One thing that characterizes Christmas is the chaos surrounding the season. The weather makes traffic treacherous, and going to Walmart anywhere close to December 25th is similar to Jim Brown’s iconic run in the Dirty Dozen. And this is just the way it is. Maybe this is how it’s always been?
I say that because as I read through the Christmas story again this season, I thought about the trip that Mary and Joseph took from Nazareth to Bethlehem more than ever. We assume they rode a donkey, but they might have walked, which would have been common in that day. Either way, Mary would have been very pregnant, and no doubt very uncomfortable as well. Joseph would have likely tried to do all he could to ease her burden, carrying their possessions, and doing all he could to make sure they would arrive at their destination on time.
Timing is everything.
When you have somewhere to be, poor timing makes you miss the appointment. Arriving too early may cause you to cut something else short. Ideally we arrive just in time, not too early and none too late.
When they finally arrived in Bethlehem, for reasons not entirely understood, there was no room for them anywhere, except the lowly stable.
Talk about chaos.
You just finished this long trip with your very pregnant wife. Upon arrival instead of relaxing in a bed, you are forced to make due in a barn. And speaking of due, she can feel the contractions coming, they are getting closer and closer by the minute. Her water broke while you were still trying to gather clean water and cloths, but this is a barn, not a hospital, your definition of cleanliness is optimistic indeed. And then the time has finally come.
What we hope for, as we read this story, is that Mary had a quick, painless, delivery, but we don’t know that. She might have had 80 plus hours of labor like my friend Heidi recently had, but those details have yet to be revealed. What we do know is that there in that stable, among the livestock and the hay, Mary gave birth to our Savior and she named him Jesus.
I can’t imagine the feeling there must have been in the air as the cry of the One who Spoke “Let there Be light” erupted in the darkness as his first breath of air escaped his perfect little lungs. The Savior the prophets and angels had foretold had come. The Hope of the world had arrived… and yet they were still in a barn.
His first smells would have been of straw and manure, the dust of grain from the trough would have found it’s way into the curls of the hair on his sweet head. We don’t read that they ever got an upgrade from the stable, the Messiah had come and yet their situation still hadn’t changed. Even so, from what we read, there was still a profound peace that settled on that little sacred little shelter.
And that is one of the mysteries of faith. That even though we face difficulty and trials, God provides us with unexpected and often unprecedented peace in the middle of the storm. It is really hard to believe that it's true until you see it, but I have seen it so many times that is has become a truth I simply can’t deny.
I have seen it recently as we have had multiple friends lose their own children, and then in their grief have found within themselves a profound ability to comfort others in their sorrow. It isn't a strength that comes from their own means, but it extends from a peace that passes their own understanding. Not that they are untouched by sadness, but rather the knowledge of a greater truth prevails. The truth that in Christ we find all the comfort, joy, hope, and peace that we need in any situation.
But it doesn't come as we expect, or even want it to, most of the time.
He came to bring peace, but it isn’t brought in one fail swoop. He came to bring joy, but it is a joy that goes beyond our understanding. He came to bring salvation to the world, but none of these things come in one quick shot. The gifts He still brings comes one by one, heart to heart, and day to day. Our hope and faith are renewed every single morning, and throughout every single day, as He guides us along our journey.
Salvation is a gift that is given, and a gift we continue to wait to receive. We are saved in a moment, and our salvation is being perfected day by day. It is a gift that truly keeps giving. It is a gift reserved only for the willing, the whosoever will, those who choose to believe, to follow, and become what God purposed for them to be.
Perhaps Mary and Joseph knew that better than anyone else as they watched this young Messiah grow. Perhaps they doubted things as the other boys were selected to follow great teachers, and their miraculous Son stayed home learning His father's trade. One thing is for certain though, in the end Mary was there placing her faith in the Son who would be her Savior.
A favorite Christmas song of many believers is Mary Did You Know? The song asks if she could foresee all that He would do, the miracles and the suffering. It asks if she could fathom the immensity of His identity as she gazed upon this child. We are left singing the song and pondering if we truly understand what this Messiah has done for us. And as I contemplate these things I have come to the conclusion that no, she probably didn’t know.
Like us she was likely so consumed with the present reality that there was no way she could project what may happen in the future. And why would she waste time worrying about what would be, when God had given her this miracle right now?
This Christmas, amidst all the chaos, embrace the moments God has given you. Take joy in the victories, comfort in the pain, and revel in the hope of the brighter tomorrow that still awaits. And know that whatever you are facing, we have a Savior who has come to bring salvation, and who is set to come again.