No one ever listens to girls. Not in my world. No one listens when we have something to say. No one believes us when something amazing happens. No one believes us when we get used and abused.
I was by the hearth when it happened. I don’t know where my mother and father were. Or my brothers. I was by the hearth making bread, little flat breads dropped on a stone. It was one of my tasks.
I heard a noise. I thought it was the buzz of insects. But it was feet on gravel. I heard a voice – an unfamiliar voice, clear; it could have been a man or a woman’s. One word, ‘Hello.’
And then a face poked in through the door. When I think about it now I think it was a young face. Beardless. But I can’t be sure. I thought, ‘Oh. You’re beautiful.’
I wasn’t scared when he – when she – walked in. I know I should have been. After all, the visitor was a stranger.
I should have run. But I stood my ground. And when she spoke – the more I think about it, the more I think she was a she – she was kind.
‘Mary, I’ve got something to ask.’
She knew my name. She might have got it from someone, but somehow I knew she hadn’t.
‘Who are you?’ I asked.
‘You already know,’ she said.
And I did. I knew she was God. Or her messenger. I knew she was an angel.
‘Will you say yes?’ the angel asked. There was fear in her voice. As if any answer might be the wrong one.
I had felt womanhood stirring in me for months. My mother had told me what to expect. The itch in my chest. The stab in my belly. The blood that would come.
I knew what was being asked.
I said, ‘Why me?’
I had two questions. ‘Will they hate me?’ ‘Will they hate the child?’
God wept. I stared.
‘Will you do it?’ she asked.
I gave the answer I knew I’d regret.
Do I look like a fool?
I might not be shiniest nail in the box, but that doesn’t mean I deserve to be treated like a pillock.
That’s what I felt like she’d done. Mary. My intended.
She’d told me she was pregnant.
I laughed when she first said it. It would be typical of her jokes.
But from the look on her face – fierce, determined, scared – I saw this was no joke.
I stared at her and I couldn’t speak.
I saw that she thought I might hit her. Or spit on her.
That’s what made me angry. That she could think that of me.
I wanted to get out. I wanted to shout.
I kicked a chair across the room.
Mary stood her ground.
I felt ashamed. To lose my temper like that.
I breathed deep and said, ‘Who’s the father?’
‘God,’ she said. Artlessly.
I laughed again. A sneer, really. I didn’t deserve to be insulted.
I walked towards the door. I’d drop her. Release the obligation. It was more than she deserved. She deserved to be publicly shamed. Stoned.
‘Joseph,’ she said. Just one word. ‘Joseph.’
It was the way she said it that mattered.
It wasn’t pleading. It wasn’t full of tears. There was no fear.
It was gentle. It had authority.
It was her voice, but it was not her voice.
It was a voice that knew me. That was more intimate than a whisper in my ear. It was a voice – impossible though it sounds – that knew my body better than I could.
It was that voice that stopped me.
It was that voice which told me I should try to trust her.
It was that voice which helped me say, ‘Yes.’ To her. To God.
– Rachel Mann, A Star-Filled Grace: Worship and Prayer Resources for Advent, Christmas & Epiphany (Glasgow: Wild Goose, 2015), 20–21, 23–24.