Now the madness begins. We are less than one month away from Christmas. Today is Black Friday though there have been Black Friday sales since August it seems. Temperatures have finally cooled down from the 90’s and the weather seems to fit the season. Many of us have leftovers to eat on for a couple of days. There is nothing like day old green bean casserole, or pumpkin pie with a generous spray of whipped cream for breakfast. And by this time over 2,000 years ago, Caesar Augustus had already issued his decree that the entire Roman world should be enrolled. This was a census of sorts to determine how much tax the Romans could collect from their citizens. There are estimates of over 4,000,000 heads of households that were counted in this census.
Each family had to go to their hometown to register. That meant Joseph and Mary would need to travel from Nazareth in the north to Bethlehem just south of Jerusalem. Bethlehem was the city of David, Joseph's forefather. It is a journey of about 90 miles which seems like nothing today. But then, it would be a journey made on foot, with Mary riding on the back of a swaying donkey, ready to give birth. It would have been a very long 90 miles. And there was no choice.
We have had a challenging year this year. A census, pandemic, contentious election and racial divide and unrest. And those are just the big things. I would venture to guess Mary and Joseph had a challenging year that census year as well. They were engaged to be married until the angel Gabriel appeared and turned their world upside down. All their plans went out the window. No doubt they had a hasty marriage but not the town celebration that weddings usually were. Joseph had had doubts. Mary endured the looks and gossip of the townsfolk. Who knows what their parents were thinking, and now a trip to Bethlehem.
So, while we rush around gathering presents, baking, shopping, mailing, Mary was gathering what they would need for their journey and for their newborn child. This child would be born away from home and family. That too should have been a celebration for the town. But being born in Bethlehem would fulfill one of many prophecies written about this child, Jesus. She would have gathered food for the journey. They were not wealthy by any means so they would look for inexpensive accommodations. Suitcases were not necessary. No one in those days had that many clothes. And they would need blankets and swaddling clothes for the baby.
But this was no ordinary baby. Joseph knew it. Mary knew it. They were living in God's will, challenging as it was. This child Mary was carrying was the Son of God. How careful she must have been to protect Him. And how protective Joseph was once he wrapped his head around what was really happening to them. There must have been some worry. What if the baby came early? That would have been difficult too for traveling. Or what if the baby came while they were on the road? This, they realized, had to be put in God's hands.
We have an advantage. We know how their story ends. The story had been set to music. It is read in hundreds of different languages by people young and old. Kids and youth have memorized it for programs at church and school. Even Linus, with his trusty blue blanket turned shepherd's turban, has spoken the story of the birth of Mary's firstborn child. If you close your eyes you can hear Linus say, I can tell you what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.
What we do not know is how our story plays out. We do not know what the rest of this year looks like. We don't even know what the rest of today looks like. But what we do know is this. The son that Mary birthed was indeed the Son of God. We know that Mary and Joseph raised Him to be faithful, following the traditions of their faith. We know that while we celebrate the birth of this child, the real reason He came in the first place was because our sins separated us from God, and He came to make a way for us to go back. We know this Son grew into a man who loved people fiercely. He showed people the vastness of God's love for His people. He healed and forgave sins. He taught and performed miracles. He chose twelve men to be His disciples, carrying His message of God's saving grace into the world. We know the real reason He came was to suffer and die, taking our sins away so we have eternal life with Him.
Old Simeon told Mary a sword would pierce her soul. She tucked those words away no doubt wondering what they might mean. She would find out eventually. But right now, there was a baby’s birth to prepare for, and a trip to make. God would go with them. It would not be easy, but the best things never are.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W