The Journey to Bethlehem
It’s getting close now. Mary’s long journey to Bethlehem is almost over. The whole long journey of all of history is about to pivot on the hinge of one tiny Baby’s birth…a light is coming to shatter the darkness…hope is dawning…everything is about to change.
As we’ve been counting down the days and lighting our candles around our Advent wreath, slowly moving the carved Mary around the wooden circle and adding our ornaments to our Jesse tree, I’ve been thinking about Mary’s journey to Bethlehem—her 90-mile trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem, very pregnant on the back of a donkey, moving probably no faster than a casual walking speed. A slow journey through and around and near cities that were rooted deep in history, cities full of centuries of stories…all of them, every story, leading up to this.
She probably travelled near the Valley of Jezreel, where Mount Carmel could be seen from the distance – the place where Elijah called down fire from heaven, where Jehovah won a signal victory over the false god Baal and proved He really was the One True God. (1 Kings 18)
She may have gone right past Shechem, where Abram built an altar after the Lord appeared to him and told him, “I will give this land to your descendants” (Gen. 12:7) – and where, years later, Jacob too built an altar and named it "El-Elohe-Israel” (Gen. 33:18-20)
And though Sychar, the home of Jacob’s Well – where Jesus would one day meet a Samaritan woman and offer her “living water.” (John 4)
Maybe even through Bethel, Mary perhaps even resting her head on the same rocks where Jacob dreamed of angels ascending and descending from heaven on a ladder (Genesis 28)…Mary, now with baby Jesus—the One who would become our Ladder to heaven, who descended from heaven to be near to us, to make a way for us to get to heaven—resting and waiting in the darkness of her womb.
Past Mizpah, the city where Jacob made a treaty with Laban, a city whose name means "watchtower" because Laban said, "May the Lord watch between us to make sure that we keep this covenant when we are out of each other's sight" (Genesis 31:43-55)...the same place where Saul was crowned the first King of Israel (1 Samuel 10:17-24).
And then on through Jerusalem--a city deep with history, where King David had even once made his home--before finally reaching the little town of Bethlehem, the place long foretold as the birthplace of the Messiah…the same place where all of Jesse's sons once stood before Samuel and the smallest and youngest and least-likely-to-be-king son, David, was anointed as the next King (1 Samuel 16)...the town where Mary’s long journey ended in a lowly stable…where all of history hinged in a humble manger.
I’ve been thinking about the whole of this Story—all of history—this great love story of God. This story of God coming for us…for all of us…since the beginning of all things and through all things...His love still coming for us today, relentlessly pursuing our wandering hearts.
Every Old Testament story was pointing to the Messiah…and every story ever since has been pointing to our Savior.
But the story did not unfold as everyone expected…and it is still unfolding in unexpected ways. There were centuries of waiting, countless years of silence. Many lost hope, many turned to other gods, many grew disillusioned and lost their way and forgot to remember the promise God had made.
And then…slowly and quietly…Hope came. But not as anyone expected…Hope came small, as a tiny infant surrounded by the stink and dust of a stable…and salvation came on a cross, through a death that brought life, through blood shed that washed away sins…and then victory came an impossible way, through an open grave, when Jesus rose from the dead and crushed the curse of death and hell.
And now we wait again, for our soon returning King. And things are not unfolding the way we might have imagined…many have lost hope, many have turned to other gods, many have grown disillusioned and have lost their way and have forgotten to remember the promise that God has made.
I’ll be honest, this year I’ve grown a bit weary. I’ve seen the world through slightly new lenses—lenses that have slowed to really look into the face of others, with ears that have slowed to really hear the stories of others…others that are outside my little circle, outside my comfortable walls, outside the little box that I’ve created for myself—and what I’ve seen is disheartening and heart-breaking. I’ve been aching a bit this Advent…aching for our Savior to come and make all the bad things good and all the broken things new and all the sad things untrue. I’ve been aching for those who don’t know Jesus…and wondering, when they see those of us who call ourselves followers of Christ - when they see me - what do they really see? Do they see Him? Do they see His hope? Do they experience His love?
I ache for our world. For the warring and the fighting and all the brokenness.
I ache for my own heart, a heart that is so prone to wander…that is so apt to forget…that is so bent on self-preservation and self-protection that it grows hard to the hurts of others and builds walls as a feeble attempt to prevent brokenness.
I’ve been aching a bit this Advent.
But in the aching, I hear the Spirit gently reminding me to remember…to remember the Story…to remember His Story.
The journey to Bethlehem is on the road of remembering.
Remember what God has promised.
And remember that He always always keeps His promises.
Remember that Christmas is not so much about the presents as it is about His presence.
Remember that Jesus came.
The journey may have been long, and the coming may have been slow, and it may not have happened the way anyone had expected. But that doesn’t mean God wasn’t working or that it didn’t unfold just the way He had planned.
So even in the middle of aching and wondering and waiting, we can trust and we can rest and we can have peace, because the God of the universe has never ever changed and He will always do what He said He will do, and He is still working and loving and calling souls to Himself.
Remember that Jesus is coming.
So this Christmas, as I walk the remembering road to Bethlehem and remember the amazing birth of my Savior, I am also remembering all that He has done, and I am trusting in all that He said He will do, and I am opening my hands to receive whatever He gives and opening my hands to give all that He asks me to give.
Because Jesus is coming!