“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their 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 guest room available for them.” – Luke 2:1-7
December 23 – the day Christmas preparations go from pressing to panic. For those of you who have postponed your preparations, time is officially slipping away. There isn’t time to drive around town to browse the stores. Even Amazon can’t get your packages to you in time with their 2-day shipping. If you head out today, you’re probably looking at a trip to the mall (along with hundreds of fellow procrastinators). Wait until tomorrow and you’ll be scouring empty shelves with the Wal-Martians. And if you are totally hard core when it comes to the last minute thing, bring me a Slurpee after you finish your list at 7-11.
Why do people wait until the last minute? I know some people enjoy the adrenaline rush that comes from 11th hour shopping. However, for most of us, shopping has become yet another thing to do in a month long stretch of way too many things to do! I know this ranks right up there among the greatest “First World Problems” of all time, but how did we manage to turn the entire month of December into a scheduling nightmare unlike any other? From the moment the last bite of pumpkin pie left your plate on Thanksgiving you have been cast into a frenzy of shopping, decorating, tree trimming, gift wrapping, party going, Christmas concert attending, ugly sweater wearing, and white elephant gifting that has left many of us a frazzled bundle of nerves ready to explode. Don’t believe me? Look at your calendar for December. Does it resemble a map showing Custer’s retreat? Are there more words written on it than a Dickens novel?
I rest my case.
Modern society has really done a number on Christmas. Like so many other things in life, we need to take a step back and strive to celebrate Christmas without all of the stress and hype. Join me in hearkening back to a simpler time, when the holiday was far more relaxing. After all, Mary & Joseph didn’t feel stress like this on that first Christmas. Think about their experience. One morning they woke up to get word that the government was requiring them to travel from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem, the city of Joseph’s forefathers. So Joseph was now required to put his life on hold, travel about eighty miles with a wife who was expecting their first born child at any moment so that he would be properly counted for tax purposes. Knowing that the Romans weren’t terribly forgiving or willing to offer an extension, Joseph and Mary set out on their trip. In most of the depictions of their travel, we see Joseph on foot with Mary riding on a donkey. Having never been a pregnant woman, I can’t speak to this with certainty, but I tend to believe that this probably wasn’t very comfortable for Mary. The story features the inability to find a room in Bethlehem, but I would also assume that accommodations along the route were also difficult to find. So upon their arrival in Bethlehem, both Mary and Joseph had to be incredibly tired, sore, dirty, and frustrated. Of course, this would be the PERFECT time for Mary to go into labor! So this set of first-time parents experience the birth of their child eighty miles away from home in a barn. Christmas cards like to show the animals neatly organized and a safe distance from the baby. They also show an immaculate structure filled with nice clean straw. Ever been in a barn? They don’t look (or smell) like that. They just don’t. So here you are; thoroughly exhausted. Joseph is stressing over caring for both his wife who is now recovering from childbirth and for the baby who is sleeping in a food trough. Who wouldn’t want the company of total strangers to drop by, unannounced to visit you and the baby? Imagine what must’ve gone through the minds of Mary and Joseph when a collection of people who live outside with sheep showed up, telling you how an army of singing angels told them to come in the middle of the night to see the baby.
Tell me again how that night you spent camping outside of Best Buy compares to this?
Whether you’re talking about 2,000 years ago or 2015, the Advent journey can be eventful. Some of our preparations are necessary, some are steeped in tradition, others could be avoided but are celebrated as part of the bigger phenomenon now known as the Christmas season. But whether you travel hundreds of miles or go absolutely nowhere, we are all on a journey. Mary and Joseph’s trek may be different than ours today, but ultimately we don’t travel for the sake of the trip but for the destination to which it leads. As Christians, everything we do is designed to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Messiah. Christ’s birth, like His life, death, and resurrection are all gifts given to us so that we would be rescued from our sin and raised to life eternal with Him in Heaven. That’s the destination! That’s the goal!
Enjoy the journey…