is the subject of my Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld:
The morning air blazed insistently and the sun seemed to have come out earlier than usual. The young girl stretched her arms and let out a slight yawn. She could hear her mother in the kitchen, her father packing his satchel to go to the temple. Mary sat on the edge of the bed, gathering her thoughts, letting the sleep get out of her head.
Anna, Mary’s mother, pokes her head into the bedroom. “Get up Mary. What’s wrong with you?” Mary lets out an impish grin and lies back again in bed. “Awww... I want to sleep more,” she teases. Anna grabs Mary’s arms and playfully pulls her. “No, get up,” she says, “I have to go to the market. I want you to fill the vats with water before I get back.” Mary follows her mother out of the room. A slice of bread was on the table and she washes her face with water. “Mary, stop splashing water all over the place!” her mother yells. “You clean that up, get more water from the well, and don’t forget to feed the chickens!” Anna continues, stepping out of the house, her words almost muffled by the shawl she wrapped around her. “Buy me figs, Mama!” Mary called out. “Yes,” was Anna’s weary reply. Joachim, Mary’s father, rushes out of his study. He kisses Mary on the forehead, gives her a hug, and runs after Anna so they could walk together.
Alone, Mary shuffles around the quiet stone house, munching on her bread, and played a little with her dolls by annoying the family cat with it. The cat runs away. Mary shrugs. Just over a year ago her life was vastly different. She worked in the temple and her daily routine alternated between service to the temple elders and study. But there was also lots of playtime with girls her age. It was a good life and Mary had no complaints. She even got to see her father at work every day. And since Nazareth was near the trade routes, there was always interesting news from Egyptian and Mesopotamian travellers who dropped by the temple.
Then she turned 12 years old. “Look here, my favorite daughter,” her father teasingly said, as she happened to be Joachim’s and Anna’s only child, “we’ll have to marry you off.” Several suitors immediately turned up. But it was the quiet Joseph, who dealt with good humor a pesky dove who insisted on sitting on Joachim’s head that sealed the deal. Joseph, however, had to go away on business for a year. In the meantime, Mary waited at her parents’ house.
Water and chicken chores done, she decided to cool off a little bit in her bedroom. It was while she was reminiscing over her favorite cousin Elizabeth, elderly but always ready with the jokes and now amazingly pregnant, that it happened.
There was a flash of white light and then there he suddenly was. He looked young, thought Mary of the strange visitor. It took her a while before she decided it was a boy she was talking to, well he seemed like a boy -- very fine features and his hair a bouncy blond. He tightly held a little trumpet. Even so, Mary had to admit feeling a little bit scared of this somewhat adorable, albeit odd, intruder. It was when he spoke, however, that cold terror hit her: Mary, you are to conceive by the Holy Spirit, give birth to a boy, you shall call him Jesus.
It took a while and a fair bit of frantic cajoling by the youth, but Mary eventually settled down. She began to think: is this kid for real? He seemed quite detailed, even giving me the baby’s name. But if I get pregnant as he described it my parents would be dishonored. Joseph too and he’d leave me. Who’d take care of me? I’d be disgraced, an outcast; assuming I don’t get stoned to death. And yet ...
Gabriel would later say it was the most nerve wracking assignment he ever had. And he was used to big jobs: engineering John the Baptist’s birth, supervising the seraphims and cherubims, and he even has the task of declaring the start of the apocalypse. But this, this waiting for the answer of a girl just approaching her teens, made him sweat. “I tell you,” he would later say with a laugh to Michael and Raphael, “my heart stopped when she was about to open her mouth and give her decision.” Actually, what Gabriel didn’t realize, because he was so nervous, was that the whole of creation, including time, actually did stop, waiting in equally great trepidation the choice that Mary was about to make. Simply put, the fate of everything created now depended on the answer of this simple unassuming girl.
Then it came: “Be it done to me according to your word.”