Saturday, February 6, 2010
The First Christmas: What Could Have Actually Happened by Er Nuylan
Description from Amazon.com:
Martha discovers the young Mary's pregnancy by chance on their way back to Nazareth from their three months stay with Elizabeth and her husband, the priest Zechariah in Judea and keeps the secret to herself until she can disclose the matter in the appropriate time.
Mary intends to reveal it in the proper time, too, knowing that she cannot keep it for long - at her third month of pregnancy, everyone will notice it eventually; but Martha divulges it to Mary's parents before the young girl had the chance.
Mary knows how to say the truth exactly, and says it when confronted by her father - "it is by the power of God and the Holy Spirit". She had rehearsed with Elizabeth how to say it and determined to stick to such a statement no matter what happens.
However, they know it is impossible for a woman to conceive without a man involved. It contradicts the way of God's process of procreation - that God, being purely spirit, had given man, Adam and Eve, the responsibility for procreation. Her father points out that "God does not go around cohabiting with and impregnating women." Even if they believe her, being the parents who love her most and can turn a blind eye for the sake of parental love, who will believe her from among the people in the society?
They know who exactly the only man she had been with and conclude the obvious as everyone else would.
They wail at the foreseeable tragedy - the chosen people of God who strictly adhere to the Mosaic laws to the letter, will not hesitate to cast the stones... demanding death.
Three months prior to these events:
The young Mary, barely out of her puberty, but betrothed to Joseph, lives the ordinary life of every girl in her time and place -- pious and dedicated to the tenets of her faith as everyone else among the people of Israel. She dreams of every girl's natural course in life - be married, raise children, and be the household's mother, supporting the husband to make their home a dwelling of place of God.
But the turning point comes with the visit of the angel who announces that she is favored by the Lord from among all women to give birth to a son who she should name as Jesus -- the promised Messiah.
To her question of how possible is it for a virgin like her to conceive without a man, the angel replies that her cousin Elizabeth, although old and barren, is in her sixth month of pregnancy, "by the power of God and the Holy Spirit."
Understanding the meaning of the task commissioned to her, she rushes to her cousin Elizabeth, of the house of Zechariah, to fulfill the prophecy - with the servant and distant cousin Martha in tow, her escort and ticket to an otherwise forbidden journey. It's her way of getting around against the wishes of her parents, and of Joseph, the man with whom she is engaged. Social norms require that the betrothed stay put at home until taken home by her man in a "home-taking ceremony", a part of the marriage process.
Now, having fulfilled the prophecy of conception, she comes back home, victorious of the God-given mission, but along with it comes the people's judgment that she had broken the law.
Paperback: 298 pages
Publisher: Outskirts Press (November 8, 2009)
My thoughts:"The First Christmas: What Could Have Happened" is the story of Mary's journey from her visit with the angel who foretold the birth of Jesus and His conception and birth. It uses currently held beliefs of what life was like at that time, the attitudes and customs the people had, and then creative ideas to put together a story. It was not the story that I was expecting and I am afraid it may not be the story for everyone. Mary's faith in God is inspiring and Joseph's tough decision on how to proceed with the unexpected pregnancy show true character, but the manner in which the conception occurs goes against my beliefs and colored the rest of the book for me. When the conception occurred I put the book down for a few days and wasn't sure if I was going to be able to finish it.
It is interesting to consider what parents today would think and feel if they were in Joachim and Anna position of having their teenage daughter claim to be pregnant “by the power of God and the Holy Spirit,” after having not been with a man. The fear her parents have of her possible punishment by death by stoning is well portrayed. Faith plays a big role and the author also paints the backdrop of what the region was like politically at that time. I received this book for review from Reader's Favorites. After submitting my review to them I looked at what other readers had thought about it on Amazon.com and found that the other ratings were really high. Maybe I will be alone in my issues with this book, but I really didn't care for it. The one thing that threw me right from the start is the way the cover was done. While the title according to the CIP is "The First Christmas: What Could Have Actually Happened" the way it is on the front the "could have" is very light so it looks like it reads, "The First Christmas: What Actually Happened".