My dear cousin Elizabeth,
I have wanted so much to visit with you again, to see you smile, to hear your voice and spend some peaceful moments in your garden. I don’t know when I will be able to visit, so I have decided to write to you to let you know how I am doing and where I am.
I hope and pray that you, Zechariah and your son John are all well. Joseph, my husband, sends his love.
So much has happened since I stayed with you before the birth of your son John – it seems now as though that pleasant memory was only a dream. Joseph and I were married soon after I returned to Nazareth and began our married life together. Those first few months of our marriage were a joyful time for Joseph and me, as we quickly learned each other’s habits and needs and found great solace in living together. About four or five months after our marriage was celebrated, the census demanded by Rome was announced. Joseph was required to travel to Bethlehem from Nazareth to register, as Bethlehem was the birthplace of his ancestor David.
I traveled with Joseph to register for the census even though the date of my child’s birth was close. I wanted Joseph to be present when the child was born, and thankfully, he was. Joseph was such a great help to me when the child was born and continues to be my dearest friend and confidant. He is a wonderful father and is overjoyed at the presence of the child in our midst.
I had no difficulty in giving birth to our son. We have named the child Yeshua as we were instructed before his birth. Because of all the travelers coming to Bethlehem for the census, Joseph was unable to find suitable housing for us until after the birth of our son, yet with God’s providence we were safe and secure. Joseph found daily work once Yeshua was born which has provided for our needs. We planned to return to Nazareth as soon as our son was presented to the Lord and hoped to visit with you and Zechariah on our return journey home.
I have looked forward with great anticipation since Yeshua’s birth to the day of my purification. How I longed to be in the Jerusalem Temple once again, lifting up my eyes to the Holy of Holies from the women’s court and feel in my heart the Lord’s presence with us. I have missed the sense of closeness to God that I once felt in the Temple as a child, even though I know that our loving God is always close to us wherever we may be.
Once I completed the rites of purification, it was time for our son Yeshua to be presented to the Lord. The Temple was full, as it almost always is – the sights and sounds were overwhelming. The air seemed alive with expectation; the sun shining bright and clear with a nearly cloudless sky. The day was perfect. There were so many people milling about, offering their praise to God, praying aloud or silently, with their faces uplifted with wonder and a sense of peace.
As we walked toward the place where Yeshua would be presented to God by the high priest, we were approached by the old woman Anna, whom I remember fondly from so many years ago. Anna’s face was lit by an inner light – she seemed almost young again and was full of joy. I was surprised and delighted when Anna reached out to our son Yeshua, longing to hold him in her arms. As I relinquished Yeshua to her grasp, Anna cried out with words of joyful praise. A small crowd gathered around us, all appeared to be delighted to see our infant son.
Not long after Anna approached and spoke with us, an old man, Simeon, joined our small gathering. He too reached out for Yeshua, taking him from Anna and holding our son aloft in his arms. Simeon spoke a prayer of such intimacy and joy, it was as though he had been waiting a lifetime to see and hold Yeshua.
“Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel”.
Joseph and I stood quietly aside, both of us stunned and speechless. How could this elderly stranger Simeon and ancient Anna know anything about our son? Who has shared this knowledge with them? We have told no one. Only to you, Elizabeth, and your husband Zechariah has this knowledge been revealed by our gracious and loving God.
Simeon blessed Joseph and me and then took me aside, away from the others who had gathered around us, to give me a word of warning: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and the rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted and you yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
After presenting Yeshua to the priest for the ceremony, Joseph and I quickly left the Temple and Jerusalem, hiding our child under my veil, as we were concerned and frightened by all that had happened and had been said to us. Once back in our temporary home in Bethlehem, we prepared to return to Nazareth the next morning. Joseph made a quick trip to the market to purchase the remaining needed supplies and before eating a light supper, he watered and fed our faithful, little donkey. How we have depended on this sweet little creature of God for his service to us through all this time!
We had not been asleep long when Joseph reached out to me and woke me: “Finish packing quickly”, Joseph whispered almost frantically. “We need to leave Bethlehem at once!” I complied, without question or comment, spurred on by the fear I could see on Joseph’s face and the rapid beating of my own heart. I wrapped the sleeping child in my cloak, lifted him to my shoulder and followed Joseph as we walked hurriedly away from our Bethlehem home. Our faithful little donkey made no noise or complaint when Joseph roused him from his stall and led him away before us. When we were all safely away from Bethlehem, Joseph related the message of the angel which God had sent to him earlier that night in a dream: Herod was preparing to send troops to Bethlehem to seek out Yeshua and kill him. God had warned Joseph that we had little time to flee to safety.
We were so thankful that the night was dark, illumined only by the twinkling stars. Even the moon, which was often bright this time of year, did not show its light until nearly morning. The road to Egypt was easy to find, and as we walked quietly, we could see in the sky behind us the light of fires illuminating Bethlehem and hear the sounds of screams and cries as the soldiers rode into the town, killing all the younger children and any parent who tried to hide or protect the children. Simeon’s prophecy was already coming true! My heart was breaking even as we walked, and I cried silent tears for all those who had been hurt or killed by Herod. The memory of that evil act haunts me still.
For quite a few days we traveled only at night, hiding whenever we were approached by riders on horseback, fearing that Herod had sent his soldiers to find us. It took several weeks to make the journey into Egypt. Joseph assured me that in that strange land we would be safe from Herod. Once we had crossed the river into Egypt, we found another Jewish family who kindly offered us lodging until Joseph could find us a temporary home and obtain work to sustain us. We have been here in Egypt since then.
How I long to return to our homeland, to my friends and family and our little home in Nazareth. Joseph and I are daily reliving our ancestors’ struggles to make a life when they were sent into exile. We both understand now how our ancestors yearned for the sights and sounds of home, and how the ancient songs and prayers of our people sustained the faithful during those years away from the land God had given to us.
We are so grateful to our powerful God for the protection He has provided for us during all this time away from home. Joseph finds frequent work to provide for our food and lodging. Our son Yeshua is healthy and strong and seems to grow more each day. He is a happy child, always smiling and cooing and seldom frets except when he is hungry. We have even made a few friends among the Jewish population in this strange place. We are praying that God will soon instruct us to return to our own land and to Nazareth.
If at all possible, Joseph and I will visit you in Ein Karem on our way to Nazareth. I am praying that the time to return home will be soon. Until we meet again, dear Elizabeth, I think of you daily and whisper little prayers to God to keep you and your family happy and safe. I am confidant that our gracious God hears my whispered prayers and answers them.
All my love,