A Young Girl's Journey
( Originally Published 1915 )
AFTER THE visit of the angel and the message which he had brought, Mary's mind was filled with many thoughts and her heart was full. She was only a young girl, not older than sixteen years, perhaps as young as fifteen; for if she were older she should have been already married. In that land nearly all young women are married as soon as they are six-teen years old; and very few stay unmarried.
Mary felt that she must talk with somebody of all these wonderful things that had been spoken to her. We would think that her mother was the one with whom she could open her heart most freely, but we are not sure that her mother was living. And is it not true that a young girl can sometimes tell to a dear grand-mother, or some other old lady who is her friend, the deep things of the heart that she may hesitate to mention even to her own mother?
She thought of one who was not her grandmother, but who from her age and sweetness seemed like one. Her mind turned to Elizabeth, living far away in the south. The angel, you know, had told her that Elizabeth was also to have a child, and perhaps she would be able to understand Mary's feelings better than any other woman.
Elizabeth was related to Mary. She is named in the gospel of St. Luke as Mary's cousin, though very likely they were not near, but distant relatives. Mary knew that she was wise and good, that she loved her, and being old, could give her advice. Mary made up her mind to visit Elizabeth and open her heart with her fully about what the angel had spoken to her. From Nazareth to Elizabeth's house was a long distance, in a straight line more than eighty miles, but much farther by the road which travelers from Galilee generally followed in going from the north to the south of the land.
Very soon after the angel's visit, Mary left her home and began her journey southward. Of course, a young girl could not take a journey so long alone. But there were always caravans or parties going from Galilee to Jerusalem, and Mary would travel with one of those companies. A soldier would ride on a horse, a general in his chariot, and an Arab on his camel; but most men in those times walked, even on long journeys. A woman would ride on an ass, which was the animal preferred by the Jews for travel.
We may think of Mary with a beating heart leaving her home in Nazareth in company with a caravan or party of people journeying to Jerusalem to attend one of the great feasts held every year in that city. Their most direct way would be over the mountains; but it would be rough and stony; up one mountain, down another, and around a third mountain, nearly all the way. Besides, this way would lead them through the country of the Samaritans, which lay between Galilee and Judea, and such was the hatred between Jews and Samaritans that it was scarcely safe for a company of Jews to go through their land. A large company would need to stop by night at some inn, and the Samaritans often shut their inns against those who were going to Jerusalem.
The line of travel from Nazareth would be to go over the steep hill on the south of their village, then follow a well-trodden way eastward down to the river Jordan. There they would find a very good road built by the Romans, straight down the Jordan Valley, with mountains on either side. This they would follow about sixty miles until they came to Jericho. There they might rest for a few days; and then climb the steep path up the mountains to Jerusalem. This Jericho road was a hiding place for robbers, and it was never safe for anyone to travel it alone. But in a large company, with many men, and often a guard of soldiers, the travelers need not fear. They would easily reach Jerusalem in a week or ten days after leaving Nazareth, and might make the journey in five days if they were in haste.
In Jerusalem Mary would visit with 'some friend. All the families in the land had friends in Jerusalem with whom they stayed while attending the great feasts, of which three were held each. year; and the dwellers in Jerusalem opened their houses to the same families year after year. After the feast; Mary would find another caravan or party going home to Hebron and the villages near it, and she would travel the rest of her journey, about twenty miles, with this party. Altogether, Mary's journey, from Nazareth to Hebron, was nearly one hundred and twenty miles long. Although many people were with her all the way, she was alone in spirit, for she. could speak to no one of the great thoughts which burdened her mind and her heart.
At last her long journey was over. She stopped at the door of the house of Zacharias; and in a moment was clasped in the arms of Elizabeth. In some strange way God had given to Elizabeth to know all that had come to Mary. In a loud voice she said:
"Blessed, most blessed are you among women!
And blessed among men shall be the son born to you!
High indeed is the honor mine today when the mother of my Lord comes to my home! Blessed is she that believed the angel's word, for that word shall surely come true!"
In that moment Mary's feelings, long held in, broke out into song. For this young woman's soul was not only pure and tender and devout, it was the soul of a poet whose thoughts shape themselves into verse. Mary spoke and sung a song which has become famous. Someone wrote it down, and Saint Luke, who wrote the gospel, found a copy of it and gave it to the world. Everyone should read it. We give it here.
My soul beholds the greatness of the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath looked upon his servant in my lowly state; And from this time people in all ages shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; And holy is his name. And his mercy is from age to age On those who fear him.
He bath showed strength with his arm; He hath scattered the proud in the vain thoughts of their heart. He hath put down princes from their thrones, And hath lifted up those of humble state.
The hungry he hath filled with good things; And the rich he hath sent empty away. He hath given help to Israel his servant That he might remember mercy As he spoke to our fathers, Toward Abraham and his children forever.
It was either while Mary was visiting with Elizabeth, or soon after her return to her home, that Joseph, her promised husband, began to question in his mind whether he ought to marry her. There was a strange look in her face, and he saw that she had thoughts in her mind of which she could not speak to him. He loved her deeply, and it was with sorrow that he asked himself whether they would be happy together.
But one night, while he was sleeping, a dream came to Joseph. In his dream he saw an angel standing by his side. The angel said to him:
"Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary for your wife. She shall have a son; and his name shall be Jesus, for it is he that shall save his people from their sins."
The word Jesus, in the language of that people, means "Saviour," and often Jesus is spoken of as "Our Saviour" because he came to take away our sins.
After this message, Joseph hesitated no longer. He did as the angel had bidden him. He was married to Mary, and led her to his own home, in which was also the shop where he. followed his trade as a carpenter.