A long journey…

journey-to-bethlehem

At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.

Luke 2:1-5 NLT

Mary and Joseph set out for Bethlehem on the back of a donkey, because the powers that be had declared that everyone had to return to their home towns so that a census could be taken.

I can’t imagine what the journey must have been like. It certainly was nothing like the journey would be if you took it today. There were no highways, no buses, no roadside stops where you could buy food and drink. There were no hotels or showers or restaurants. Mary was obviously pregnant, which means she was also uncomfortable. All my friends who are Moms talk about that stage in their pregnancies as one where they were just ready to be done with it.

It must have been cold, and times frightening. I wonder where they stayed at night, what food they ate on the journey. It all looks so pretty on the Christmas cards we send, but the reality would have been quite different.

Isn’t that true of all of our Christmases, though? Often everything looks quite pretty – the family is dressed up, they gather at church together smiling at other families and friends. No one quite sees the cracks beneath the surface: the argument the siblings had on their way to the church service or the worry that the parents share over the bills that will come due in January. There is always more to the journey than meets the eye.

In Newtown, Connecticut, the first of the funerals for the children victimized in Friday’s shooting were held today. That town is on a journey of its own. Just holding the funerals is going to take quite a while, never mind all the time it will take for answers to be discovered or for healing to begin.

I am so thankful for a God who understands the journeys we face. I believe God was with Mary and Joseph on the road that they traveled to Bethlehem. I believe that God is with us on the roads we travel towards the celebration of Christmas. I believe God is present with the people of Newtown, as they journey from Friday’s tragedy to whatever the future will hold for them.

Whatever your journey looks like, may you know that God is with you on the road. May you know that Jesus took a long journey before he was even born, and continued to journey throughout his life. May these thoughts comfort you, and in finding comfort, may you pray for the comfort of others on the roads that they travel.

Trusting, even in the mess…

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The world is feeling kind of dark and messy right now. The shootings in Connecticut continue to be on most people’s minds. Our hearts are filled with sorrow for the loss of life, for the hurt that has been perpetrated against people who did not deserve it. There are no easy answers about this situation. There is no way to heal quickly.

But I keep thinking about what Matt Chandler said at the Catalyst conference this year: “God works in the mess.” Please hear me: I am not say that God caused this mess, or wanted it to happen. I do not believe that God has any part in the violent and horrible death of children.

But I also do not believe that God is simply absent when things get ugly in our world. I believe God is present. I believe that God works in the mess.

I believe this because of the way that Jesus was born. It was…kind of a mess! Mary is unexpectedly pregnant and Joseph wants to break the engagement (because even those days, when your fiance becomes pregnant before you’ve slept with her, “Hey, it must have been the Holy Spirit!” is never your first thought).

This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.

As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Matthew 1:18-21 NLT

Joseph could have taken the easy way out. And I bet, even after the Angel came to him in a dream, there were times he wished he had. But instead, he chose to trust God. Even in the midst of this messy, socially awkward situation, he chose to trust God.

And he got to help raise up the savior of the world.

It’s not always easy to put our trust in God. Especially when everything seems like a total mess. But I think when we fail to do that – we miss out. We miss out on what God has planned, and His plans are always better than we could dream.