O little town of Bethlehem

The countdown to Christmas is on. Last-minute shoppers will clog the stores tomorrow and Saturday. Gifts will be wrapped. Meals will be prepped. Families will start their get-togethers and gatherings. The hustle and bustle of the season is about to reach its climax.

Believers are trying hard to remember the reason for the season. The Incarnation gets lost between the wrapping paper and the bows. Glimpses of Nativity sets offer fleeting thoughts to Jesus and his birth.pexels-photo

I have had lots of preparation time leading up to Christmas this year. It is great because everything is ready for the festivities of family Christmas tomorrow and on Christmas day. I have also had time to think about what this time of year means for me and other believers.

A few weeks ago I wrote about Zechariah and how, even in the silence, we must continue to pray and offer our hearts to the Lord, and I wrote about the joy I have found in reading the prophets this time of year. Last week I finished reading Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and reviewed it for you all. I still stand by my recommendation! Today (for one last Christmas post), I want to consider Mary and Joseph.

The story is familiar. Mary conceives a son by the Holy Spirit, and Joseph, who was not privy to Gabriel’s visit but a just man, determines to divorce her quietly and spare her shame. I often wonder about their relationship (before and after the immaculate conception). I wonder who arranged their betrothal and why and I wonder how they felt about each other. I think about the many conversations they had after Gabriel appeared to Mary. I don’t imagine any of those were easy. I sometimes tend to empathize with Joseph, thinking he would have been justified to divorce Mary for her supposed indiscretion. He’s hurt and angry and embarrassed, but unwilling to put her to shame. And Mary bears the social humiliation of having a child out of wedlock and knows she might lose Joseph, but she’s willing to serve the Lord. This is heart-wrenching stuff.

Thankfully we have the whole story. We know God sent Gabriel to Mary. We know Mary was willing to be used for the Lord’s service. We know an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph. We know Joseph obeyed the Lord and married Mary, despite the social disgrace. God’s orchestration is clear in the Christmas story.

But God’s orchestration didn’t stop when Joseph and Mary got married. It didn’t end when the details of the virgin birth were worked out and God had secured earthly (married) parents for his Son. There is another crucial detail to the Nativity story that often gets mentioned without much thought: Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

Jesus was to be born there, not because of great medical facilities or divine neonatal specialists, but because God had determined it long, long ago. This wasn’t a secret. God used his prophet to foretell that a ruler would come forth out of Bethlehem one day (Micah 5:2). So Bethlehem fulfills Scripture. You probably knew that. However,  Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth—about 70 miles away as the crow flies.

(This is the part that I really, really love!) God made a way for Joseph and Mary to physically get to Bethlehem right in time for Mary to give birth: the census. Joseph and Mary had to go to Bethlehem to be registered. God, in his perfect wisdom, made the way through a seemingly impossible and unlikely situation. God used more earthly means to accomplish his purpose.

The Incarnation is so sweet to the believer because Jesus was born. The Son of God came to earth. This is what we celebrate at Christmas. Sweeter still is the knowledge that God has not stopped working. God is working out everything he determined long, long ago as magnificently as he worked out the way to Bethlehem. We continue to celebrate the Lord’s work in our lives long after Christmas passes. Be like Mary this Christmas: treasure up all these things and ponder them in your heart.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

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