and agreed it could be. He told me that once he had dreamed he would not die until he had seen the messiah. I believe God’s spirit is with Simeon. He is a good man, a devout man, and so good with words. But he’s not as quick at picking up on signs and feelings as I am. So we wait in hope and encourage each other.
I saw the child first. I recognized the mother, Mary, kinswoman to my good friend Elizabeth. I recalled the strange connection between the pair and suddenly I just knew! “That’s the child,” I breathed. Simeon paused only long enough to gaze from my eyes to the child’s. Understanding flooded his soul as it had mine. He took the child and praised God with the eloquence of a psalmist.
Then it was my turn. I held the blessed infant and told the surprised parents that his was no ordinary child. This child had the potential to save Jerusalem and yea, the whole world. As I gazed at the peaceful bundle I knew the way to salvation was not by the sword. I said to all who would listen, “A new order is coming. This child is the prince of peace.”