Some time ago a friend of mine said that when her husband retired the following year, they were going to do this and that, then other things, and I thought at the time, that I would not be so pedantic about planning that far ahead, and that is coming from a person who likes to know ahead of time, what is likely to be happening. I always preface my plans with " I hope to be doing....." because we do not know what the future brings - just as well sometimes! Unfortunately, the husband of this couple, was killed in a car accident a few weeks later.
Christmas is such a wonderful time of the year especially for Christians, yet the trials and tribulations for Mary and Joseph were enormous and are easily overlooked. They were getting ready to be married and setting up house, which is a big enough event in itself, but overnight everything changed. Mary was to be the mother of the Messiah - that was 'wow' in itself - then when all was settled and the baby was due any day, they had to travel to Bethlehem, about 3 days journey.
After Jesus was born, they set up home in Bethlehem, then had to flee to Egypt, leaving in the middle of the night, a journey of nearly 700 klm, then a few years later, God told them it was safe to return home, but now it was Nazareth in Galilee. No air conditioned cars in those days. And that was just the physical challenges.
What about the emotional aspect?
Joseph must have been so disappointed when Mary told him she was pregnant and not surprisingly, God had to tell him in a dream that Mary had not been unfaithful, but was to be the mother of the long promised Messiah. Imagine having a perfectly behaved child when, later, there were other children.
Then there was the disappointment of no suitable accommodation in Bethlehem at the end of a 3 day journey, with a baby due to be born. It can be frustrating enough looking for a motel at the end of a day's drive, but that is nothing compared to how Mary would have felt.
But the amusing part of this story for me, is the visit by the shepherds during the night. I imagine Mary and Joseph just getting settled after a harrowing journey, makeshift accommodation and the birth of a baby, when there is a loud knock at the stable door. Who could that be? The shepherds knew about the baby and wanted to see for themselves - hadn't the angel told them to do this? Who needed a mobile phone when there were angels to announce the birth of the Messiah? How that story must have surprised Mary and Joseph - what else was God up to?
A year or so later, along the narrow lanes of Bethlehem came the Wise Men with their camels. How people must have come out to stare at these magnificently adorned animals and their passengers. Once again Mary must have been amazed at their story of the star and the men's assumption that a special king had been born. The fact that these non Jewish men were overjoyed at meeting this very special king must also have had a profound effect on Mary and Joseph.
But let's look a little behind the story of the Wise Men. At King Herod's palace, despite his charm to the Wise Men, Herod planned to kill this child whom he perceived as a threat to his dynasty; the religious leaders who checked out the prophecy of a Messiah being born in Bethlehem showed no interest in the Messiah, yet it was the foreigners or Gentiles who recognised the significance of this child, even bringing gifts which represented the life which this child Messiah would live.
Christmas is a wonderful time of celebration, but the real meaning of God coming to earth - the incarnation- requires a response:
Reject - King Herod's response
Neglect - the religious leaders' response
Accept - the Wise Men's response.