Having a house full of sickness was not my plan for the first couple weeks of December. It set back plans I had for a December Photo Project (after three days of pictures with me on the couch, knitting needles, and a sad kid face in the frame, I gave up), it scaled down preparations I was making towards hosting and all put an immediate stop to any kind of shopping. It meant our daily advent plans have many days gone unattended, and my own personal reading has been sporadic in its rhythm. But as I wrote yesterday, it has created quiet and space in a different way than I had envisioned, and that has been its own kind of gift.
There is an Advent discipline that I have heard encouraged, where you try to place yourself within the Nativity Story. In this way, there is the hope that you can experience anew some of the realities that may have become old hat, or rote and sterile after so many years of hearing the words read in church and sung at Christmas concerts.
Last night my oldest boy was expressing some sadness as he thought about all his grandparents and extended family never being able to be with us at Christmas. We realized we could relate somewhat to Mary and Joseph being far from their families during one of the most important moments of their lives, the birth of their first child. Were they better able to wonder and worship because they were alone? And anyone who has had a surprise pregnancy, perhaps at what appeared the most inconvenient time, can (albeit to a much smaller degree, but a degree just the same) feel the tremor in Mary's question, "How can this be?"
I want to share the following chapter from a book I have lying around my house and like to read now and then during these Advent days. I share it in honor of someone near and dear to me, who just told me yesterday she is very unexpectedly expecting her fourth child, and is feeling more the burden than the joy of it just now.
"A Plan Behind the Pain"
(excerpt from A Christmas Longing by Joni Eareckson Tada)
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..." (Luke 2:1, 3-6).
The distance between Nazareth and Bethlehem is no Girl Scout hike. It spans over sixty miles of rough and rugged terrain.
We can imagine Joseph packing a few belongings and beginning that journey on foot or donkey-back with Mary-- well into her ninth month of pregnancy. Talk about unpleasant circumstances! How Mary must have suffered on that journey. Joseph, too, may have been gripped by anxiety over the situation. Can you imagine his thoughts as they traveled toward Bethlehem?
Why did this census have to happen now? Of all times! What if the baby comes while we're traveling? Where will we stay when we get to Bethlehem? What if the inns are full? When the time comes, what if there is no one to help? Will I be able to assist Mary? Will it be terribly hard on her? Will the child be in danger?
But it was necessary to make that several-day journey to Bethlehem-- for more reasons than one. Hundreds of years before, God prompted His prophet to name the town of the future Messiah's birth. The city of David. God used external circumstance, the Roman census, to have His Son born in His ancestral city.
Now, certainly, it was a great inconvenience to both Mary and Joseph. But unpleasant circumstances often have a way of becoming the best part of God's magnificent design. Despite the heachache and hardship, the inconvenience and discomfort, God's sovereign timetable was ticking off right on schedule.
This Christmas story has a lesson for us today, because sometimes you and I make the mistake of thinking that only the "right" things or comfortable things are a part of God's design. A good job, robust health, close friends, a comfortable house, money in a savings account-- all give us the impression that we must be doing something "right." Then, when the inconvenience or discomfort or hardship hits, we wonder what "went wrong."
Maybe nothing went wrong.
Maybe we simply need to realize that our most unpleasant circumstances, much like Mary and Joseph's, often have a way of becoming a beautiful portion of God's magnificent design.
God's sovereign timetable is working in the life of your family, too, hard as that may be to accept at times. Despite the hardship, despite the inconvenience, despite our lack of understanding, God has something in mind. He is in control, and He has a design for your life this Christmas season... and through all the seasons of your life.