FOR OUR next story we visit Nazareth, a village in Galilee, nearly seventy miles north of Jerusalem. Galilee, as we have seen, was the northern province or division of the land, lying between the river Jordan and the Great Sea. The lower part of Galilee is a great plain, called “the plain of Esdraelon,” or “the plain of Jezreel,” where many battles have been fought in past times. The upper part of Galilee is everywhere mountains and valleys, with villages perched on the mountain tops or clinging to their sides, and sometimes nestled in the valleys. Just where the plain ends and the mountains begin, we find a long range of steep hills. If we climb to the top of this range, on one side we see the plain stretched out, and far in the distance the Mediterranean Sea; and on the other, or northern slope of the hills, we come to the city of Nazareth. There the mother of Jesus lived as a young girl before her son was born, and there Jesus lived during most of his life.
Nazareth is there still, although many of the old towns in that land have passed away, and now it is quite a city, but in the time of which we are telling it was only a village. All around it are hills. One can stand in the town and count fifteen hills and mountains, all in sight.
Its narrow streets climb the hills between rows of one-story white houses, many of them having a little dome on the roof. Around each roof in those times of which we are telling was a rail with posts on the corners, to prevent any one on the roof from falling off, for the flat roof was used as a place of visiting and of rest, since the house inside was dark, having no glass windows, but instead only one small hole in the wall. None of these houses had a door opening upon the street. Beside the road was a high wall, and in it a gate leading to an open court, at one end of which stood the house.
In the village was one fountain, to which all the women went for water. There were no wells or pumps or pipes with water in the houses; and around the fountain might be seen in the morning a crowd of women bringing water-jars empty, and carrying them home full of water, balanced on their heads. No one often saw a man carrying a jar of water, for this was looked upon as a woman’s work.
In one of those small white houses of Nazareth lived a young Jewish girl named Mary. We do not know how she looked, for although many artists have made pictures of her, all have drawn or painted her as they imagined her to be, not as she was. All that we really know of Mary, we read in two of the four gospels, Matthew and Luke; and neither of these tell us anything about her early life or her family. It has been said that her father’s name was Joachim and her mother’s was Anna; but this is not found in either of the gospels, and we do not know whether it is true.
We do know, however, that she was a pure-hearted, lovely girl, who served the God of Israel with all her heart and lived a holy life. She knew her Bible well, we are sure, for its words came readily to her lips; and she was a girl who thought much and talked but little. In those years she might have been seen often going with the other girls of the village to the fountain for water, or sitting in the women’s gallery in the church, listening thoughtfully to the reading from the Bible, and with her rich young voice joining in the chanting of David’s psalms.
In that land girls are promised in marriage while very young, and Mary was at this time promised to be married to a man named Joseph, who was a carpenter, or, as he is called in the gospels, a worker in wood. The two families, Joseph’s and Mary’s, were not rich. They belonged to the working class of people, but they were not like many, wretchedly poor. They were just plain, honest, working people, able to earn a comfortable living.
Although Joseph and Mary were of the common people, they came from the noblest blood in all the land. Both were sprung from the royal line of David, the greatest of the kings of Israel, and the singer of many beautiful psalms. They lived in little one-room houses, and their hands were hard from work, but they could trace their line back to the palace where David the founder of their family dwelt.
On one day Mary was alone. It may have been in her own little home, or upon its roof, where she often went for prayer, or perhaps under a tree on the hillside near the village. Just as Zacharias a few months before had seen a heavenly, gloriously-shining being in the Temple, so now Mary beheld the same angel Gabriel suddenly beaming upon her. In a sweet voice he said:
“Peace be with you, Mary! You are in high favor and love, for the Lord is with you!”
The voice was gentle, but the sight of this shining form filled the young girl with alarm. She knew not what to think, nor why this glorious being had come to her. But after a moment the angel went on speaking, and said:
“Do not be afraid, Mary, for God has chosen you among all women for his special favor. You shall have a son; and you shall give him the name Jesus, because he shall save his people from their sins. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest God. God shall give to him the throne and the kingdom of his father David. He shall reign forever over the people of Israel, and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”
The angel paused and Mary found words to speak, tremblingly and with fear:
“How can all this come to me? I do not understand what it all means!”
Then the angel spoke again to the troubled and frightened girl:
“The Holy Spirit of God shall come to you, and the power of God shall be upon you; and therefore that holy child that is to be given you shall be called “The Son of God.” Also, let me tell you that your cousin Elizabeth is soon to have a son in her old age. This may seem strange to you; but no word of God is without power. Every promise of God shall surely come to pass.”
Then Mary said:
“I am the Lord’s servant, and I can trust him. Let it be to me as you have spoken. I will rest with-out fear in the will of the Lord.”
Then, as suddenly as he had come, the angel vanished out of sight, and Mary was left alone. She was filled with wonder at what she had seen and heard. Any young Jewish girl to whom came the news that the words of the prophets in the Bible were now to come true, that the long-promised King of Israel was soon to be born, and that she should be his mother, would be amazed and perhaps alarmed at the message.
Some girls would have talked about it, and might even be proud at such an expectation. But Mary’s was a quiet nature, not apt to speak of her deepest thoughts. She felt in some way that there was no one in her home or in her village with whom she could speak of these things. She hid them silently in her heart, but thought about them day and night.