The Journey: Walking the Road to Bethlehem
The real story of Mary and Joseph reflects how God uses pain and sorrow to bring about a miracle.
David fled into the wilderness when King Saul tried to kill him. He stayed among the Philistines for a couple of years, writing psalms that asked God, “Why do you allow my enemies to prosper? When are you going to save me?” He did not want to take this journey. But that was not the end of David’s story.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were told to bow down and worship the Babylonian king’s image; if they refused they would be thrown into the fiery furnace. Surely they did not wish to take this journey to the fiery furnace. But that was not the end of their story.
The people of Judah were taken captive and marched to Babylon, where they would live in exile for fifty years. But that was not the end of their story. And the child who would be born in a stable in Bethlehem would walk to Calvary. But that would not be the end of his story.
All of us take unwanted journeys, but God always walks with us on these journeys. God works through them and redeems them, and these difficult journeys will never be the end of our story!
In hindsight, we can see what Mary couldn’t as she entered that stable, her contractions getting closer and closer together. She couldn’t yet hear the angels singing, couldn’t see the shepherds running to the stable, couldn’t know that the magi were already on their way with their gifts to pay homage to the little king. And she certainly couldn’t see that you would be reading her story two thousand years later, reflecting upon its meaning for your life.
Zechariah the prophet spoke to the people of his day who were themselves discouraged with how hard their journey had been. They were ready to give up hope. But he reminded them that one day God would send a king who would deliver his people. Then he called God’s people something interesting. He called them “prisoners of hope”:
As for you also, because of the blood
of my covenant with you,
I will set your prisoners free
from the waterless pit.
Return to your stronghold,
O prisoners of hope;
today I declare that I will restore
to you double. (9:11-12)
I love this line. We are all called to be prisoners of hope—captured by hope, bound by it, unable to let go of it.
Hope is a decision we make, a choice to believe that God can take the adversity, the disappointment, the heartache, and the pain of our journeys and use these to accomplish his purposes. This is precisely what we see happening in Mary’s story—in the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem and in giving birth in a stable among the animals—where we see hope born in the midst of disappointment. We want to whisper to Mary, “Don’t cry. God is here, even among the animals, and people will draw hope from your story until the end of time.”