We all know that the Christmas story is the greatest story ever told. But what do you figure it was like from Mary and Joseph’s perspective? I mean, what did it feel like in the moment? I have a hunch that the greatest story ever told started out like the worst day of Mary and Joseph’s life.
First they had to deal with the rumor mill. The whole town of Nazareth buzzed with the scandal of an unexpected pre-wedding pregnancy. And now they are on this ridiculous ninety-mile walk from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
Think about it. She’s nine months pregnant! You have to know that Joseph went down to the Tax Office and pleaded his case with the indifferent bureaucrats.
I can just see her seated behind the glass window with a sign that says, “Take a number and wait to be called.”
Three hours later Joseph is still sitting in the mush pot fumbling with an odd shaped piece of paper that says, “83” when he hears, “Number 83 window six.”
Joseph hands her the number and pleads his case, “We can’t go to Bethlehem now! My fiancé is nine months pregnant!”
An accusing eyebrow rises above the horn-rimmed glasses.
“What difference does that make?” Joseph protests, “She’s a human being. She’s nine months pregnant and she can’t walk 90 miles right now?”
“Better build a cart or buy a donkey. NO EXCEPTIONS! NEXT!”
If you are traveling ninety miles on foot with a female that’s nine month’s pregnant I can assure you that you had no choice.
This is tough stuff. And the whole way you are wondering why?
In hindsight we know why they were on that road. There were at least three strong reasons.
First, it was prophecy
Micah 5:2 predicted that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.
Micah 5:2 “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.”
This prophecy was uttered 700 years before Jesus was born. 700 years. That would be like someone writing something in 1315 about what will happen today.
What was even happening in 1315? 1315 is 177 years BEFORE COLUMBUS DISCOVERED AMERICA! THE DISTANCE BETWEEN MICAH 5:2 AND THE NATIVITY WAS MASSIVE. Nobody even remembered it.
Matthew 2 tells us that when the wise men arrived in Jerusalem looking for the King the Jewish leaders had to pull together the historians and scholars and try to figure it out. Someone finally came up with the answer and quoted Micah 5:2. The next thing you know the Wise Men were headed to Bethlehem.
So what? So… I think its fair to say that Joseph and Mary had NO IDEA why it was important for Jesus to be born in Bethlehem! NONE. That was a forgotten 700-year-old prophecy.
But God doesn’t forget a thing like that. He put it there to validate the authenticity of Jesus’ Messianic claim.
Second, it was promised
David was born in Bethlehem. God said that the Messiah would come through David’s lineage.
Third, it was pictured
This is just a bit of icing on the cake. Bethlehem means “House of Bread.” Of course theBread of Life would be born in the House of Bread.
Why were they on that road? God wanted that baby to be born in Bethlehem.
So yeah it makes perfect sense to us standing with Bible in hand and looking back over two thousand years of history. But in the moment they couldn’t have known all of that.
For them it was just another major hurdle in a decidedly inconvenient heavenly scheme that made no sense at all.
Maybe that’s where you are right now. Perhaps you are on your own road to Bethlehem and God’s wonderful plan for your life makes about as much sense as a heavily pregnant woman walking ninety miles to the delivery room.
Here’s what we must remember. God seldom does one thing at a time. The story is always multifaceted and in the moment you can’t see any of that.
Yes, in the end it might turn out to be the greatest story ever told, but in the moment it’s the worst day of your life.
How do we survive on the road to Bethlehem?
This is where faith comes in. Faith is believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.”
Walking by faith means that when the way is unclear and you can’t understand God’s purpose you trust his goodness.
It worked for Mary and Joseph. It will work for you too.
Read Proverbs 3:5-6.
I love the old comic strip Calvin and Hobbs.
Calvin is in an overstuffed chair, his back to the reader. The TV is bouncing wildly on the stand. Calvin is mesmerized. Calvin’s dad is behind him looking over his shoulder at the Television and Calvin says,
After his dad leaves the room, Calvin, without ever looking up from the set says,
Bill Watterson, the creator of the strip, made an excellent point. Consumerism, entertainment and spirituality really are odd companions.
In fact, when you back up and look at it with cool skepticism, the whole thing is . . .well sort of odd.
For example, why do we drag a dead tree into the house and hang gaudy things all over it? What in the world does that have to do with the birth of Christ?
Imagine a stranger from another land visits your house at Christmas. “Why are you doing that?” he asks. “We are celebrating Christ.” “Oh, who is that?” “He’s the son of God.” “I see,” he says, “your god is a tree.” “Well, no.” “Then he was born in a tree?” “Not exactly.” “Born in a forest?” “No,” you reply, “a stable.” Was it a forested country?” “Actually it was semi-desert.” By now he’s really confused, “So was it a wooden house?” “No, probably a sort of cave.” “Any trees in the stable?” “I seriously doubt it. Mostly cows sheep and goats.”
“So why the tree? Uh, . . . I don’t know.” For that matter, why the lights? Why are we climbing roofs, risking life and limb to string lights that don’t work? I don’t know. But it’s what we do.
And I’m not saying we shouldn’t. I love everything we do. I’m just concerned that the real purpose for the party is being lost in the celebration. Jesus is the reason for this season.
Without Christ Christmas doesn’t make sense.
Let me suggest two things that will help to keep the purpose in your Christmas preparations.
First, don’t allow the busy preparations to keep you from His quiet presence.
Second, in preparing for Christmas don’t allow your material passions to overshadow His spiritual purpose.