It was the ‘perfect Christmas’.
Well, maybe not for Mary. I think it's fair to say that things weren’t exactly turning out the way she imagined when the angel told her that she was the virgin chosen by God to bring the Messiah into the world. (Actually, even that was pretty unexpected. Who’d have thought her???)
After months with Elizabeth, and Joseph’s encounter with God that led to their marriage, Mary probably thought things were going to quiet down just a little. Then they heard about the degree:
“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)
And everyone went to their own town to register.”
Were they serious?
The result: a very pregnant Mary, had to take a 90 mile trip to Bethlehem. She wasn’t going by plane, train or even automobile. Nope, best case scenario she had a donkey. Since the Bible doesn’t specifically say, there’s the possibility that she had to walk.
This was no easy journey over nice paved highways. Instead, they went up and down hills of unpaved trails carrying all that they needed for the journey with them. I can only imagine how anxious Mary was to arrive in Bethlehem, put her feet up, and get some rest.
Only when they arrived, there was no place available. Filled with other people who made the same journey, Bethlehem was booked to capacity. While they normally would have stayed with relatives, it appears that these doors were also closed to them, most likely due to the rumors of Mary’s pre-marital pregnancy. I mean, who was going to believe her story of an angel and an immaculate conception? They knew what happened. Maybe Joseph was tolerating her shame, but she wasn’t welcome in their homes.
And so they searched for somewhere….anywhere to stay. Finally, they were offered some shelter. Only it wasn’t at the Hilton. Nope, they only place they could find was a barn.
That’s where Mary went into labor and delivered her child.
With only Joseph as a mid-wife, barn animals as a support system, and shepherds as their first visitors, it wasn’t what anyone would call a perfect scenario.
And yet, if we take a look back at Old Testament prophecy, we see that it couldn’t have been more perfect.
You see, one of the things that I love about the Christmas story is that it doesn’t start in the New Testament. Instead, throughout the Old Testament, we see the prophets foretelling what the arrival of the Messiah would be like.
Mary’s conception was foretold in Isaiah 7:14:
"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel."
Micah 5:2,4 places the Messiah’s birthplace in Bethlehem:
"But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel."
If you read further in Matthew 2, we see that even the wise men’s visit and the resulting escape of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, was foretold in Jeremiah 31:15.
Even the boring genealogies that we are all so tempted to skip over show the fulfillment of prophecy stating that Jesus was a direct descendant of Abraham (Genesis 22:15-18), Isaac (Genesis 26:4), Jacob (Genesis 28:14), Jesse (Isaiah 11:1), and David (Isaiah 9:7).
As we look at these prophecies fulfilled we see that even through the journey so late in her pregnancy, the inability to find a place to stay, the barn with all of it’s funky aromas and the sounds of animals may seem so completely crazy….it was actually perfect. It was the way that God had always planned. Prophesied hundreds of years before Mary was even born, we see that God had a purpose for her life, a place for her in His kingdom, and the perfect scenario to see it all fulfilled.
This year as we look at nativity scenes and remember this world-changing event, this fact should give us hope and assurance that the same God who perfectly orchestrated Mary’s life also has a plan, a place, and purpose for our lives.
Just like Mary, He has a purpose for you.
He has a place for you in His kingdom.
And He has a plan to arrange the details of your life to help you fulfill your God-given purpose.
And yet, just like Mary, we so often look at our lives and think, “This is crazy…nuts…chaos!!! How could God ever take this situation and use it for His purpose?”
And yet, God sees what we don’t see and has plans that we don’t understand.
That’s okay because we don’t have to understand what He’s doing. All we have to do is be willing to surrender our lives to Him, follow where He leads, and live our lives the way He wants us to live.
Like Mary, we are called to follow God, and let Him work out the details in His time, His place, and according to His perfect plan. That’s how we live our greatest adventure: discovering our God-given passion, place, and purpose.