By Georg Dreissig

On their way to Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph could not avoid traveling through a forest that was barren and arid. Thorn bushes grew in profusion amidst bare trees, coarse bushes full of sharp thorns without any leaves. They grew rampant across the path, reaching out to the travelers and tearing their clothes. Even if human beings were able to squeeze through with difficulty, the donkey was not as lucky and suffered greatly. From all sides, thorns stung his sorry hide again and again, so much that finally the poor creature did not want to go on. You could ask nicely, you could scold it, it did not help: the donkey did not budge. Standing stock-still, loudly it wailed: `He, haw,’ when Joseph raised his stick.

Then Joseph started to scold the thorn bushes for making their journey so difficult. Mary, though, gently putting her hand on Joseph’s arm, said to him: `Dear Joseph, do not be angry at those poor bushes. They can’t help having to carry thorns, this place is so arid. I am sure that they would like to carry fragrant roses for us and for our child, once they had enough water.’

Raising her eyes to the heavens, she prayed: `Lord, please let your grace stream down as dew, enlivening all. Then the thorn bushes will be as they really intended to be all along.’

Barely had Mary spoken her prayer when a gentle dew began to moisten the bushes. Gladly, they drank the water. Then their thorns fell away, and gorgeous roses began to bloom in their place, shining with strong colors, their joyous scent permeating the air.

Gratefully, Mary and Joseph offered their thanks for this miracle. And the roses that so suddenly had begun to bloom on the arid thorn bushes? Mary was so glad of them! She gathered a bouquet and took them with her. The roses did not wilt and remained fresh and fragrant as Mary carried them on her arm, hidden beneath her mantle.

The donkey took courage and, becoming cheerful again, inhaling the spicy air trotted on pluckily, on towards Bethlehem. Having come at last in the neighborhood of Jerusalem, she and Joseph met three Roman soldiers. Acting as if they were important lords, from afar they called: `Out of the way, out of the way for the Roman army!’

Innocently, the donkey continued on its way, meeting them head-on. For its pains it received such a clout on its hide from the roughest of the trio that startled, it sprang aside. Mary and Joseph had already sought the grass verge; even if there was room to spare for everyone, they did not want to pick a quarrel.

That exactly was what this loutish soldier had been looking for. Looking at Mary standing so meekly at the side of the road, he stood just before her, laughing and jeering. `Hey, my little birdie’, he bawled, `what are you hiding under your mantle? Let’s see whether it’s something we could use!’ Grabbing under her mantle, at once he pulled back his hand, scratched and bleeding. Cursing and raging he shouted: `What are you hiding?’

Mary opened her mantle to show him her bouquet: nothing but twigs and thorns. Amazed, he was silent.
His mates came to stand next to him and one of them said: `Let her be, Varus! Who knows what sorrow she yet will have to bear. Would she otherwise have carried thorns with her?’ Shamed and sorry to have accosted these poor people, he was silenced; then he followed his comrades.

Looking at the thorns in her arm, Mary wondered. Had not the dew of God’s grace made them bloom into roses? Had the roses gone? Had everything already come to an end?

Joseph, seeing her so dejected, softly put his hand on her shoulder and said: `Dear Mary, please be content that they have bloomed so long. Now please throw away all those bare and thorny twigs.’ Shaking her head, Mary answered: `No, I will not throw them away, knowing as I do their secret flowering. How could I ever throw them away!’ Gently she covered the poor twigs with her mantle, even if they had no need to be wrapped up that carefully.

Continuing on her way, the words of the Roman soldier resounded in her heart: `Who knows what sorrow this woman yet will have to bear. Would she otherwise have carried thorns with her?’ ‘Let people think whatever they want,’ Mary thought. ‘The thorns really did flower; would I then scorn my poor twigs? No, I will take them with me to Bethlehem.’

All of a sudden, she smelled again the strong and joyous scent of roses. Carefully looking beneath her mantle, Mary saw the twigs flowering in full glory. These were the roses that continued to bloom for Mary, until she had borne the Christ Child in the stable in Bethlehem.

SOURCE: ‘Wood of Thorns’ and ‘The Roses’ Secret’ have been retold in the Denver Letters to a Diaspora [68], after stories by Georg Dreissig in his Das Licht in der Laterne-ein Adventskalender in Geschichten, Verlag Urachhaus, Stuttgart.
Arie Boogert and Anna Marchant, 1997