Mary and Joseph were on an adventure. Well, a journey anyway. Maybe the difference is an adventure is something we choose to embark upon, whereas a journey may simply be the path put before us and where it leads us. Mary and Joseph didn’t choose the path they found themselves on as they journeyed to Bethlehem. That had been chosen for them by a ruler named Caesar Augustus. Actually, Mary and Joseph hadn’t chosen any part of their current path, except their engagement and intention to marry. God had chosen their journey for them when He selected Mary to give birth to His Son, Jesus, and chose Joseph to be the earthly Father of Jesus.
You could say Mary and Joseph were on an adventure but it was certainly nothing of their own choosing. This was the first Advent. Having been told by the angel that Mary was carrying Jesus, the long awaited Messiah, both Mary and Joseph were awaiting His birth as any expectant parents would, yet knowing it was so much more. They were busy preparing for Jesus’s arrival, I am certain, when they were called away to Bethlehem because of a required census ordered by Caesar Augustus.
Kind of hard to get ready for an important event when you are traveling far from home. And this travel was on foot. Well, Mary was riding on a donkey. That couldn’t have been too comfortable for her, being nine months pregnant as she was. But this was not a fairy tale. This was the real life adventure of the first advent – the countdown to Jesus’s birth.
Why am I reminiscing about this now? Because today I unpacked and put out my nativity. Well, one of them anyway. So naturally I am remembering the story of the first Christmas and how it all went down. (the proper wording would be “came to pass”) This is what we are preparing to celebrate, the first coming of Jesus to earth. As we take this time of Advent to reflect and remember, we have a reason to rejoice when we realize all God did for us in sending His Son.
I am doing some remembering today, as I place the figures of my nativity in their proper places. This nativity is from Zambia. It looks very different than some of my other nativity sets and yet they are all the same. Shepherds, wise men, a stable, a star, a manger, a baby, some sheep and an angel, Mary and Joseph and maybe a camel? It is a universal scene portrayed again and again down through the ages. This nativity connects me to my sisters and to Zambia and the people living there. It doesn’t seem that long ago that my sisters and I were there and yet it could have been in another lifetime. Such are the times we live in.
Mary and Joseph were living in difficult, dark times when they made their journey to Bethlehem. They lived under an oppressive Roman rule. They were waiting for a deliverer who would set them all free. That’s how they ended up on their Advent adventure in the first place. Luke 2:1-7 explains how it happened.
“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. . . . And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”
Far from home, no place to stay, no room except where people kept their animals – not exactly plan A or plan B or any plan at all for Mary and Joseph. Except this was God’s plan, a plan the prophets had spoken of centuries before. Just look at what Micah 5:2 says about where Jesus will be born –
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for Me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”
Mary and Joseph didn’t choose Bethlehem as Jesus’s birthplace, God did. I don’t know about you, dear readers, but I have to confess – I’ve looked at this year more as a journey than an adventure. (a fearful, stressful journey rather than an exciting, thrill-filled adventure) Probably because I didn’t choose any of what has happened to me or to those I love this year. I bet you didn’t sign up for any of this either? It has felt like a laborious, uphill climb with no summit in sight. A climb that I didn’t sign up for.
How similar this Advent season is to the first advent. Both take place during dark and difficult times in history. Edicts are being made that we must follow, just like Joseph had to leave his home, his work, his daily life behind and journey far on foot, simply to satisfy the whim of a Roman ruler. Our businesses, schools and places of worship are closed down as are other gathering places like gyms, restaurants, museums and theaters. We are living in fear of disease and death, separated from family and friends when we most need each other. What a perfect time for this Advent season! Dietrich Bonhoeffer explained it this way –
“The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.”
Advent is a time of anticipation. We are anticipating and preparing for the coming of our King! Light is coming into our darkness. This year more than ever, I would imagine that out of our weariness, out of our longing for peace and light to enter into our turmoil and darkness, we would be intentional in our Advent preparations to make ready for our Savior’s arrival.
He has come! He is coming again! I am remembering His first coming as I set out my nativity today. That first announcement from the angel to the shepherds –
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ “
good news, great joy, all people oh, the anticipation, the adventure of Advent!
“And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:5)
sincerely, Grace Day