Today we begin the fourth week of Advent, the final week before the celebration of the Birth of Jesus Christ, the King of Kings. For Christians it's a time of hustle and bustle, with shopping continuing, making final plans and putting together supplies for parties and visits with and by family and friends. And we do so with all the modern creature comforts available. Warm and dependable vehicles take us from place to place on paved and well lit roadways. Stores are open at all hours with unlimited items available and when we are tired at the end of the day, we fall exhausted into warm and comfortable beds to have our dreams of sugarplums dancing through our heads. It's a wonderful time, a beautiful time and a time that, if our hearts are open and our mind is in the right place, we anticipate the wonder of that magical birth so many years ago and what it truly means.
But what about Mary and Joseph on that week before Christmas? What were they thinking and what were they doing and what was going on in their heads as they faced an exciting yet also stressful task? Could they live up to the mission of being the earthly parents of the Man God who would change the world?
Well, we know that Joseph had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem in order to comply with Caesar's tax census. The Romans liked to keep control of all locations of Jews to both help maintain order and also account for sources of taxation. And since Joseph was betrothed to Mary and heavy with child, she was required to accompany him. The trek for Joseph was not unusual as he frequently went back to the City of David via Jerusalem on pilgrimages, but traveling with Mary in her condition made it much more difficult. It would be slower, places to stay would be more limited by the crowds and he knew he would be looked down on since many thought he had violated a young girl. The virgin birth was looked at as a wonder by many but a false excuse by others and gossip would run rampant.
Under the best conditions. the approximately eighty mile trip took about four days, but with someone in Mary's condition it could have been nearly twice that. Just imagine her sitting on a donkey, bouncing along as the animal maneuvered with sure feet along the rocky and sometimes steep path, taking care to maintain balance at all times. And either finding a welcoming home along the way to rest in, or sleep in the cold and dark outside, they likely stayed with groups for safety's sake. After all, robbers and other miscreants were common in the lonely hill country and Mary and Joseph would have offered an easy target. The group setting, however, opened them to more ridicule by those they camped with.
But either cold and sleepless at night, or uncomfortable and stressed by day, the special couple made their way toward Bethlehem, knowing they had no other choice. And they made it safely and in time for the moment of birth to come in a lowly stable on arrival, to signify the different nature of this King of Kings who would be born. He was truly a man of the people and a man of God, not knowing in his infancy or in his early formative years what He would offer to the world. But his birth following their difficult journey signified a change to the world.
So, as we run about doing all the busy work of preparation that is necessary for Christmas, remember what Mary and Joseph wen through during this week over two thousand years ago. Their mission was a most special one and they completed it successfully. And we, mortal sinners that we all are, are the beneficiaries. We don't deserve it, but our magnificient and loving God has made it so. Thanks be to His grace and mercy..