She was a simple-hearted maiden with the light of the morning in her pure face. Straightforwardness and sincerity were in her very pose, and in the look of her clear eye.
She moved with a swift deft noiselessness, and yet there was a lingering, almost like a caress, in touch and speech and pose that seemed to tell much of her inner nature.
It was more than thoughtfulness. It was as if she saw through the common things she touched, saw the spirit of which they are the material expression.
She went the common daily round of simple homely duties. But she saw visions and dreamed dreams, as she faithfully did her appointed tasks.
There was the unconscious innocent artlessness of a child in face and speech and move. Yet if some principle of right came into question there at once came to the fore a will that was anything but childlike in its strength and maturity.
Then the flash of eye and set of face and tenseness of body, and withal a greater quietness of word and manner, revealed the will of iron or better of wrought steel. And crossing Napoleon’s Alps were an easy task compared with attempting a crossing here. Whoever tried never got beyond the trying stage.
She insisted on following every glint and gleam of light that came, however small it might be; and that, too, utterly regardless of difficulties. This was the real touchstone of her character. That is a narrow steep path. It leads out in front of every one’s feet. It is a lonely path, oft untrodden though never unseen.
She trod it, trod it faithfully, every step of it that opened out in front of a step already trodden. This was the touchstone of her spirit, as of every true life.
So she kept her life pure inward, warm and simple outward, and open upward. Yet withal the chief impression she gave was of a simple-hearted maiden, with light step, intent on her task.
This much we learn in Holy Writ of her who was chosen by God to bring to the birth, and to mother the growing human years of His Only-Begotten.
If you see an apple you know there is an apple tree that bore this bit of fruit. The apple is the fruit of the tree. All of the tree, from unseen root to outmost tip of bough, is in the apple.
So character reveals itself in the outer expression. Face and voice, action and pose, are the fruit of the inner life. We all recognize some of the fruit. None of us are very expert in recognizing the finer fruits. But they are all there for eyes that may be able to see.
Her family was one of the oldest in the nation, and one of the most highly honored. For she belonged to the royal line of the great King David. The family records were all sacredly treasured.
But the sore straits of the nation, so sadly commonplace, had affected her family in many ways. In the drift back and forth under the drive of necessity, the unceasing thought for bed and bread and garb, her branch of the family had swung far from the old ancestral territory.
It was in little Nazareth of the north that she had grown to young womanhood. Nestled on three sides of a gentle depression on the hills it yet had a wondrous outlook.
The town crept up the hill as though eager for the best, whatever neighbors might say. It looked out over that great plain that breaks across the hills that run from north and south. Esdraelon seems to elude the vigilance of the lonely Carmel ridge doing sentinel duty by the sea, as though inviting all men to a truce upon a common level.
From the top of the hill just above the town one could look out over the great stretched out broken plain. Yonder thin moving line is a caravan of traders, probably from Syria or far Babylonia bound for Egypt.
Over there that is a group of imperial Roman soldiers galloping along in their reckless aggressiveness, masters of the world. And over yonder that yet thinner, less distinct line is probably some faithful Hebrew pilgrims coming from some far exiled colony to one of the feasts at the holy shrine of Jerusalem.
Over on the left lie the hills that rise up toward the historic fortress city of David. In front beyond the broad broken plain lies the great blue sea. That sea is the whole outer world. It is indeed the Mediterranean, the Center-of-the-earth, Sea. All lands and peoples and tongues and warfares and cultures slope down somewhere to its shores.
And up here to the right lies hoary Hermon in its grandeur, crown of all the northern mountains. And at the back you can see the land sloping down to the yellow-brown, twisting, watery barrier called the Jordan, and beyond that the hills rising again toward the sunrising.
This was one of the two books in Mary’s scant home library. The world opened its pages wide at Nazareth.
I have no doubt that many a twilight found her climbing the hill, perhaps with some bit of needlework in hand, to sit and sew, and look out, and dream dreams and see visions.
For she had learned to read—a little, spirit reading. And she had that gift, that is given to simple, thoughtful hearts, of seeing through things out and in to the real unseen that makes and moulds the seen.
The other book she had was the Word of God. Two wondrous books those, the Word of God and the World of God. The first opens the eyes for the only clear full look at the second. The only clue to the world of God is the Word of God.
Without that it is a hopeless tangle, an enigma without an answer. But with the clue-book at hand all clears. At least it clears enough to keep one from being befogged, and to hold his feet steady, and make him watchful for more light.
And Mary used this old first book. That is quite clear. I do not mean of course that she had a scholar’s knowledge and grasp of the old Hebrew writings.
But she clearly did have what was within the reach of any thoughtful person busy with the daily round of common life. She knew the language—the phraseology—of the one Book which comprised the whole literature of her people. She had drunk deep of the spirit of the Book.
She knew the past of her people. She felt to the quick their national humiliation so inexpressibly deep and sore, and still holding them in its shameful bondage.
She glowed over its picture of the future. She knew Isaiah, and the others, and believed them. She took at full value all the old visions of a wondrous future with a wondrous King, and all that.
She couldn’t make it fit with present conditions. She couldn’t figure out how the change would come. She did not try to. Orientals don’t go to figuring out processes. They leave that to the Westerner. ’Twere blessed if more of us were more Oriental in this regard.
But she believed. In her simple heart she thought and longed, she burned and glowed, she prayed and expected, really expected. This much is clear.
She went her daily simple round, household duties, the trips back and forth to the one village spring where all went for their water, synagogue service on the seventh day, neighborly intercourse, and so on.
But her heart was full of deeper things, of which she knew, she understood, little
but believed and hoped and yearned and brooded and expected much.
Her family had arranged her betrothal in accord with the customs of her people. She had come to the age when this should be done. And, no doubt, after much thought and interchange, arrangements had been begun and carried forward until the betrothal was duly arranged and celebrated with all the formality common among her people.
Her betrothed would naturally be a fellow tribesman of the same famous tribe of Judah to which her own family belonged. Things have come up to this point in her life when our story opens.