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.
The old business guru Peter Drucker said that whenever he was called to consult with a company he would ask the leadership two questions: “What’s your business?” and “How’s business?”
He said that he asked the first question because sometimes leadership forgets the purpose of their business. They get sidetracked and lose focus. So he starts by trying to clarify the company objectives.
Peters and Waterman shared a similar concern in their fine work, In search of Excellence. They called it, “Sticking to the knitting.” The writers point out that back in the 70’s and 80’s conglomeration became the rage and many good companies saw their fortunes crumble through poor acquisitions. The problem was, they got into business that they didn’t understand. Westinghouse went into aircraft engines, RCA tried computers, and Exxon tried their hand at telecommunications.
Peter’s and Waterman quoted an article from Business Week concerning the problems of Ling-Temco-Vault. Most today have never heard of LTV. I remembered that company because my dad had stock in LTV and every morning at breakfast he would check the stocks in the Wall Street Journal, and boast about his latest windfall with LTV. LTV was a great company in the 1960’s.
So what happened? Ling-Temco-Vault started as an electronics and aviation company. Then it went into the steel business. Then it bought a meatpacking consortium that included sporting goods. By the time the conglomerate had finished expanding it comprised 33 companies employing 29,000 and producing 15,000 different products.
Peters and Waterman wrote:
“Jimmy Ling was down in Washington appearing before an anti-trust committee describing why conglomerates were not in restraint of trade. He put up a chart that said, “How many people in LTV (then Ling-Temco-Vault) know the steel business?” He had just bought Jones and Laughlin. The answer? A big red zero was the next chart in his presentation. I bet today Jimmy Ling wishes the answer to that hadn’t been zero, because when Jones and Laughlin went down, Ling lost control of LTV”
In July of 1986 this company that was worth $3.6 billion in 1969 ($23.3 billion in today’s dollars), was in bankruptcy. The final asset, “LTV Steel,” liquidated in a second bankruptcy in 2000.
What happened? In simple language, they took their eye off the ball. They forgot why they were in business.
If you plan to stay in business then you’d better know what business you are in.
Church isn’t a business but like those international conglomerates we too can forget why we exist.
Years ago I read the story of some guys traveling through the southern United States. It was lunchtime and they were hungry so they started looking for a restaurant. They stumbled across a greasy spoon with an odd name, “The Church of God Grill.” Curious, they phoned in an order and asked for an explanation. The cashier told them that it was originally a church but finances were tight so they started selling burgers and things to help make up the difference. The burger business took off, but the church kept on declining. Eventually they dropped the church all together and today it’s just a grill.
What’s your business?
No, we aren’t a business, but I still think we need to ask this question. Why are you here? What purpose do you serve?
Sometimes churches forget who they are and gradually morph into something God never intended. I’ve seen churches start acting like a country club. The focus turns inward, and while they may not say it, they certainly live by the unwritten credo, “Membership has its privileges.” Some churches turn into shrines. The key mantra is, “Don’t mess anything up.” Churches can become academies of learning. “Forget about the lost, we’re here to study the Bible.” Some churches become strange self-help centers. Some are like giant pep rallies. Some churches feel like political conventions.
It seems as if there are countless ways for churches to take their eye off the ball.
So what’s your business? If the Lord were to walk into your church and ask that question what would you say? It’s really not a hard question because Jesus defined our purpose in Matthew 28:19-20:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit ,teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
The church exists to tell the world about the beautiful grace of Jesus. When you think about it, church is one of the only institutions in the world that exists for the benefit of its non-members.