Word comes down from Caesar Augustus that everyone must go back to their hometown to be counted. A census. Go to the hometown of the male. Why? All about taxes. So Mary is 9 months along in her expectancy. The emperor doesn’t care if you’re sick, or expecting. And then even after she gets there, She doesn’t know a midwife in Bethlehem. She doesn’t know how she’s going to get along – Do you know what cankles are? Calf/ankle. You might say, we’ll it’s not that bad, she was probably on a donkey. OK, that makes it a much more comfortable journey.
No mention of a donkey, but not unrealistic to think that Joseph made some sort of arrangements for the journey.
Going to Bethlehem in Judea – the lowest place in the Roman empire. It’s thought the journey would last 10 days. Walk for a few days in the Jezreel Valley and come to the mountains. Several days in the mountains. We always use the metaphor of being in the valley when things are bad and being on the mountain when things are well. I imagine that Mary didn’t feel like the mountains were a good thing. There’s nothing like a view from a mountaintop, but sometimes it’s such an effort to get there.
Talk about a journey you wouldn’t want to take. Did God send them on this journey? Scripture says it was the emperor.
And imagine when you get there – like you haven’t been through enough, but your husband didn’t think to call ahead and make reservations ahead of time. So your reward for 10 days of hiking with cankles and the savior of the world in your belly is a place where the animals stay and feed.
Some people wonder and may ask if Joseph’s family is from there, why didn’t they stay with them? The word here for inn is Kataluma. Only appears three times in Bible. Other times are when Jesus is looking for the upper room to have the last supper. So Kataluma – usually this means upper guest room, not usually the word used for an actual inn or what we think of as a motel. So even if they went to Joseph’s parents home, Mary and Joseph probably arrived later than most others because of Mary’s condition, so the home was probably full, guest room and all.
Of course the others would probably have given up their room for the mother to be and went to the barn, but that creates another problem. Scholars believe that because Mary was going to give birth, according to Jewish law it would have made the home ritually and ceremonially impure and unclean with the blood and body fluids. So Mary and Joseph would have gone to the barn or stable even at Joseph’s family’s home. Also there would be more privacy.
What does this say about God? He picks a peasant couple and if they weren’t lowly enough, he sees that she gives birth in a lowly stable, laying the savior of the world in a feeding trough.
So can you see Mary, lying maybe in some hay, in labor, tears streaming down her cheeks. Remembering the angel who nine months earlier had said, Mary, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” “You have found favor with God.”
If she didn’t feel favored when she was told she was going to have a baby even though she’d never been with a man, if she didn’t feel favored when she was hiking 10 days, if she didn’t feel favored when she found out she would be staying in the stable, she surely couldn’t have felt favored when she was lying there giving birth.
But if she could have only known that the shepherds were on the way to come and tell her the good news they had heard in the field, Mary, you’ll never believe what we saw and heard in the field. And if she had only known that the wise men had been traveling for months to show their honor and respect and bring gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And if she had only known how amazing it was going to be to hear Simeon bless her and Joseph, hold the Baby Jesus and say “Sovereign Lord, My eyes have seen your salvation.” And if she had only known that 2,000 years later, it’s exactly that part of the story that we find so compelling. It shows us the nature of God, and the humble beginnings on earth of our Savior, and it teaches us about the Christian walk, that often it’s not easy, not glorious, and not rewarding in the short term. It shows us that just because things have not gone the way we expected or wanted, that it doesn’t mean that God has abandoned us.
I can’t imagine that she could have seen any of that at that moment. It was almost certainly a journey she didn’t want to take. Yet I wonder in the midst of it all, if she could feel God’s presence.
There’s not one of us who hasn’t taken a journey we didn’t want to take. Some people, maybe some of you, but at least some that you know, are right now in the middle of a journey they don’t want to take. The Bible is full of stories of people who took journeys they don’t want to take.
Here’s how we make it through: We choose to have faith. And that faith makes us a people of hope.
Not that doubt doesn’t creep in from time to time. Matthew 11 John Baptist in jail.
Send word to Jesus.
Some of you are on that journey now. Hold on tight with white knuckles.
Some of you are in a great place right now and maybe what you need to do is come up alongside somebody who needs your faith. I’ve got enough for both of us right now.