Journey to Bethlehem.
I included this article in the December newsletter, but wanted to also post it here because as we prepare to begin a New Year tomorrow, there are thoughts and things to ponder about your new beginnings and new year as well. Praying for your 2014 journey right now. Blessings, Susie
I want to take a moment and look at this most familiar part of the Christmas story from the second chapter of Luke 2 New International Version (NIV) which focuses on the birth of Jesus, and spend some time looking at the journeys described here and what they might mean for us. I took the office staff of Journey to Hope to Lancaster, Pennsylvania as an early Christmas present, and we went to see the production of “The Miracle of Christmas.” Each of us took a different journey in the Bible and studied them for how they were journeys to hope and how God might use similar journeys in our lives. My focus was on this first Journey to Bethlehem. Here is the passage:
2 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
4 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. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 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.
Reflection: Can you think of a time in your life when something g happened that was a catalyst for God to move you from one place to another? Many times, in my life, it has been a mandatory catalyst, something I have to do, and that causes me to move. Think about some mandatory journeys of your life where God was positioning you but you did not have a choice about it.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
Reflection: Can you think of a time when something at first made you so very afraid, like you have never been afraid before, and then once you saw God’s hand in the situation, your fear turned to such excitement, you could not stay still – you had to either go and participate, or go and hear something, or go and see something – something that only God could do and that changed your life forever?
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
The beginning of this Journey to Bethlehem started somewhere else....Nazareth. The name of this tiny village of Nazareth tells us something about the people living there and offers a clue to the identity of the child Mary would bear. Nazareth may come from the Hebrewnetzer, which means “branch” or “shoot.” Sometimes when a tree is chopped down, a shoot will grow from the stump, allowing a new tree to spring up where the old one has died. That shoot is called, in Hebrew, a netzer. Why would the people who founded this village have called it “the branch”? The netzer was a promise of hope. The word as used in Isaiah 11 pointed to the promise that, though Israel had been cut down like a felled tree, she would rise up once again.
Reflection: Can you think of a time when God has placed you in a location where you felt alone, cut off, and broken? A place where you wonder how anything good can come from this? Where have the Nazareths of your life been, and did God allow a netzer to grow where the old you had died? Think about places of aloneness in your life, and how God can provide just a small shoot, or branch of hope to those places. This is also what makes Nazareth a perfect launching pad for this journey to Bethlehem.
Their journey began with a descent from the hills of Nazareth to the smooth plain of the Jezreel Valley. On the afternoon of the ninth day, or early on the morning of the tenth, Mary and Joseph finally must have seen Jerusalem. I can only imagine how they felt as they saw the Holy City spread out before them. Jerusalem was of course much smaller in the first century. It was a city set upon a hill—actually multiple hills— but the eye was naturally drawn to one hill, Mount Moriah, where the Temple rose high above everything else. From Jerusalem, it would have been only a few hours’ walk to Bethlehem, across several miles of arid desert and some hills. Finally, on perhaps the tenth day of their journey, they would have arrived in Bethlehem.
Reflection: Have you ever had a trip in your life where you took 10 days to get from one place to another? In our modern era, most of the time, we are around the world in a little over that amount of time. It took them 10 day to travel 80 miles. What did that seem like? A long time, of just a moment in time? How do you think Mary felt traveling in the last 10 days of her pregnancy, on foot, and on donkey, for this mandatory journey?
Arriving at Bethlehem would mean trying to find a place to stay, that would also serve as a place for Mary to give birth. The most common arrangement would be for Mary and Joseph to stay with a relative of Joseph. The Greek word that is translated in most versions of Luke’s Gospel as “inn” is kataluma. This word’s only other appearance in the Gospels comes when Jesus sends his disciples ahead to find a room they can use for their Last Supper together. That room, as you’ll recall, was not a room in an inn, but a guest room in a house. This is the more accurate translation of kataluma—it is a guest room.
Photo of a stable underneath a home.
Reflection: Although Mary and Joseph did not stay in a kataluma, I wonder about your katalumas. Do you have a guest room in your home? Who stays there? Is anyone and everyone welcome there? How long can they stay? How about the kataluma of your heart? Do you have room there for who God sends to you? I like to think of Journey to Hope as a kataluma for painful seasons of life for people – that when you walk in our door, we have room available and time to help you heal, to rest, to pick up the pieces of your life and the courage to start again… a new beginning.
This was not a silent night. Our Christmas carols sometimes miss the reality of what Mary was experiencing that night. We sing, “All is calm, all is bright round yon virgin, mother and child. Holy infant, so tender and mild,” but it was not like that. It was disappointing and depressing and hard. Life can be that way. And the long-awaited Messiah’s birth came in the midst of the messiness and disappointment and pain. He was born, not in a hospital, not even in a guest room, but in a stable, among the animals, with a feeding trough for his first bed.
Not much has changed, has it? Life is still hard; I think we can agree that the events of the last ten days remind us that darkness is all around. Yet today we celebrate the Light who came to push back the darkness: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined" (Isaiah 9:2).
And now, a moment to think about Joseph on that journey…..
I am sure that you have been exactly where Joseph stood on that Journey to Bethlehem. Somewhere between what God has promised and what He says and yet, it does not make sense in the middle of your situation or your pain or your confusion. You have wrestled with doubt about what you need to do next. You’ve stood where Joseph stood. And you have asked the questions that Joseph probably asked. Am I doing the right thing? Am I on the right road? Should I have turned left or made a U-turn? Is there a plan anywhere in all this pain? Maybe things are not turning out like you thought they would or should.
We’ve asked our questions. We questioned God’s plan. And we’ve wondered why God does what he does. The Bethlehem sky is not the first to hear the pleadings of a confused soul seeking God. If you are asking what Joseph asked, let me urge you to do what Joseph did. Obey. That’s what he did. He obeyed. He obeyed when the angel called. He did not let his confusion disrupt his obedience. He did not know everything. But he did what he knew. He shut down his business, packed up his family, and went to another country. Why? Because that’s what God said to do.
What about you? Just like Joseph, you can’t see the whole picture. Can he do the same with you? God still looks for Josephs today. Men and women who believe that God is not through with them or His plan for their life. Nothing is impossible in front of God. So, trust in His heart when you cannot understand the plan.
Happy New Year 2014 from Journey to Hope!