Pastor's Wife, Mom, Writer & Imperfect Seeker of Jesus
Stop and Smell the Gingerbread Cookies
December 24, 2016
It’s crunch time. Or as Clark W. Griswald said on National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation movie, “This is a full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency here!”
Some of you may be frantically shopping for last minute stocking stuffers, forgotten gifts or missing cooking items. Those of you conducting Christmas Eve services tonight may be anxiously checking and double checking that everything is ready for a smooth service. Others may simply be waiting for tomorrow; waiting in anticipation, waiting in dread, waiting for what the day will bring.
December is such a crazy, chaotic month leading up to Christmas. The kids are still in school, sporting events are still occurring, and now we’ve added in all the extra Christmas parties, plans, gifts and decorations. In our home we normally leave our decorations out for a good while after Christmas each year because it seems that we don’t even really enjoy them until Christmas Day.
We get stressed to the max, exhausted and not always very patient with people. Sadly I’ll admit that there have been years when the days leading up to Christmas were so overloaded that when December 26 arrived, I felt like I had missed it all. I had missed the wonder. I had missed the beauty. I had missed the whole thing.
Don’t we each feel like we have the corner on busyness and chaos though? So that’s why I hope you get the chance to take a moment and remember the MOST crazy, chaotic days leading up to Christmas that ever were...
Sure, the pregnancy was unexpected so early. But if it was God’s plan, then it would all be perfect, right? But Mary heard the whispers in the small town of Nazareth. She saw the pointing fingers directed her way. No one invited her to get-togethers anymore. At least she still had Joseph at her side. It SEEMED like he believed her that this child was conceived by God alone. That was certainly something.
Even so, it was still kind of exciting the whole idea of having a baby. So Mary planned. Perhaps there was a doctor in town who she expected to be there for the delivery. Or more likely, a Jewish midwife was the one planned to usher in the little miracle, maybe even the very same midwife who had delivered Mary herself about 15 years earlier. Her parents would most likely be nearby, or at least travel in when the time came. And she would be surrounded by the familiarity of the home she now shared with Joseph.
The time was getting near, and everything was planned out.
So when Caesar Augustus declared that he wanted to count everyone in the Roman Empire, and the appointed time of this counting was scheduled pretty close to when Mary was due to give birth, she couldn’t have been very happy. You see, everyone had to go to the town of their ancestors to register for this census, and that required Mary and Joseph to travel to Bethlehem because JOSEPH’s family was from the house of King David, who was born in Bethlehem centuries before.
Ninety miles. Walking or riding on the back of a donkey. A three days’ travel. At the end of her pregnancy.
Ever gone on a car trip while pregnant or with someone else who was pregnant? I can already hear both laughing and groaning from you. All the extra stops to go to the bathroom. The complaining of being uncomfortable. Can’t you just hear Mary and Joseph? I mean, they WERE real human beings after all.
Mary: If this donkey steps in another pothole I am going to wet myself! Joseph, we HAVE to stop!
Joseph: Can’t you wait just a few more miles?
Mary: Sure, if you want to arrive in Bethlehem with a urine-soaked wife and donkey.
Mary: I have GOT to get off of this donkey and stretch!
Mary: My back is killing me. I can’t walk anymore. I’m going to have to get back on the donkey. Joseph, help me up please.
Mary: Your family just HAD to come from Bethlehem, didn’t they?
Don’t think this could have been their conversation? Well, have you every stopped to wonder why they arrived SO late to Bethlehem that all of the rooms in the inn were full? Joseph always seemed like a pretty put-together, well-planned type of person to me, particularly since he was a carpenter. I think that he probably had the trip all planned out ahead of time, but perhaps didn’t realize what traveling with a pregnant woman was going to be like!
Now it’s late, they’re tired, they haven’t bathed, they just want to rest, and there is no place left to stay in the entire town other than a smelly stable filled with animals. NOT what was planned.
Just when they think it couldn’t get any worse, Mary goes into labor. There’s no doctor. No midwife. The only person available to help Mary deliver this baby into the world is Joseph, a man she has yet to be intimate with. Awkward? Maybe. Not to mention that Joseph is not a farmer, so he most likely doesn’t have a lot of experience with deliveries. NOT what was planned.
They make it through the delivery alright. But now the only place to lay this newborn child, this gift from Heaven, this Son of the Almighty God is a wooden manger filled with hay that the animals had previously been eating out of. And for those of you who have never been in a barn, let me just say that the mangers we use for our Christmas Eve displays are NOT what the original one would have looked like. Jesus’ first bed would have been caked in dirt and animal saliva. NOT what was planned.
This new little family finally get a few moments to rest. Mary and Joseph share a private look of tenderness and amazement with each other as they take turns holding this incredible miracle in the flesh. Their eyes wide in incredulousness, they count his tiny fingers and toes. They marvel at the curve of his tiny little lips. And does he have a set of lungs!
But before they can even begin to get comfortable with this new arrangement, into the stable bursts a group of shepherds all talking at the same time and pointing in the air and then at the baby. Surely Mary’s eyebrows lifted in shock.
It wasn’t kings or princes to come into the stable. Nor was it wealthy businessmen or politicians. It was shepherds--the bottom of the social ladder. They were filthy from work and smelled to match. Just imagine Mike Rowe from the “Dirty Jobs” tv show bursting into your hospital delivery room right after filming an episode and bringing several of the guys he just worked with along with him. That might have been exactly how Mary felt in that moment. NOT what was planned.
If there is anyone who was entitled to have a little pity-party or freak-out moment about Christmas and the days leading up to it, it was Mary. But listen to how she responded.
“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19 NIV)
No matter what your month has been like, no matter what doesn’t get done, no matter what doesn’t happen the way it was planned, please pause and TREASURE the moments of your life, at Christmas and throughout the year.
(Story from Luke 2:1-20, with embellishments of my own.)