Elizabeth Berg is one of my favorite authors and when I accidentally found her Christmas story, The Handmaid and the Carpenter, it seemed the perfect companion as I listened to Christmas carols and sat before the burning logs on my television screen on Christmas Eve. Berg’s cadence lends a Biblical tone to the well-known tale, but her modern explanations would probably scandalize Sister Eugene Marie, IHM.
Although the good sisters in my Catholic upbringing urged belief without question, Berg frames the character of Mary as one who questions Joseph, authority, everything – a budding teenager with a zest for life and an affinity for herbs and plants. Sixteen year old Joseph is not thrilled to learn of her pregnancy, but marries her anyway. He seems not as convinced of angel intervention as Mary, although Berg supplies a scene with Mary and a stranger that offers an alternative reality. The romance blossoms into a fruitful marriage, with many more children after the auspicious birth of their Son.
Alternating between Mary and Joseph, Berg keeps to the traditional story, offering their inner thoughts and fears, but always carefully and reverently maintaining the Biblical references. I read the book in a few hours and enjoyed the peaceful feeling it left with me.
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