Sunday, December 18, 2011

Mary's Christmas: The Journey – Isaiah 43:2-3a and Luke 2:1-7

Today we continue our Advent series, Mary's Christmas. This story, the birth of Christ, is so well known. Therefore, we are going to spend our time this year looking at this story from the point of view of Mary, this very young girl that was placed in a very strange situation. Two weeks ago, we began with Mary, by looking at who she was, the situation she faced, and the lessons of faith we can learn from her. Today we are going to look at the journey her and Joseph took just before the birth of Jesus. That journey that took them from Nazareth to Bethlehem and what they endured during those days and the encouragement, perseverance, and hope we can glean from their experience.

I Don't Wanna!
Debbie and I are part of what is referred to as a clergy couple; meaning both members of the marriage are clergy, or pastors. There are a good number of us in the Florida Conference, high twenties, low thirties. However, in this district there are three of us fairly close together. Being a clergy couple comes with its own set of situations and concessions and to have others that can understand that, that live that, is a blessing. Well shortly after Debbie and I arrived in Ocala we got with the other clergy couples and proposed that we get together periodically to have dinner and form a little group together. So about once a month, usually on a Friday, we rotate serving dinner for the entire group at each of our houses.

Several months ago, one of those days was approaching. I had had a rather difficult week, was exhausted, and the last thing I wanted to do was go hang out at someone elses house. I just wanted to veg on my couch and relax. But I went, begrudgingly. As the evening progressed I could feel myself relaxing. We ended the evening, sitting out on their patio around the fire they had made in their fire pit, making smores. I do not know about you, but I love watching a fire. The colors, the embers, it is very relaxing for me. Imagine, me needing to relax, and by going where I did not want to go, found a relaxing moment better than any one I could have created at home on my own.

Life is a Journey
By going on that short journey to another person's house, I found exactly what I was looking for, exactly what I needed. You see our entire lives are a journey. Journeys of self discovery, of reflection, of growth. We are always progressing towards something. Sometimes these journeys are planned, sometimes they are not, sometimes they are welcomed, and sometimes they are not. Sometimes others dictate our journeys, as we get laid off from work, a child dies tragically, a spouse leaves. Someone once said that, “No other book is more in tune with this reality than the Bible. You could almost describe it as one long set of journeys nobody wanted to take.”1

In our Scripture lesson from this morning we find Mary and Joseph on a journey of their own, to Bethlehem. At this point many things have happened to Mary. Remember, Mary is thought to be about 13, 14, or 15 years old and up till the Annunciation, where the angel told her that she would give birth to a son, and she was to name him Jesus, and that he would be the Messiah, she more than likely lived a fairly sheltered life. Doing the chores required of her, living in innocence, not too many worries to weight her down. But now, my how things have changed. As we talk about those changes this morning, I want us to pay attention to what Mary might have been feeling, the questions she might have been asking, and the emotions she might have been dealing with.

Mary's Journey
After the angel's visit, Mary immediately leaves for her cousin Elizabeth's house in Ein Karem, a nine day journey. Mary would not have taken this journey alone, but rather as part of a group of people, not necessarily relatives or friends, but a group none the less.

During these nine days, Mary would have had plenty of time to think, plenty of time to examine the message from the angel. Now with no video evidence, no cell phone camera recording, Mary would have to rely on her memory about the event. And those questions of, did I really hear that correctly, is this really going to happen, could begin to creep up. Remember, this immaculate conception had never happened before, she is not showing any physical sings of being pregnant, and there are no witnesses to this encounter. Not to mention that if all of this is true, her life is going to get very hard, very quick. Can you see how she might be having these thoughts?

You see, if she is pregnant, she could be stoned to death, her parents could shun her, Joseph could break off the engagement, she could be left alone to care for a child. I can only imagine the doubt, the fear, the second guessing that is running through this young girl's mind.

Then she arrives at Elizabeth's house and after seeing Elizabeth is with child, she sings the Magnificat and praises God for her blessings and the favor she has found with her Lord. But things are not suddenly all rosy for Mary. In Nazareth, Mary's hometown, she is a nine day trek from her fiance. In Ein Karem she is 45 minutes. She has more than likely never met Joseph, she certainly has not emailed him to tell him of her condition. But now, there is a very real possibility that in the three months she is staying with Elizabeth, her and Joseph would meet. How is she going to tell him, how is he going to react. Fortunately, Joseph is also visited by an angel and given confirmation of what Mary will tell him. But it still is not over. Now Mary has to go back to Nazareth, more than likely to tell her parents, but to also plan a wedding. On her nine day journey back home, more time for thinking, more time for fear to set in, and on this trip she is definitely dealing the physical complications of being pregnant.

Now once home a hasty wedding is planned. Mary is showing and there is some urgency to have Mary married prior to giving birth and with Mary spending the last three months in Ein Karem, time is running out. Now if any of you have been to a wedding that just seems to come out of nowhere, our first question is, “why?” Why are they rushing it? So I want you to imagine all of the looks, questions, false happiness that Mary might have had to deal with at her wedding. A day that I am sure she imagined much differently before all of this happened.

Now Mary gets a break right? The wedding is over, the people have gone home, and all she has to do is give birth and since she is in her home town, with her family, mid-wife of her choosing, things will be okay. Right? Wrong! Caesar Augustus decided that he wanted a census of all the people in his land and ordered everyone to their hometown to be counted. But Mary is home, so no worries. Except that she is now married to Joseph, is part of his family, and must be counted in Bethlehem. Another nine day journey, her third.

This time though, she is really, really pregnant, close to full term, if not full term. This trip, this route, would encompass little shade in the day, little warmth at night and difficult mountains to cover. Can you imagine the thoughts that are going though Mary's head this time? Why? Why do we have to be counted? Why do we have to be counted now? Could this not wait? Could you not have postponed this and let me have the baby? Why am having to make this trip for the third time? Not to mention the worry that both Mary and Joseph are both facing about whether or not they even make it to Bethlehem before the baby is born. But they do make it. But this is not over.

As they come into town, they see a sea of humanity because everyone else is back as well. Now we read in Scripture that there was no room for them in the inn. What we need to understand is that Joseph was more than likely not looking for what we consider an inn; a building with many rooms and an inn keeper. Joseph was probably seeking out a kataluma, or guest room. Most homes had them, his parents home probably had them. But for whatever reason, they were all full. That left the stable as the only place they could go for shelter.

This time of year we love to sing songs like O Little Town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie. Or Silent Night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright. While those qualities may have been found eventually, for mother and child, it is important for us to know they were not always there.

But in all of these situations, in all of these journeys, there was always one constant, God. God was always present, guiding them, listening to them, directing them, and taking care of them. In those times of doubt he was there. In those times of darkness he was there. This Advent season please understand that God always walks with are never alone.

If you want to feel his presence a great place to start is right here, come to this rail and seek it out. If you have lost that feeling and want to feel it again, do not leave today before coming to this rail and asking for it. Mary experienced anything but a silent night as she prepared to give birth. And even though she may have had doubts, even though she may have asked questions, she still followed God. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Is. 43:2-3a, NIV). For these are the words of God, they are true, and they can be trusted.

1. Hamilton, Adam. The Journey. Companion DVD

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