“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. Luke 1:38a
The Christmas journey was not part of Mary and Joseph’s plan. Not at all.
Around this time of year, I like to re-read a book by Adam Hamilton called The Journey: Walking the Road to Bethlehem to help me better imagine the Christmas story – a story that we may have heard so many times that we don’t always slow down to marvel at the incredibleness of it all. Hamilton takes a deep dive into the characters of Mary and Joseph, first century Palestinian life, and the actual journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem – which he himself took by foot, car, and donkey while writing the book.
Imagine this: Joseph and Mary are betrothed but unmarried, and Mary becomes pregnant before their marriage – a condition that could result in being disgraced, divorced, or even stoned to death. Yet, incredibly, when the angel Gabriel appears to tell her of God’s plan, Mary humbly says “I am the Lord’s servant…May your word to me be fulfilled.” Just as incredibly, when Joseph is faced with the heartbreak of finding out his fiancée is pregnant with a child that isn’t his, he chooses to obey the angel in his dream rather than to follow his desire to “divorce her quietly.”
Just as the young couple are getting used to their new normal, the rug is pulled out from under them again. Palestine is an occupied territory and Caesar Augustus has his own plan. In order to collect more taxes, Caesar decrees that everyone must travel to their hometown to register for a census. It doesn’t matter that Mary is 9-months pregnant. It doesn’t matter that the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem is a difficult and dangerous 10-day trek. It doesn’t matter that Joseph’s father’s house is already full. Can you imagine how Mary felt facing this unplanned journey? Arriving in a new town and finding herself giving birth to her first son in the part of the house reserved for animals?
Y’all know it doesn’t end here, right? After Jesus’ birth an angel arrives to let the couple know they can’t get too comfortable in Joseph’s hometown. The family become refugees in Egypt, fleeing Herod’s massacre of infant boys. Can you imagine?
When we slow down to grasp the Christmas journey, we can imagine the roller coaster of emotions – the tremendous highs and lows – because we have all had the rug pulled out from under us, too. “I never thought I would be divorced.” “We planned to bring our son home to the nursery we prepared. Instead we had to plan a funeral.” “I hoped to be in this job for many years, now I’m not sure what’s next.” These are just a few examples of unplanned journeys I’ve heard from friends this year.
“All of us take unwanted journeys,” Hamilton reminds. “but God walks with us on these journeys. God works through them and redeems them, and these difficult journeys will never be the end of our story.”
Though Mary and Joseph didn’t choose their journey, God worked through their hardships and sacrifice to redeem all of humanity. Christ, our savior, is born! And we’re still celebrating 2,000 years later. Could Mary have imagined?
Think back to past unwanted journeys you've taken. What are some ways your hardships birthed good things into your life? Could your younger self have imagined the way it would all turn out? Think about today. If you're struggling through an unwanted journey, what promises does the Christmas story hold for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment box below. Thanks for reading, and may your Christmas be filled with joy, peace, and HOPE!