Purple with sunrise, the last of the night’s clouds drift toward the sea. I pass through our gate and start up the rocky, winding path toward home. A dozen cows graze on the hillside to the north. Tales lift and swing as they nuzzle and pull tufts of summer grass. Father and mother left early for the market and took my sisters with them. With a morning alone I have ground some winter wheat and gone to draw water to bake some bread.
The path flattens out as I reach the house. The clear, cold water rolls and pitches in the bucket at my side. I pause to rest, and pass the bucket from one hand to the other. But as I do I am startled. There is a man sitting on the bench in the shade at the side of the house.
For a moment I feel fear climb my back and gather my scalp. As I look at him I realize that this is not a man of the village or the countryside. This is not a man of anywhere nearby or even across the sea. This is someone else. Something else. Perhaps not a man at all, but like a man. He has lovely skin, without blemish. His face is like sculpture, strong and bold, with deep brown eyes. His head is covered in a thick mane of hair the color of weathered ivory. It is pulled back and woven into a braid of more strands than I can count.
As I stare the visitor looks at me, stands, and takes a step toward me. Then, all in one motion, as if without effort he is standing next to me.
He takes the bucket from me and sets it in the grass. He then speaks to me. “Hello beautiful one. The Lord is with you.”
He wears a common shepherd’s cloak but speaks in such a way that causes me to listen with my whole self. I let the words settle over and warm me like the morning light. This simple greeting ā€“ it is not like any greeting I’ve ever heard. The words…the tone lifts me from within and seals my gaze.
“Have no fear, Mary. God has graced you.” The visitor takes my hand and leads me into the shade. We sit together on the bench. “You are going to conceive and bear a son. Be careful to call his name Jesus. He is going to be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. He will be granted by God the throne of David and will rule the house of Jacob forever.”
How is it that I will be a mother? Does this one not know the simple girl that sits here with him? Do I look like the mother of a king? He speaks of Yahweh’s promises with such ease. Is this visitor a wandering prophet?
I take back my hand and sift through the questions that spin up onto my tongue. “But I have not been with a man.” I say.
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the Highest will shadow you.” The visitor motions toward the sky. “This Child will be called the Son of God.”
I watch the visitor stand, this one who has come. Unexpected. To see and to speak with me.
“Know this too, Mary. Your cousin is now well on with child. Even in her late age the barren one now knows that nothing is impossible with God.”
I have not seen Elizabeth in nearly a year. I determine that I must spend the next feast with her.
The visitor looks at me and says nothing. He simply smiles ā€“ not in happiness or out of friendliness, instead a delight breaks across, a joy covers his face.
And as this one looks at me I believe. Even as he turns to leave, the message ripens into a revelation. I think of telling mother and father of the visitor ā€“ perhaps one of my sisters. Then I think of telling Joseph. But will I tell of it or wait, save it for a time, hold it close?
As he walks away, into the shadows of the date grove, toward the fields of rye, his words hang in the warming air.
Conceive.
Bear.
Name.
“May it be,” I whisper. “I am Your servant.”
Alone again, I bend to grasp the handle of the bucket and I feel a joy.
A hope for what will become of me.