She can’t believe it’s happening again. More strangers stepping out of the shadows. First it was her cousin, somehow knowing when she should not have done. Waddling a little under the rosy weight of her own unborn child, as she hurried with happiness and a hug to confirm that Mary was not mad, this was really happening, God was on the move. Then the shepherds, sweaty-faced and wild-eyed, with their story of a sky full of angels, and the message of the baby in the animal trough. And then the entourage from afar. Visitors from a distance, might well have been from another planet, they were so strange. Costumes she had never seen before, faces made-up and bodies perfumed, so many jewels they might have been trees dripping with figs. Camels and servants and so much noise as they swamped the dusty road, the neighbours all eyes and gossip at the sight. And yet again, these strangers bringing crucial confirmation. ‘You’ve had God’s child. A servant king, a divine baby.’ Their presents said it all.
And now this. This slow-moving couple, not gasping and huffing like the animal herders, no glamour like the painted, mystical travellers, just this man and woman, locking eyes with them and squeezing their way through the crush of temple bodies. Everyone else busy looking the other way, worrying about their religious duties. Priests and pilgrims with their agendas for the day. But not this couple. They are coming now, like hunters catching the scent, like treasure-seekers with their eyes on the prize. The years falling away as a temporary urgency of youth fills their ageing bones. The crowds in here cannot, will not keep them away. They are coming to say something, something vital, something other-worldly. And Mary and Joseph stand and wonder and wait. And here it is again. A message from folks who should have known nothing. A confirmation that, in spite of everything, the chaos and the danger and the muddling along, this is God’s plan. Doesn’t look very clean and tidy, doesn’t seem very religious, and yet here it is. The man talks deliberately and slowly, the woman nods with all her might, brimming with hope, itching to spill the message to others, like a bright-eyed wine skin ready to burst, her smile infectious, his words giving them goose-bumps. This ragged scheme is God’s perfect plan. It might look wrong and simple and unsophisticated as the ages pass, but there is no doubt, says the man, his face creased with intent, this is God’s new beginning for this creaking world. And then they slip away, the man nodding and quietly repeating the words back to himself, the woman buzzing from person to person, like a bee collecting honey, or perhaps passing it on: goodness for anyone willing to stop their religious doings for a second and notice that God is in the building.
And so Mary and Joseph move on. Make their quiet, humble sacrifice, nothing grand or noticeable, and slip away again. Mary cuddles the child close as she goes, Joseph keeps a watchful eye on them and the path ahead. They’ve already brought this new baby through so much. And their heads swim as they go, grateful for the courage of these strangers, the faithfulness of so many who should not have known and yet clearly did, about the fulfilling of the ancient promise. God is coming, in fact he’s here, in unexpected disguise, present, simple, small and quietly powerful. So open up, listen carefully, keep watchful. Like those rich, poor and humble strangers.