Can you believe we are almost there? Almost to Bethlehem where that little baby would quietly slip into the world that He created, clothed in flesh and humanity, bringing peace and light into a world of chaos and darkness.
As we've journeyed toward Christmas for the past 14 days we've traveled all the way from Genesis to the gospels, trying to wrap our brains around the enormity of that special birth. We've looked at God's huge love for His creation, His people. We've reflected on our great need for one to save us from our own self-destructive ways. We've glanced at our inability to get ourselves right with our Maker. And we've taken a few legs of the journey to remember that there are still so many in our world who live in darkness, ignorant of the good news of Christmas.
Today we'll actually travel into Bethlehem with Mary and Joseph, two very young people who have faced one shock after another in recent months. They are traveling to Bethlehem for a census. Joseph must report to Bethlehem, the homeplace for his family, the house of David. But of course Mary is great with child. That means she is miserably pregnant - experiencing the pains of pulled tendons in her abdomen, suffering from a little indigestion perhaps, having trouble sleeping, wrestling with the moving baby as she tries to get comfortable, and walking on swollen ankles and feet.
Joseph surely has plenty going through his head. Did he do the right thing by marrying Mary and not putting her away? If the angel's message is true, how can he possibly act as a father to the Son of God? Not to mention, just the normal worries that consume a new husband and father.
Our journey has been one of biblical reflection. Theirs has been much more personal, much more tiring, and much more like jumping off a cliff than a sentimental journey.
While you've been reading my words each day, I've been reading the simple but profound words of another author. Years ago Barbara Robinson penned The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, a simple intermediate level children's book that later became a TV movie starring Loretta Swit. With wit and fresh tenderness Robinson tells the story of how the Herdmans, a gang of wild and unruly brothers and sisters who are on a first name basis with CPS workers, change a small town church's Christmas pageant for the better.
At first it appears the Herdmans' antics will ruin the pageant before it even takes place, but in the end the "worst kids in the history of the world" managed to teach everyone something new about the evening Christ was born. When Mary (played by Imogene Herdman) shows up with a black eye, the wisemen (played by the Herdman brothers) come bearing their food-basket Christmas ham instead of precious oils, and the angel (Gladys Herdman) shouts a hardy "Hey! Unto you a child is born!" the Christmas play takes on a decidedly real tone.
The narrator describes it this way:
"It suddenly occurred to me that this was just the way it must have been for the real Holy Family, stuck away in a barn by people who didn't much care what happened to them. They couldn't have been very neat and tidy either, but more like this Mary and Joseph (Imogene's veil was cockeyed as usual, and Ralph's hair stuck out all around his ears). ...
Since Gladys was the only one in the pageant who had anything to say she made the most of it: "Hey! Unto you a child is born!" she hollered, as if it was, for sure, the best news in the world. And all the shepherds trembled, sore afraid--of Gladys, mainly, but it looked good anyway."
As I read this delightful book each night and chuckled at the antics of the Herdman herd, I had the opportunity to look at the events of that special evening afresh. Not that the Herdman rendition was more accurate than Luke's by any means, but perhaps their take on the events of that first Christmas were more true to life than what I've pictured in my mind's eye all these years.
We've tended to glamorize that first Christmas Eve quite a bit, don't you think? We assume that the stable somehow smelled more like a freshly painted nursery than a barn. We picture Mary and Joseph with clean clothes and freshly combed hair instead of having the well-traveled look and smell. We envision gentle, sweet-smelling sheep and cows sitting by and gazing with tenderness at the young couple. And we assume the labor and delivery of the Savior happened instantaneously, with no pain or fear for the teenaged mom. Finally, there's the tendency to see Mary as a saint instead of an average, but godly young girl with a few skin blemishes, oily hair, and timid eyes.
So today as we travel the last few miles to Bethlehem, approach a crowded inn with Mary and Joseph only to be turned away, and finally settle in at what might have been nothing more than a small cave, let's be real about it. Let's do our best to paint a more accurate picture of what that holy night might have been like. Let's allow Mary and Joseph to be anxious, exhausted, and young. Let's breath in the odors of the animals, the weary bodies, the earth. Let's take in the darkness of that night, the fear of the unknown, and the crowded condition of that city.
And there, in the realness of it all, we'll see that holy is not restricted to clean and perfect. Holy happens in the everyday, the common, the earthy, the imperfect...in teenagers like Mary and Joseph....in children like the Herdmans...and in people like you and me.
Hey! Unto you a child is born!
Labels: Christmas, Journey to Bethlehem