The Biblical story of Christmas is on one hand miraculous and holy and on the other very relatable. Yes, it is the story of a virgin birth, a light guiding shepherds, and a visit from an angel. But it is also a story of trying your best to do the right thing and having so many barriers and road blocks come up along the way.
Mary and Joseph were engaged to be married, wonderful! …and then she’s impregnated with a baby that isn’t his. What a wrench to throw into a new relationship. How would you react in that situation? I’m guessing in most situations, the man would leave, end of story. How does a relationship continue in the face of such an experience?
The Roman emperor Augustus ordered a census taken, which involved going back to your home town. Imagine everyone in America having to go back to where they were raised. Now take away cars and planes… good luck. Now imagine that you or your fiancé are super pregnant and about to pop. She would definitely not be allowed on any airplane at that point in her pregnancy exactly because it is so high risk. For a pregnant lady, riding on a donkey for days seems even more treacherous. How many times would you have given up?
But it’s not over yet. They finally get to an inn, only to not be able to have space inside. As we all know, the best they could do was a spot in the stable. They literally had to sleep with the animals. When was the last time you had a flight cancelled or when you couldn’t get a rental car or a hotel room and were stranded? What if sleeping between piles of animal dung was your best option?
Then there was the whole birthing process, which, as often goes these days, did not follow what would have been their birth plan. Had they been able to stay at home, they would have had experienced midwives. (There aren’t stories of birth in the Bible because men were not generally present at births, and most of the books of the Bible are written by men). So, there they were, in a barn, with inexperienced Joseph being the one to help Mary when it was time.
They could have bowed out at any point and the story would have been very different.
And yet, they did it. They endured. They persisted. Jesus was born.
Yes, we are privileged in our culture beyond being able to really understand what it must have been like, but we can definitely relate.
We can relate to relationship upheaval. We can relate to having to jump through ridiculous bureaucratic hoops at great cost. We can relate to not having plans go our way and feeling all out of hope. We can relate to it all happening at once.
How did they get through it all?
They had a perspective that kept their focus on the bigger picture. They were blessed with the presence of angels to let them in on God’s big plan, giving them a specific bigger picture to keep their eyes on.
Many of us are not regularly visited by heavenly angels or hear a clear booming voice of God, and so it becomes difficult to grab a hold of that clarifying perspective that allows us to truly let things slide that do not matter. We struggle with the frustrations and tragedies that happen, and we struggle with wanting to understand how such pain fits into any bigger picture.
They had angels, so that we could have Jesus. Mary and Joseph didn’t have Jesus to model how to stay true to one’s highest values, turn the other cheek, care for people in times of hardship, or find love and holiness in impossible situations. They did not yet have Jesus to model how to hold tightly to faith when everything points in the opposite direction. We may never know the big plan or have answers to our “whys” but we can know the “how” of how to move forward, how to respond, how to continue.
We have infinite choices about where to fix our eyes and about what to put our faith in these days. An infinite number of roadblocks and challenges will come and throw us off balance. We can let the frustration about the cancelled flight or whatever consume and derail us, or we can be ever turning back to what we value most.