' A 12 year old boy has been missing for 3 days and grave fears are held for his safety. He was thought to be returning to Nazareth with his parents but each parent thought he was with the other and in the company of many of his friends who were travelling together. The parents returned to Jerusalem and are searching for him there.'
Imagine the headline and opening paragraph in the local paper, if this happened today. We know that Mary and Joseph found Jesus safe and sound at the temple, but that didn't diminish the anguish they must have felt. On reading the Christmas story, it is easy to miss the many anxious moments Mary and Joseph faced - life was not easy for them.
Joseph had to deal with his bride to be becoming pregnant and certainly not by him. Imagine receiving a visit from an angel - something you wouldn't forget in a hurry. With that settled, as a carpenter, I imagine Joseph would have made a crib and nursing chair for Mary and other furniture needed for their humble home, but a few days before the baby is due, they have to up and leave all that behind and head to Bethlehem. That might have been inconvenient enough but a very pregnant Mary would not have looked forward to a few days on the road, and there certainly was no air conditioned comfortable car in which she could ride. Then, when they arrived with no internet booking, there was no-where for them to stay. What was God up to?
I have read conflicting reports of the stable - some say it would have been clean because that was where the family animals would have been kept, while others call it a dirty stable, but by today's standards, and that is how we assess situations, it would not have been the ideal place for Mary to give birth, especially for a first baby. No midwife, no female relatives to help, just her new husband. And no sooner had they settled in for the remainder of the night, than there was a knock at the stable door, and here were these strangers all excited about this new baby. Possibly Mary and Joseph had felt a little disappointed that they could not convey the great news of the safe arrival of their baby because they knew no-one in Bethlehem, but little did they know that God was not going to let this momentous event go unnoticed. He immediately let the shepherds know in a most spectacular way, while at the same time, in a far away land, wise men were studying a bright new star.
I am so pleased that with all the difficulties they had so far faced, Mary and Joseph were now having some moments of joy starting with the visit by the excited shepherds. When Jesus was eight days old and they took him to the Temple, seemingly out of the blue, Simeon and Anna both rejoiced at seeing the Messiah, even an eight day old Messiah.
The family settled into their new life at Bethlehem and all seemed fine till the very spectacular arrival of the wise men. That in itself would have been exciting but oh no, not again, they had to leave everything behind and this time flee in the night, to Egypt. They were not in a crowd as we have seen the movement of hundreds of refugees lately, but this would have been just as depressing, especially as Jesus was now a marked little boy.
And yet again, God told them it was time to leave Egypt which they did, but avoiding those who were still on the lookout for this king whom the wise men had sought.
Life was not easy for Mary and Joseph - after all they had gone through, imagine having a perfect child in amongst your other children - but in all their joys and sorrows, they were faithful to what God had called them to do.
Christmas is a wonderful time to stop and appreciate all the blessings of God's coming to this earth as a helpless baby. He showed us his great love and how we should love others, but as I think about Mary and Joseph's joys and sorrows, so many 'first world' problems pale into insignificance. A number of years ago I wrote a Christmas carol and I shall conclude with the last line of that song -
"While we may have plenty, many have nothing at all.
Christmas, share this Christmas, God's love to all."