“We have to do WHAT?” I would have thought (and probably shouted). “Go WHERE? Joseph, can’t you see I’m about to pop?”
I’m glad I wasn’t chosen to give birth to the Messiah. Even had I initially responded with the humility and obedience of Mary, “I am the Lord’s servant…. May it be to me as you have said,” my patience would have quickly worn thin. Months of suffering at the hands of town gossipers that surely presumed to know where this child had come from and a fiancé threatening to leave in shame, not to mention the normal trials of pregnancy would have been quite enough for me to question that God’s holy Messiah, God incarnate who would save the world, was actually growing in my womb. After all, it wasn’t feeling as much like a blessing as when the angel had come to announce the good news a few months back.
And when the word came that we would have to make a week’s journey to another city, even if I did get to ride on a donkey or cart or whatever while others walked, it would’ve put me over the edge. Wondering where we would stay once we actually got there, where I would give birth (never having done this thing before), and how I would get through it without the support of close family. And then my worst fears would have come true-nowhere to lay my tiny beautiful baby except a feeding trough for the animals. And those foul smelling shepherds coming in the middle of the night? Disgusting. God, do you know what you’re doing? Are you paying attention to what’s happening down here? Is this what you worked up for the coming of your Son? Are these really the first people you wanted to tell the news? I imagined something a little different.
Yes, it’s a good thing it wasn’t me.
I love the children’s Bible that was gifted to my daughters, The Jesus Storybook Bible. Most children’s Bibles I’ve read hit the highlights of what happened, skipping all of the meaning, assuming it’s too complex for children. But when I read the stories from this Bible with my children I see with new eyes the stories I’ve heard my whole life.
The New Testament begins with the birth of Jesus and the visit of the Magi:
So the three Wise Men followed the star out of the big city, along the road, into the little town of Bethlehem. They followed the star through the streets of Bethlehem, out of the nice part of town, though the not-so-nice part of town, into the really-not-nice-at-all part of down, down a little dirt track, until it stopped right over […] a little house.
But wait. It wasn’t a palace. And there weren’t any guards. Or servants. Or flags. Or red carpets. Or trumpets. Or anything. Did they get it wrong? Or was this what God meant?
Was this really what God meant? For the Messiah to come into the world born to a young girl, of questionable marital status at the time of conception, in a town far from family and home, outside an overcrowded guest house, put down to sleep on a bed of itchy hay? It doesn’t make sense. To me. Is this what God meant? Again, I would have done it totally the opposite.
Time and experience have made me more humble. It happens to many of us. The experiences of life reveal to us that we are not God. I thought I had control, all my plans laid out clearly for God to see and make happen. And then they don’t. I am crushed and brought low just like Job when my will comes into conflict with God’s.
Job didn’t understand what was happening to him. He was never told the reason that his family, animals, home, good reputation, health, everything was taken from him. And the reason still doesn’t seem very fair to me, even knowing the whole story. He realized that he had come face to face with God, when before he had only heard of God. Job had encountered the living God, had a conversation with the Creator of the cosmos, and understood his place in the universe. “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted…. My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:2, 5-6) he confesses.
We, in the limited frailty of our human understanding, cannot always see the larger picture of God’s plan. Even if we could, maybe we still wouldn’t understand it. God’s ways are not our ways. My ways are not God’s ways.
But Mary, she was not like Job or me. She trusted in God, and not in her own ideas of what should be. Instead of questioning, complaining, crying out in anguish, she “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). God’s plan, God’s action with all of its absurdities and unexpected twists, was her treasure, the meditation of her heart.
This long-awaited messiah, “… how would he come? What would he be like? What would he do?
Mountains would have bowed down. Seas would have roared. Trees would have clapped their hands. But the earth held its breath. As silent as snow falling, he came in. And when no one was looking, in the darkness, he came” (176).