Wise Man

Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. (Isaiah 43.5)

‘Have you noticed there’s someone missing? We’ve only just arrived and the party seems to be over. The truth is it hasn’t been easy to get here at all. It took us a long time to even decide that we’d make the journey. You see – and this isn’t easy to say – we live in a really nice place, hanging gardens, sherbet, good wines, dancing, great poets, a lot of respect for anyone who has spent their life studying – and the architecture! If you love good buildings then you should come and see where we come from. So when Caspar said that he’d seen a new star in the sky and had been working out what it meant and what it meant was that we should all pack our bags, mount our camels and travel to Palestine, well I won’t tell you what we said.

The thing is that Palestine is a bit off the beaten track. It’s true that traders pass through, but they do just that, pass through! The Temple in Jerusalem is impressive but when you’ve said that you’ve said it all. And Caspar, for all his wisdom, wasn’t quite clear, if we followed the star, where exactly it would take us – the lush north of the country or the barren rocky south.

People call us ‘Wise Men’ but people didn’t think we were being very wise when we made the decision and began to put a caravan together. My wife wasn’t happy. ‘It’s a war zone’ she said. ‘Their king is dreadful, unpredictable, paranoid, everyone knows that – the kind who’d commit a war crime.’ But she’s always like that, sees the worse that could happen – and I’m the one who’s meant to read the stars!

But we put the protests aside because as the star became clearer in the heavens it also became clearer that this was a monumental happening. The talk between my three companions was of a new king, the fulfilment of a promise, a new beginning, a life-changing child. Sorry, I should have said who we are – Caspar, Balthasar and Melchior – and me. If my presence surprises you don’t worry, I don’t take offence. I never get a mention really and it’s all to do with those presents.

My companions with their gifts


They decided that we should take three, after all it was an auspicious number and we really like numbers. ‘But there are four of us’ I said. That didn’t matter – the gifts were from us I was told. They’d talked a lot about what to take – my companions do a lot of talking and watching and talking! But finally the decision was made; gold for a king, frankincense for a deity and myrrh – that was the hardest to decide on – for the bitterness that would lie ahead for the child. So there were three gifts and four of us and the rest of them – we don’t travel light.

When we set off we could have been mistaken for a bunch of kings on the move rather than wise men but we just hoped that no one would make the mistake.

It was a long journey and as the terrain became tougher I looked back to those beautiful gardens, the rose trees and the fountains, the sophistication of life. There wasn’t much sophistication where we were travelling – shepherds on the move mainly, women with water jars, the odd barley field and olive grove. But it was mostly sand and rock that we see, day in, day out.

But at night the star was there and we were able to check with our instruments that we were on the right path.

As we got closer we began to talk about what we would do when we got there. The polite thing and the right thing would be to pay our respects to the king and after all, if a new king was to born it must be in the palace. But the voice of my wife was in my ear, urging me to go nowhere near Herod. But the others thought we had no choice – we were strangers in the land. And so as we got closer we decided to go first to Jerusalem and in truth that was where the star was heading.

You can read for yourself what happened when we finally got to see him. The others did the talking, I tried to remain in the background. But for all his grandeur I wouldn’t trust him an inch. ‘Come back and tell me all about this new king’ he said, ‘so that I too may go and pay him homage.’ As if!

It was evening when we finally left Herod’s Palace (actually that was a very sophisticated place – I take back what I said about Palestinian architecture) and the journey to the place was very quick. The star led us, shining now with such intensity that the night around us was being turned to day.

When we finally arrived we were surprised. It was hardly a city to be honest, more like a large village but with a big past. It was a busy place but as we entered we created quite a stir. I don’t think that they’d ever seen anything quite like this – like the circus coming into town! It was later than we’d planned but escaping the king was not easy – but when we were so close we decided we had to complete the journey.

It was an ordinary house that we found, bathed in starlight. Someone from the neighbourhood told me that they had begun in the place living in a stable but when the crowds disappeared they found this house and Joseph had begun to do a bit of carpentry to pay the rent. We knocked at the door and lifted the latch. I don’t know what I’d really expected but all the talk of kingship and divinity hadn’t really prepared me for a child, an ordinary child being held by his mother. She was radiant – her face gave out goodness as the star gave out light. Behind her stood her husband, slightly in the shadows.

I hardly remember a word being said, as though they had strangers arriving every day. We greeted the family and one by one my companions gave their gifts – gold, frankincense and myrrh. And then all eyes seemed to be fixed on me – and they knew I hadn’t got a gift. I stepped forward and knelt before the child and his mother. ‘I haven’t brought a gift’ I said. The mother smiled ‘Your love is gift itself’ she said – and she meant it. The others looked at me and that brief moment was like eternity.

Wanting to give and ready to receive


As we rode away it was I who felt that I had been given a gift – such love as cannot be described.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

Not finished

You thought that nativity was completed. As far as the world is concerned its all over, the last of the turkey eaten, the holiday over and work and school looming.  But we haven’t yet arrived at Twelfth Night and we are not yet at the Epiphany and more people are on the way to take their place in the nativity.  But be patient – they’re coming a long way to be with us, to play their part and tell their story.


in each of these days of celebration
may the joy of your birth
be as real in our hearts and lives
as it was on that first morning.


While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2.6-7)

Anne says

‘I’ve tried to busy myself around the house and Joachim keeps telling me they’ll be alright.  But I can’t stop thinking about my Mary, so far away, all on her own.  I know she has Joseph with her, but this is a time for a girl to be with her mother and with the other women.  We know what to do.  But what does he know, he’s a carpenter not a physician and so many things can go wrong.  I wonder where they are.  I wonder if she’s ok.  I wonder if the baby’s been born. I wonder ….’

Gabriel says

‘I’ve never heard such singing.  We all turned out angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.  Those poor shepherds. Scared out of their wits at first but there was one who listened and made the others come back and hear what we had to say and what we sang. Who’d have thought that such tough men could be so frightened by a group of singing angels!  But as I told you before we have this habit of just, well, being there, unannounced.  But we were so full of joy – a new king, a new baby, peace on earth, good will amongst all people.  There was so much to sing about.’

Mary says

‘It feels like I’m in a dream.  The journey was awful.  I thought it would be difficult but in fact it was worse than I could imagine.  I thought after making the same journey a few months ago, there and back to see Elizabeth that it would be the same.  But it wasn’t.  It was colder, the road seemed harder and I knew that at any moment my baby could be born. But Joseph was so lovely.  Being together like this has meant that we’ve had the chance to really get to know each other.  What a gentle man. What a kind man.  I’ve been blessing God that my Father found me such a husband.  He kept on saying, ‘just around the corner, just over the next hill, we can almost see it’.  In the end we laughed every time he said something like that – but you know that made the journey that little bit easier.

And when we finally saw Bethlehem – well, we both almost cried. But neither of us had imagined what we’d find when we walked into the town.  The place was full of people and as we went up and town every street, at every place there was a sign saying, ‘Full’, ‘No room’. I kept asking, ‘what are we going to do?’ But Joseph kept saying ‘The Lord will provide.’ And the Lord did provide.

To be honest I wasn’t bothered in the end where we stayed – I just needed to be able to lie down.  And within a short time the baby came and I held him in my arms – and wept for joy.  It feels like a dream, but this is real, and God is with us.’

‘God is with us’


Joseph says

‘I think it was the worst journey I’d ever made.  You know that I was backwards and forwards from Nazareth to Sepphoris so its not that I’m unused to travelling but this was so much worse than any daily commute!  For a start off it’s a long way, and it was getting colder, and Mary was so uncomfortable.  But I did what I could to encourage her.

What a nightmare when we arrived.  I hadn’t really thought about that bit, and anyway what could I have done?  But with everyone on the move and us arriving quite late at night every inn was full.  Mary looked exhausted as she sat on the back of the donkey.  I knocked on each door just to get the same response ‘Full’, ‘Full’, ‘Full’.  ‘But look at my wife’ I said, ‘She’s going to have a baby.’ ‘Full’.

It felt as though it was the last chance, the final door.  ‘The Lord will provide’ I said to her.  The innkeeper came to the door.  I could see his wife behind him, shaking her head but looking concerned. ‘Full’ he said.  Then he looked at us.  ‘But there is the stable beneath the house and I cleaned it out and it’s fresh and you can use that if you want.  It’s not great but …’ ‘The Lord bless you and keep you.’ I said. He took a light and showed us in.  ‘Is it ok if we bring our donkey in as well?’ ‘Well… ok’ he said.

Then he was gone.  Mary lay down.  I was unpacking what the donkey had been carrying.  And then I heard her, Mary cried out and I ran to her.  The baby was coming.  I had no idea what to do.  This all happened away from men, the women looked after it.  ‘Hang on’ I said and ran to the top of the house.  Although she’d shaken her head I knew the Innkeeper’s wife was kind.  ‘Please’ I said ‘my wife.  We need you.’

She grabbed a pot of water off the fire and some cloth and followed me.  Like those great women at the birth of Moses, Shiphrah and Puah, she helped the baby to emerge into that dark night.  Mary gasped, the baby cried.  ‘It’s a boy’ cried the Innkeeper’s wife ‘Congratulations!’.  But we knew it was a boy.  The angel had told us.’

The Donkey says

‘The last few miles were the worst and Mary seemed to get heavier and heavier.  But I took it gently and slowly and my Master was kind.  When we arrived at Bethlehem we went from house to house and that seemed to make me more tired than the journey.

At last he found somewhere and somewhere we could be together.  It’d been the three of us for so long, night and day and I wanted to stay with them and not be put with some Judean donkeys I knew nothing of (they’re not like Galilean donkey’s – much more trouble).  But as luck would have it we ended up in a stable and so, of course, I could stay.  Someone had put fresh straw down and there was hay.  There was an old ox in the corner but he just sat there, chewing away, as they do, nothing to say, as always seems to be the case.

I drank some water and ate something and then my Master ran out and ran back with a strange woman and everything seemed to be happening.  Then a baby cried and I looked up and the ox looked up and we saw Jesus. We saw Jesus.’

The Innkeeper says

‘I told you how busy it was getting – well it got worse.  Everywhere there were people, a knock came at the door all the time.  ‘Tell them we’re full’ said my wife.  And so I did. It was getting late and we were getting ready for bed.  The guests were all back, some had rolled in after having a drink and they were snoring away.  Just some water to boil so that it would be sweet for the morning and then we could turn in.

Another knock. ‘Not now, not so late’ said my wife ‘get rid of them.’ I opened the door.  There was a man with a very young girl.  She was on the back of a donkey.  All three of them looked exhausted. ‘Please’ said the man.  ‘We’re full’ I said.  Then I looked at them and all of a sudden I thought of that story of Abraham and Sarah entertaining those three angels.  I know one of this group was a donkey, but that was such a story of hospitality.  ‘We have a stable’ I said.

The man looked delighted.  So I took them into it and though I hadn’t let any other donkeys in I led all three of them.  ‘That’ll be fine’ said the man.  The girl said nothing.  So I left them.  It wasn’t much later when there was another bang on the door.  ‘What now?’ said my wife.  It was the man.  ‘Please’ he said ‘My wife.  We need you.’  My wife grabbed a few things and ran down. I kept out the way.

When she came back she said it was a boy.  Mother and baby were doing well.  But she was surprised that they weren’t surprised it was a boy.  Strange.  We went to sleep.

The Shepherd says

‘I’d been thinking, looking and thinking. I’d been watching that star I told you about.  The other guys said I was imagining it, that all that thinking was playing tricks with my head.  But I’d swear on the Holy Scriptures that it had come nearer, that it was now overhead.

But I was brought back to earth with a bump when suddenly where there’d just been stars the whole sky became alive with light and the silence was broken by what sounded like the most amazing singing.  And it wasn’t just me, the others saw and heard it as well.  I’m ashamed to tell you that my first reaction was to run.  We were all terrified, but something kept us there and that was when we heard it, that a baby had been born, the Saviour, the Messiah, the Lord.  They said it was good news, I thought it was great news.

‘And suddenly …’


As quickly as they’d appeared the sky was back to normal except for that one big star which was now seeming to light up the whole countryside.  ‘What are we waiting for?’ said the chief shepherd ‘Let’s go and see if what we’ve heard is true.’ He grabbed his stick, I grabbed my pipes, another grabbed a lamb (well even shepherds don’t go visiting without a gift) and we ran down the hill.

To be honest I didn’t quite know what to expect.  When we found the place, and it wasn’t hard because the star was illuminating the spot, we went in.  It was a stable, like the stables every home had.  There was nothing grand at all about it, just a stable and what we found there was just a baby – like my little brother when he was born.

Except ….. it’s made me think.  It was ordinary and it was extraordinary.  I felt a kind of peace in that place that’s indescribable – we all did – and we all knelt, there, in the straw.  What a sight we must have been, the young girl, the older man, a donkey and an ox, the innkeeper and his wife who’d heard us arrive – and there in the middle, the centre of attention, the baby.  What a scene, what a night, what a nativity.


And ….

And Jesus says nothing but is the Word that God speaks to the waiting world.

Lord Jesus Christ,
your birth at Bethlehem
draws us to kneel in wonder at heaven touching earth:
accept our heartfelt praise
as we worship you,
our Saviour and our eternal God.


Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Are all your sons here?’ And he said, ‘There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.’ (1 Samuel 16.11)

‘You get a lot of time to think, doing this job. They don’t like you going to sleep, but they can’t stop you thinking. All my family have been shepherds, so it was natural that I’d become one too – a shepherd. You begin just following the other men, seeing how they do it, learning to use a sling shot if a wild animal approaches and threatens the sheep. You have to learn how to move the sheep and the goats on, to find new pasture. You have to learn how to get them into a pen, into a fold. You have to know when they’re not well and you have to be able to count so that you know if one has gone astray. And when you’re learning, sometimes you’ll be sent off, if they can spare you, to find the sheep that’s lost and bring it back. But apart from that, you just sit there – and think.

Holy Land Shepherd in 1898
Holy Land Shepherd in 1898

The other thing you can do, thinking about it, is learn how to play an instrument. Some of us have learnt how to play the pipe and if you’ll excuse me if I say this, I’m not bad at it.

The thing we don’t do often is go into town. You see, down there, to be perfectly honest, we’re not very popular. We have a bit of a reputation for being rough and coarse and smelly, for liking a fight and for swearing. Obviously I’m being polite talking to you but normally when I’m talking to the others – well, let’s say I wouldn’t talk like that in front of my mother!

You’re wondering what the prospects are? Well, I suppose I could be in charge of a gang of shepherds, working for some wealthy owner, but apart from that, not a lot. Except that what I do keep at the back of my mind is that King David started off doing what I’m doing. He came from these parts, probably walked these same hills with the sheep he looked after. It was the harp with him, not the pipes, and he was a great thinker, a great poet, making up those songs

‘The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.’

I can imagine him out here, writing that down. So you see, we’re not quite what those townies think of us. We can be full of surprises, though I admit we are a bit smelly and no one in their right mind would invite us into their home before we’ve had a good wash!

The nights seem so long at this time of the year. I often sit on my own, not too far from the fire, but where I can get a bit of space and a bit of silence. And over the last few nights I’ve been watching the stars. You get to know them, the constellations, quite well when you’re out here as often as I am – Orion, the Pleiades. But over the last few nights there’s been something different, a star I hadn’t seen before. I’m used to comets, shooting stars that sweep across the sky. But this one is different, it seems to be getting nearer but very steadily and it seems to be heading to where we are. The others say I think too much, that’s it’s gone to my head, that I should have another drink and forget it. But I’m intrigued.

A new star in the night sky
A new star in the night sky

So I’m looking forward to tonight when the sun sets and the stars appear to see what the sky will hold. But that’s for later. Now I need to see where those sheep have got to.’

may I watch for the signs of your coming,
may I be alert to you around me,
may I be ready to welcome you into my life.


Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13.2)

To be perfectly honest business had not been good. You see, my wife and I found that we had some spare space once the children had grown up, got married and left home. My wife was a great cook and, well, I like to think of myself as a generous host. I was getting a bit slower – age you know – so the farming I used to do wasn’t as easy. So we decided just to keep a few animals in the stable beneath our living space and take in guests, become an inn. It’s hard changing jobs, learning new skills, from being a framer to an innkeeper. But that’s what I now am, an innkeeper.

'I'm an Innkeeper!'
‘I’m an Innkeeper!’

As I say, business hasn’t been so good. So I can’t say that I was unhappy when those Romans under the Governor Quirinius decided to have a snap registration of all the citizens of the country. Nor was I unhappy when they said that everyone had to go to their home town to be registered. You see, Bethlehem is my home town, so my wife and I don’t have to move, unlike some of our neighbours. But I’ve heard that plenty of people are on the move and they’ll be looking for somewhere to stay. Perfect!

So we’ve been spending the last few weeks since the announcement cleaning the old place and getting it ready to receive guests. My wife got into every corner, even found a coin she’d lost in one of the darker recesses of a room. She swept those floors as if in doing so she kept the law!

My job was beneath, where the few animals are. I changed the straw, cleaned out that old manger, got rid of a bit of the junk that my wife says all men accumulate in ‘their space’. We’re not expecting to use it but with it being under the house my wife wanted it to smell sweeter than it often does. The animals watched me, gently chewing, wondering, I suppose what I was up to.

Finally, we went to the market and got some more provisions, grain – the barley round here is the best in the country and it makes great bread; well, you know that, that’s what this city is named after – Bethlehem – ‘House of Bread’; and some oil so that doesn’t run out, wine of course and some herbs and vegetables.

After we’d stored it all, we stood back and looked at our handiwork. ‘Fit for a king!’ the wife said. I laughed. ‘We won’t find any king staying in this old place’, I said. ‘Well, you know whoever comes will be a special person to me.’ she replied. She is a wonderful woman, always so ready to help, even when it seems impossible to me.

That was all a few days ago and since then things have become a bit manic. Be careful what you pray for, someone once told me – God just might answer your prayers! There’s been a constant stream of people entering the city, looking for a place to stay. We’re almost full and people are still arriving. My wife’s running around the place in order to look after them, a neighbour’s girl has come in to help and I’m trying to make sure that the animals they arrived with are ok. Donkeys mainly, so I’ve put them in a pen round the back, they’re not going in the stable – noisy creatures – we wouldn’t get a wink of sleep.

A new star was approaching.
A new star was approaching.

You know, we were stood outside the front of the house last night. My wife was wiping her hands on her apron and we were just getting a breath of the cold fresh air. The night sky was beautiful. Then my wife pointed. ‘I haven’t seen that star before’ she said. And it was new and large and you could fool yourself in thinking it was getting closer. We went back inside. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

may my home be prepared to receive you,
may my heart be ready to embrace you.


Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey.
(Zechariah 9.9)

You know, I wish I’d been born a horse. I used to say to my mum, ‘Mum, I wish I’d been born a horse.’ And she used to say to me ‘Shut up making such a racket, you’re a donkey!’. Where I grew up, there were some horses. They were kept in a field close by. I used to watch them – long legs, strong body, proud head. And when their owner came, well he was a soldier – long legs, strong body, proud head – they were suited to each other. He jumped on to that horse’s back and they rode off and all you could see was dust. I watched while my Master loaded more wood onto my back.

That was my job you see. My Master was a carpenter and he was working on this building site in a place called Sepphoris. Every time he had a job to do, beams for a ceiling, lintels for a door, frames for a window, the wood was loaded onto me and I had to trudge alongside him to where the wood was needed.

Whilst he was working I had a chance to talk to some of the other donkeys. Some of them had a terrible time, beaten, ill fed, left without water in the heat. Some were skin and bones, some had scars. I was lucky, my Master was lovely, he treated me well and fed me well – that’s why I’m a bit on the broad side, but as I said to a friend, more space to load the wood on to!

I heard them saying that to ride a horse shows your high status, if you ride a donkey it shows your humility. You see, that’s why I want to be a horse, to be proud, not a symbol of humility, not an object of ridicule and fun.

I'm not an object of fun!
I’m not an object of fun!

That’s how it felt until a few days ago. The day began with nothing to suggest that it was going to be different from any other day. And then from the house there seemed to be a load of activity. A young woman and an older couple arrived. My Master was busy getting things together, but not the normal load of wood. Then he came out and flung some bags across me, some skins of water, some skins of wine, I could smell some fresh baked bread. And then the girl appeared. She was wrapped up because it was winter, it was cold, and in the hills you could feel that it might just snow.

My Master came and helped her on to my back. You know, she was as light as a feather. Perhaps it was because I was used to being loaded with wood, I’d grown familiar to a heavy load. But this burden was easy, this burden was light.

The older couple waited whilst we set off. We headed south and I just walked. I didn’t know where I was going but my Master knew and he led me whilst the young woman sat there. They talked but their voices were gentle. I could almost hear an echo of some singing as I went – it must have been wind in the olive tress but it was as though from somewhere I could hear

Little donkey,
little donkey,
on a dusty road;
got to keep on plodding onwards
with your precious load.

Since then we’ve been walking, my Master and me, and Mary, that’s the girl’s name, has been sitting there, carefully, gently on my back. She’s having a baby, I’ve heard them talking about that. So I’m carrying not one but two people. It’s not just she who is riding on my back but the baby as well. And I’m proud – don’t ask me why, but I feel as honoured as one of those grand horses, as important as one of those who pull a grand chariot, as though I too carry a king.

Fit for a king

Perhaps the baby won’t need to ride a donkey again, or maybe the baby will – who knows.

I see some children playing by the roadside, pretending to be me – one at the front another at the back, a pretend donkey. They laugh and I laugh with them. Life is good.

Lord, help me not to want to be who I’m not
but to be fully the person
you created me to be.


Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah. (Matthew 1.16)

Things weren’t too bad actually. I know that when we were having a drink we would complain about the Romans, ‘What have they ever done for us?’ but in fact they’d brought a lot of work to our region. There was a huge amount of redevelopment going on and that meant more money around. If you were good at your trade, and they knew what they wanted, then there was work to be done and if you proved yourself reliable and not a trouble maker then you were almost guaranteed work. Not far away from where I lived was the city of Sepphoris. That was the place where my fiancée, Mary and her parents originated, though they live not far from me in Nazareth now. But since that city was ransacked its being completely rebuilt, the jewel of Galilee, and I’m part of the crew.

Sorry, I should have said, I’m Joseph. If I told you that I was part of the family of King David, that I can trace my line right back to him, you wouldn’t believe me. The work worn hands, the dishevelled look of the working man might make you think that I was pulling your leg. But I’m not – it’s true.

I’ve mentioned that I’m betrothed. It took quite a while to find a wife. Work was taking me away, I had plenty to do, but the years were moving on and I did want a family and whilst I was young enough to enjoy it. I knew this old fellow, Joachim. As I say, he and his wife Anna, came from Sepphoris and I was in the market one day selling a few things I’d made and this old-timer came up and started chatting. When I told him that I was working on the big construction site we became even friendlier – you know how it is with men.


So one thing led to another, I went to theirs for a few meals, all served by their daughter. She was quiet, she was beautiful. I only saw her when she brought the food in, she never looked at me. But she had an air – well, its hard to describe. With some women beauty is on the outside but with her it seemed to be who she is, simply beautiful. I spoke to her father about her. No plans had been made for her marriage and when I said that I would be honoured if he would consider me I was amazed when I wasn’t sent home with a flea in my ear!

That was some months ago. Plans are in hand for the marriage. All was going well, I say was because something unforeseen happened. I was absolutely exhausted. The journeys backwards and forwards to work take their toll, I’m not cut out for commuting! So I’d been fast asleep and all of a sudden I was awake, as awake as you are at midday and the room was filled with light.

It was startling but not frightening. A messenger had arrived – from God – I say it as though it’s an ordinary occurrence, of course it isn’t, but when it was happening it didn’t feel so weird. But what he told me was.

It seems that innocent, beautiful Mary is pregnant! Time stopped for an instance. My world collapsed. What was this joker saying? Mary, who never went out really; Mary, the handmaid? All the options ran through my mind. But before I could say much I was told ‘Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.’

To here she was pregnant was a shock, to be told the child was God’s child was a bigger shock. But just as Mary brought peace with her, so did this messenger. I accepted the words, I accepted God’s will.

At the moment we’re not in Nazareth, but on our way to Bethlehem, Mary and me. You remember me saying about King David. Well, the Romans want a proper census taken so we’ve all had to head home to our ancestral roots. Thousands of people like us are on the move, north and south, east and wet, and we’re just a few days away from the goal of our journey. Mary’s on the donkey, I’m walking beside her. My feet are as sore as my hands usually are. I don’t know where we’re going to stay when we arrive, I don’t know what’ll happen about the baby, I’m meant to be the breadwinner and the protector of my family and at the moment I feel as lost and unsure as dear Mary must.

Nativity Jospeh
I’m trusting, trusting God. When this story is told I bet many a lad will want to play me. Just as long as they show me as solid and dependable, I don’t care what they wear, just as long as they show me as willing to do God’s work, I’m happy.

may I use my hands,
my feet, my mind,
my whole being,
work for you,
whatever that work is.


A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth. (Revelation 12.1-2)

My name is Mary. You will think that you know me well. You will have seen me in so many places, looking down at you, from a window, from a screen, a picture, a statue. You may have lit a candle before me, asked me to pray for you, cried before me, thought that I was the only one that you could talk to. You may have travelled long distances to a place that I was supposed to have visited, appeared in. You may have been in a shrine at which I was the centre of attention; looked to me for your healing, appealed to me for clemency. It’s so strange. You think you know me so well, but I bet you would pass me in the street if our paths could cross, not recognising me at all. In fact, I hardly recognise myself.


I’d lived a quiet life. Having older parents meant that I had to help around the house even earlier than other girls around me in Nazareth did. My mother was finding it hard to fetch the water each day from the well in Nazareth – so that quickly became my job, and the sweeping and the cleaning and then the preparation of the food, the baking of the bread. I would have like to have played with the other girls but I didn’t have time, with all this other stuff I had to do.

It’d be untrue to say that I didn’t resent it at times. Don’t misunderstand me, I loved my parents, but I’d have loved to have let my hair down, just for a moment, even though I’d never really been to many, I knew that I loved a party, a wedding, with the wine flowing and the guests awaiting the bridegroom and the women tending the lamps and the young women waiting to escort the bride.

But my life seemed to be shaped to me being like a handmaid, a servant. When I wasn’t cooking and cleaning I was quiet, I said my prayers, I waited.

It had been an ordinary day when my ordinary life became extraordinary. The chores were done, my parents had gone to market, I was alone in the house, thinking. And then, he was there, speaking to me, a messenger from God. I was scared at first, moved close to the wall where I was sitting as if I could get away. But any fear passed quickly, for the messenger brought peace into the room and into my heart.

And what I was told made me thrill in the core of my being. I was to be a mother, of a very special baby. ‘How?’ I asked. I had been betrothed to a local carpenter my father knew, Joseph, but we’d hardly seen each other and never spent time alone together yet. ‘The Holy Spirit’ was the answer. It was to be a holy baby, God’s baby.

My reaction? Well, I surprised myself. ‘I’m God’s handmaid’ I said. It was what I was used to. I had done it for my parents, I would do it for God, I would do it for the child who was, as I spoke, being planted deep inside me.

That was almost nine months ago and those have been turbulent months. When it became obvious to any one who cared to look at me my mother stopped me going to the well, after I’d tried to go at midday when only those women went who were shunned by the community. But she wanted to spare me that shame and so sent me off to a cousin down south who was also expecting a child.

And then, when I returned home, so that my mother could be my midwife, we were all told that there was to be a count of all the people in the country by the Romans. As I was now about to be married to Joseph (who had been wonderful about all this baby business – my father had chosen so well, a true husband for me) we had to pack our bags and head off to his home city of Bethlehem. I could hardly contemplate the journey – but I had no choice. And that is where I am now, on the back of a donkey, heading from Galilee to Judea.

You think you know me so well, but am I more plaster than flesh for you, object of fantasy and fascination, rather than real? I am a real girl caught up in extraordinary happenings. When one of your little girls is dressed up in blue and white and walks in, pretending to be me, she’s more like me than the statue that you look at. She’s probably really nervous, trying to remember her lines, a little bit of stage fright, not wanting to drop the baby. That was me, the quiet girl at the well, chosen for the purposes of God, a handmaid, not a queen.

Mary, pray for us.
in your humility and simplicity
you reveal so much of God.
May my life be lived more humbly
and simply.


The angel replied, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.’ (Luke 1.19)

It’s not a bad job really. Some of the other angels have a tougher time than I do. Take Michael – always fighting; take Raphael – always with sick people. But you see, I am Gabriel and it’s my job, when there’s a bit of good news to be shared, to take it from God to whoever needs to hear it. I don’t know why I got the job, but I’m not looking for another one.

Everyone wants to be an angel!
Everyone wants to be an angel!

But what surprises me, when I turn up, unannounced – that’s the way we do it, we just appear – some people aren’t as happy with good news as you’d imagine they would be. I went with a message to a priest –now you would have thought he would have been receptive to a messenger from God. And the thing was it was something that he and his wife had been longing for for so many years. Every one assumed that that was it as far as having a family was concerned. But I found him at his duties in the Temple and surprised him with the news that his wife, Elizabeth, was to have a child. But instead of leaping for joy he questioned what I said to the extent that he was struck dumb until the child was born.

Gabriel approaches Mary
Gabriel approaches Mary

But it was different with Mary. I found her at her prayers. She was quiet, nothing more than a girl really and I tried not to shock her. She listened, she asked a question and then she simply accepted what I’d say ‘Let it be with me according to your word.’ And with that I left her.

I made sure, of course, that I was there when the baby was born, but I wasn’t alone, we all turned out, angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven. We filled the skies with a choir and we sang and sang and sang to God’s glory.

‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
And on earth peace amongst those whom he favours.’

Now I watch the children pretending to be me. All the little girls, and some of the boys, want to be angels, to have a halo, some tinsel, some wings reminding people of what we did, what I did. I don’t blame them – it’s one of the best bits of the story. And I rejoice when I hear my own words repeated around the world as people pray

Hail Mary, full of grace.
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.


Her children rise up and call her happy;
her husband too, and he praises her:
‘Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.’
(Proverbs 31.28-29)

My name is Anne. It’s no use searching your Bible for me, I’m not there, don’t even get a mention. Look in the Qur’an and you’ll find me there. I’m described as highly spiritual, they call me Hannah and it says that I’m married to Imran but others say that I’m married to Joachim. It’s all very confusing.

The Virgin and Child with Ss Anne and John the Bapist by da Vinci
The Virgin and Child with Ss Anne and John the Baptist by da Vinci

The thing is that I was old, we’d wanted children but, well it just never seemed to happen for us. I’d known a few women in our family that this happened to. It made some of them bitter, unhappy, as though they were unfulfilled. But, you know, I trusted God, that God knew best.

Then one day I was out. I’d been to the well to collect water. It was winter, the beginning of December and so I was amazed with what I saw. There in a tree was a bird, but not just a bird but one feeding its chick. This wasn’t the season for chicks to be born but here it was. Something stirred inside me, a desire for a child that I’d never quite felt in this way before.

I went home with the filled water jar and said nothing to my husband but instead I prayed. You can read what then happened to me, not in the Bible as I said, but in something written by James, much later. He recorded the event like this

Behold, an angel of the Lord stood by, saying: ‘Anna, Anna, the Lord hath heard thy prayer, and thou shalt conceive, and shall bring forth; and thy seed shall be spoken of in all the world.’ And Anna said: ‘As the Lord my God liveth, if I beget either male or female, I will bring it as a gift to the Lord my God; and it shall minister to Him in holy things all the days of its life.’ (From the Protoevangelium of James)

It was a few days later, the 8th December, I remember it well. I knew – don’t ask me how, it’s a woman thing – I knew that I’d conceived, that a child, God’s blessing was growing in my womb. Over the weeks and months ahead I was proved right. My neighbours and friends were amazed – they’d written me off as ‘barren’. How I hated that word, it made me sound like a useless piece of land whereas God knew that I was fruitful.

It was just as the intense heat of summer changed to the cooler days of September that the child was born. I’d meant what I said to that angel, that I didn’t mind if it was a boy or a girl. When the midwife held up the screaming baby I saw that it was a girl – and she was a gift from God.

We named her Mary; she was an immaculate baby; she was a wonderful girl and as I looked into her eyes as she grew it was like looking into eyes that saw heaven.


I don’t really mind that no one plays me in a nativity play, that many people don’t know my name. Some of us in life are in the wings – and that’s ok – we can’t all be centre stage. But I smile when I see little girls playing my beautiful Mary because the story couldn’t have happened without me – and God.

God of surprises,
as you heard Anne’s prayers
and surpassed them in blessing
so hear our prayers this Christmas
and startle us with your goodness.