Traveling is a large part of modern Christmas celebrations. Families gather from far and wide to celebrate the season with loved ones. Adult sons and daughters journey with their families back to their childhood home and join the masses on their way to various locations for Christmas. In many ways, this bustle of travel activity harkens back to the very first Christmas, a Christmas marked by lots of traveling.
However, Christmas 2020 is going to look very different this year. For many, traveling isn’t an option this year and many grandparents will not be seeing loved ones at Christmas. Rather, the traditions and gatherings that have defined this season for many have been put on hold. Words like “postponed” or “cancelled” have become an expected part of this season and states and counties go into greater lockdown restrictions.
But is isolation and separation from family a new Christmas experience? Are restrictive, life altering government regulations that affect Christmas an unprecedented event? Was there ever a Christmas that went completely different than originally planned?
In many ways, this Christmas will probably most reflect that first Christmas. Plans going sideways, isolation, and life-changing government orders were all part of that first Christmas over two thousand years ago. But through it all God was working and arranging the events to accomplish His plans and purposes. And maybe He’s doing the same today.
While traveling was a big part of the first Christmas, it was highly unusual and definitely not planned. Life in Israel two thousand years ago was simple. People spent their entire lives in the same town they were born in and rarely traveled far. While some might have journeyed to Jerusalem for Passover or other holy days, those were big events and not necessarily a normal part of life. Rather, people lived their days in their corner of the world and never dreamed of venturing beyond their bubble.
Part of the reason for this simple life was due to the fact that travel was extremely difficult in the days of the Bible. There were no interstates to zip along, planes to hop on, or sleek automobiles to quickly take you from point A to point B. Rather, travel was on foot or by donkey with exposure to the elements and thieves. So back in that era, taking a trip wasn’t a luxury vacation experience or fun adventure; it was an exhausting, uncomfortable ordeal.
But travel was part of God’s plan for Christmas. Joseph and Mary would need to make the trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem during the busiest time in their life history—and while she was nine months pregnant! However, unbeknownst to them, that was not the end of their journey.
While Joseph and Mary thought that Bethlehem was the final destination, in reality, it was just a stop along the way. Matthew 2 gives us the next part of the story.
“Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’”
God’s ways are not our ways and His plans are rarely our plans. Mary did not plan on having her first born child away from the support of her family. She did not plan on riding a donkey at the end of her pregnancy. Nor did she expect to have to flee the country. When Mary agreed to be the Lord’s servant and carry the Messiah, she had no idea what the future would bring. However, she trusted the Lord and said “yes” no matter what it would cost her.
Similarly, when Joseph obeyed God’s messenger the first time and took Mary as his wife, he was not expecting subsequent visits from angels with even more radical instructions. A relocation to Bethlehem was not on his five year plan, and he never would have dreamed that he would live in Egypt for a time. However, this was the story God was writing. It was all part of His divine plan and, as Matthew points out, direct fulfillment of prophesy.
So when plans go sideways, loneliness and isolation sink their talons into your soul, fear and doubt take root as you face an unknown future, remember Joseph and Mary. They experienced their fair share of scary situations, unknown outcomes, unexpected change of plans, and unlikely journeys. However, God saw them through, showed them the way, and provided for them each step of the journey.
Their life story ended up very different from what they would have chosen; however, God’s plans are better. He had prophesies to fulfill that were much bigger than Joseph and Mary’s small town dreams. So they had to step outside their comfort zones and trust the Lord through it all.
Therefore, as we get closer and closer to Christmas, let’s remember that the story of Christmas is far from comfortable and warm. It didn’t involve family reunions or happy festivities. Rather, the first Christmas included loneliness, hardship, plot twists, and a myriad of unknowns. But the same God who orchestrated that first Christmas and saw Joseph and Mary safely through the trials is directing this Christmas. He knows what He’s doing, and the plans and purposes He’s fulfilling are bigger than our small view of life.
So the question is…will we trust Him? Will we faithfully walk down the road on the unlikely journeys He calls us to? Will we believe His promises even when the future looks hopeless? Will we embrace His sovereign plan for our lives even when things appear to be going sideways?
Mary and Joseph did. And because of it, they got to be part of God’s story of salvation of all mankind. We never know where the unlikely journey may lead us, but we can be confident that if God is writing the story the ending will be beautiful. So let’s embrace the unknown and walk forward with unwavering faith in a faithful God.
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