The veil between heaven and earth was paper thin. Legions of warrior messengers stood guard of the Gateway between, but they knew and recognised Gabriel from his frequent visits to the children of God below. Time played tricks when you left the heavenly realms; although Gabriel had been delivering messages for several human weeks, it was barely a blink of an eye in the timeline of heaven. He was glad to be home, a chance to reflect and prepare for what was yet to come. He had left Michael, the leader of the warrior messengers on his vigilant guard over the Holy Family. Gabriel smiled with a deep love as he remembered the short but profound wedding ceremony; four adults and one new-born baby to witness the fulfilling of love and destiny. There was deep understanding between Joseph and Mary, deeper than most would ever experience; but then, as Gabriel reflected, few had experienced the hand and presence of almighty God in such a real and tangible way. ‘These things will be spoken of for centuries of human years’, mused the messenger, as he prepared to enter the presence of God.
Meanwhile Joseph and Mary were making preparations too, it was time to head home, back to Mary’s family. Mary was sorry to leave Elizabeth, Zechariah and the already head-strong John; they had provided refuge and sanctuary for her when she needed it most, but now she yearned to see her parents again. She could well imagine their pain and shame, and the departure of Joseph would have seemed the final act in the shattering of all their hopes and dreams for their daughter.
It wasn’t just the limitations of space in the aging priest’s house that prevented Joseph and Mary fulfilling their love, now that they were married. There was a gentle understanding that their own intimacy would wait until the completion of God’s purposes for them both. Zechariah and Elizabeth smiled blessings upon them as they departed; their sorrow at the parting was eased by the bundle of pure joy that Elizabeth held in her arms. Their journey to Nazareth was long and tiring, but gave them much needed time to talk, and to pray. Mary’s time for delivery would be only weeks away and here was much to plan and prepare. They were confident that their marriage by Zechariah would ease Mary’s parents’ fears, if not completely overcome the shrewdness of the gossip mongers, but there was much to do before the baby, gifted from God, would arrive. They were agreed that Nazareth would be their home for the foreseeable future. Joseph had already some savings put aside, but he would ned regular and well paid work to look after his new family. He would return to Caesarea Philippi, where the despot King Herod was building such magnificent palaces to display his power. It would be difficult to be parted but Mary knew that, while her parents would welcome her with open arms, they had little left to give their daughter a dowry.
Events have a habit of overcoming those who would plan too far ahead. As Mary and Joseph approached the town of Nazareth, they could sense a tension among the people. Everyone was scurrying around, frantically trying to make arrangements. The bewildered couple went straight to Mary’s home. Her parents were thrilled to see her and her new husband. They tried to focus on the social niceties of hospitality which such an occasion required, but it was clear that other news now troubled them. Finally Joseph asked them what had happened. Mary’s father explained, ‘A herald from the Roman Emperor Augustus, came through the village just days ago. He proclaimed that a census was being called and that all citizens of the Empire had to return to the town of their forefathers to be counted. And you know what a census means, don’t you Joseph?’ Joseph looked at his young bride, her tummy already swelling, yes he knew what this census meant, it meant that all their well-reasoned plans were now in disarray. Emperors only ever called a census for one purpose – higher taxes!