Mariam was going to see her aunt, Elizabeth, who lived in the hill country of Judea, which was two days journey on foot. Elizabeth’s husband was a priest in the temple at Jerusalem. A year ago Mariam had gone to see Elizabeth with her parents. But this time her parents were busy making arrangements for the forthcoming wedding of Mariam. For a young woman to make such a trip alone was risky, so she sought the company of her brother.
It was not easy for Mariam to get the permission of her parents to make this trip. When they asked her why she wanted to make such a long trip while her wedding was so near, she evaded a direct answer. She simply said she wanted to get the blessing of her aunt before the wedding. She sounded adamant, and her parents didn’t have a choice but to let her go. All they could do was to pray for her and hope that she would return safely.
Mariam was going to be married to Joseph. The betrothal, the initial ceremony of wedding, was over. She circled Joseph reciting blessings, and rings were exchanged with the declaration, “Behold, you are consecrated to me by this ring according to the Law of Moses and Israel”. The betrothal was about a couple of months ago, and she had to wait for a few more months for the main ceremony of the wedding. The two parts of the wedding were usually held at least a year apart.
Always there were travelers on this path going back and forth. Jerusalem, the center of their economic, religious, and political life, was in Judea, and Galileans frequently travelled south to Judea for various purposes. Mariam and her brother managed to join a group of travelers. Most of them were farmers taking their produce on their donkeys. It was always safe to be with a group; for certain spots on the way were notorious as the hideout of thieves. Whenever the group halted, they got a chance to give some rest to their worn-out feet, to take a sip of water, and to eat a bite of bread. Mariam had a bag on her back with some dry bread and some water.
By the end of the day, they found an open space to rest for the night. The other people in the group were nearby. She raised her eyes to heaven and thanked God for keeping her safe so far in the journey. She was sure that God would take care of her in the rest of her trip. She recited a familiar psalm in her mind:
I raise my eyes toward the mountains. From where will my help come?
My help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.
She was sure that God would take care of her during her sleep. She continued to recite the psalm in a low voice.
God will not allow your foot to slip; your guardian does not sleep.
Truly, the guardian of Israel never slumbers nor sleeps.
She was also sure that God would take care of her throughout her journey. She continued to recite the psalm, and her brother joined her.
The LORD will guard you from all evil, and will always guard your life.
The LORD will guard your coming and going both now and forever.
As she meditated the psalm, her mind stayed focused, and it rose to a higher meditative level. She had learned to meditate from her parents even when she was a child. She enjoyed keeping her mind still on God.
One thing I ask from the LORD,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the LORD
and to seek him in his temple.
Along with the psalmist, she sought only one thing—the beauty of the Lord.
She began and ended her days reciting psalms. Every Sabbath day she went to the local synagogue with her parents and siblings. That was an opportunity to learn the scriptures and to meditate along with her community. The psalms she recited and learned by heart in the synagogue helped her in times of need. Almost every year she went on a pilgrimage to the temple at Jerusalem with her family.
Growing up the midst of her people, she shared the joys and pains of her community. The one biggest pain of her community was that they were denied freedom in their own land. They were in slavery. The sight of Roman soldiers made them feel as if God had abandoned them. It remained a mystery that God allowed them to remain in slavery. If God really cared for them, how could they be slaves to the Romans? She often asked this question to herself, and in the absence of any convincing answer, she consoled herself that God might be testing them.
Even recently the rabbi in the synagogue talked about how much they suffered from Romans, which made her pray intensely for freedom. The only hope was for God to intervene, as who else could save them from the Romans? They hoped against hope that God would soon raise a king to the throne of David, who would liberate the nation from the Romans. A king in the throne of David! That has been the dream of the nation for centuries. Will that dream ever come true? The rabbi earnestly pleaded them to pray day and night for a successor to King David.
Mariam’s vision happened a few days later. It was an afternoon, and she was relaxing inside her home after helping her mother with cooking and other household chores. An angel of God appeared to her. The angel introduced himself as Gabriel, the chief messenger of the Almighty. The angel told her that she was going to give birth to a baby who would become the king, the one who would liberate the nation from the Romans. The angel even suggested the name of the baby-- Yeshu, which means “Jehovah is savior”.
It is true that Mariam had earnestly wished for a king, but she hadn’t expected that she would be the primary means through which this would happen. It raised a multitude of questions in her mind. If a baby is born to her, a poor village peasant girl, how will this child ever rise to the throne of David? Moreover, being unmarried, she has not known a man. Is it going to happen before or after marriage? In answer to all her questions, the angel responded calmly that God would take care of everything. Wasn’t David himself a mere shepherd boy before God raised him to be the shepherd of the nation? In order to prove to Mariam that nothing was impossible to God, the angel referred to an example of God’s power—Elizabeth, her aunt, has conceived a child in her old age.
Elizabeth’s pregnancy was news to Mariam. If God could give Elizabeth a baby in her old age, God can certainly raise Mariam’s baby to the throne of David. If God would take care of everything, all that she would have to do is to surrender herself to the will of God. She said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word!"
Slowly the vision faded away, and when Mariam was aware of her surroundings, she was not sure if she could believe the vision. Was it true? Or, was it just a dream? She said to herself that it might have been a dream. Who would believe that her baby was going to be the divine king? If she told this to others, they would surely laugh at her. So she kept it to herself. She didn’t dare to share this vision with anybody, even with her own parents.
As days passed, a thought started growing in her—what if it was a true vision from God! That is when it struck her. There is an easy way to find out if the vision was true or not. The angel mentioned the miracle that happened to Elizabeth. If she is pregnant with a baby, then surely the vision has to be true. That is how Mariam decided to make this trip to the Hill country to visit Elizabeth. She wanted to find out for herself if her vision was true.
Mariam slept comfortably under the stars. The next morning, she woke up and continued her journey with her brother. She didn’t know what lay ahead in her life. It was certainly going to be an adventure trip. But she was excited to take each step because she knew that it was a journey with God.