All he had ever expected or desired was to lead an ordinary life. After all, what could be more ordinary, more mundane, than the life of a village carpenter in a distant province of the empire? Steady work, a loving, virtuous wife, in due course God’s precious gift of children, and, underlying all of this, the security of knowing what God required – wasn’t that all that any sane man would anticipate?
He couldn’t remember exactly when he had begun to notice her, but over time he became aware of her, and started to court her. He was a good prospect, her parents approved, and they became betrothed. He thought she was the most special girl in the world, she had a beauty of tranquillity that touched some deep place within him, and for her sake he wanted to be the most caring, tender and responsible husband he could possibly be. But he had no idea how uniquely special she was going to prove to be, or what would be required of him.
It started the day she told him that she was with child. While he gaped at her, unable to take it in (she was the last girl he would have expected of any unchastity, five minutes ago he would have been prepared to swear that she was the purest woman in Nazareth) she proceeded to tell him a story about God, a visiting angel, and becoming the mother of the Messiah. She told her story with the calm conviction of someone who was simply report6ing what had happened, but her voice faltered and grew silent when she saw that he did not believe her.
He was resolved to treat her as gently as possible, and divorce her without public scandal, but that night the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, and declared to him that every word she had said was true. She was, indeed, to be the mother of the Promised One, and he was to be – what? – her husband, her support, her protector through these vulnerable years. He was to be (and his mind reeled at the prospect) the earthly protector for the infant Son of God. How did a totally ordinary man end up in such a role? How could he ever be adequate?
For a while he thought that, despite the strangeness of the situation, things might resolve themselves into a semblance of normality, at least for the next few years. But nothing went according to his plans. Caesar (or God?) had other ideas. There was the census-required trip to Bethlehem with a pregnant wife, and the birth itself, in an outbuilding, with no women to attend her in her time of need, but strangers, shepherds and angels, celebrating the deity, and amazing mission, of this quite ordinary-looking baby.
There was a time of normality then, at least a little breathing-space, and Mary and the baby were, to the inhabitants of Bethlehem, just another mother and child. But it didn’t last. The strange kings came, with their heavy accents and unsettling gifts, and then he had the dream. He was to take Mary and the child and flee to Egypt, there was no other way to escape Herod’s insane jealousy.
So here he was, in the middle of the night, swiftly packing their meagre belongings, and thankful that at least he knew which direction Egypt lay in. And as Mary, accepting his explanation, lifted the child and wrapped him tight against the night air, his heart swelled. He was uncertain, he was afraid, but he understood the job that God had given him to do. He would protect and guard this woman and this wondrous child until the day when he could bring them back to the safety of Nazareth.