By Julie Kerckhoff
Mary and Joseph had just survived an untimely, government-mandated trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem with Mary “great with child.” Mary, who was chosen by God to have His son, had undergone six months of ridicule for being an unfaithful fiancé. By Jewish law, Joseph could have stoned her or at least dismissed her as his upcoming bride. Joseph had nine months of jeering and questionable looks for why he would marry such a loose, unfaithful woman and not shame her as a Jewish example. His carpentry business went way down as well, because no good Jew would support such abhorrent behavior.
Exhausted, they finally made it into Bethlehem only to find out they were too late. Their slow pace, possibly because Joseph was being considerate of Mary’s pregnancy, allowed every other traveler first dibs on the rooms. God had not even saved them a decent place to rest. God, their heavenly Father, who miraculously conceived the child in Mary’s womb to be their Messiah, had not provided a place for them? Really? Was God really in control? Was this baby truly an immaculate conception like Isaiah prophesied, or have Mary and Joseph both simply imagined it all in hopes for it to be true. Having to trudge to Bethlehem, with no room to sleep in, and all Joseph could find was a stable. Surely this was not how God, Yahweh, had intended it. This baby was supposed to be the “wonderful counselor, mighty God, prince of peace.”
As Mary’s water broke, both Mary and Joseph looked at each other in disbelief. “Surely not now. Not here. Not away from both of our families in this grimy stable with no one to help or coach us through.” Their eyes pleaded. This could not be God’s plan. He had turned his back. God had forgotten them. From their perspective, they were helpless and alone.
“Yes, here. Yes, now,” Mary winced and cried to Joseph who had never seen Mary naked, much less delivered a baby. Joseph quickly cleared a place for Mary, shooing the animals aside. “Really God? Is this how you work?” He marveled at the amount of pain he saw, as sweat dripped down Mary’s face and her body tensed. She let out a scream, a scream that was more than childbirth pain; it was the pain of feeling neglected, angry, cheated, hurt. It rattled the air, and Joseph felt the pain reverberating in his own heart.
What kind of God would do this? What kind of man would fall for this? How poor of a man, husband, and now father was he to let this happen? He had such different visions of getting married, the wedding that never happened, the honeymoon year they never had, the family rejoicing at the birth of their first child was nowhere to be seen. Just Mary crying; his own tears wet his cheeks. Failure. His whole life flashed before him. His faith in his God was cracking.
Mary’s second scream interrupted him. This time it was pure anguish, followed by the sweetest, tiniest cry, inducing pure joy as Mary felt and Joseph saw their baby boy, alive, crying. Could this really be their Messiah? The Spirit in the air was so strong, they could barely breathe.
Mary and Joseph couldn’t speak. Joseph held up the baby; Mary wept. She used her tear-stained rag to wipe the baby. Jesus. Really? Jesus. Not sure of how to hold a baby, Joseph quickly found a trough and created the cleanest, nicest bed of hay possible and lay Jesus in the manger, as Mary tries her best to clean herself up. Exhausted, they collapse, arm in arm and just stare at the miracle before them, potentially the greatest miracle for all mankind. But how, how could God be in this?
They hear sheep in the distance, getting closer. Why are so many sheep coming? Who are all these people walking down the road at this time of the night? What are they so excited about?
“Oh no, they are coming to our stable!” Mary gasped, “Lord, we cannot take any more!” The shepherds began to bow down. Some were weeping, and some were rejoicing.
“What?” Mary heard Joseph ask. One shepherd began to loudly exclaim:
We were keeping watch over [our] flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to [us], and the glory of the Lord shone around [us], and [we] were terrified. But the angel said to [us], “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” All the shepherds were nodding in agreement. “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’ “When the angels had left [us] and gone into heaven, [we] shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’” (Luke 2:14-20)
Mystified, Mary could only whisper, “What? Did you say angels? You mean God knew Jesus would be born in a stable and lay in a manger? He saw all of this? He planned it this way? Really?” Then she carefully picked the Christ child up and passed him all around, for all to behold in their very own arms.
Joseph just cried. Speechless. Overwhelmed. As Jesus was passed around and praised, both Mary and Joseph began to shake. Tears streamed down everyone’s faces, humbly weeping with joy because the baby Jesus before them was living proof that God had indeed kept his promise.
Why is this passage so encouraging to me?
God, the author and creator of the universe, chose to have Jesus born in a stable, wrapped in rags, lying in a straw-lined trough. It was not a mistake. But God chose it to be such a mess. God’s ways are so different than the world’s ways or the way I think things should happen. Smooth travels, well-laid plans, comfort, safety, no surprises — that is a successful birth of a King from my earthly perspective. But faith, treachery, working together, Mary and Joseph travailed to arrive at the planned destination of the stable. God was with them and working through them the entire time, whether they sensed it or not.
Being a mother of a severely disabled child, the world continues to tell us we don’t fit. Our daughter’s needs require a large amount of sacrifice on our family’s part and on her part every day. A sacrifice few are willing to voluntarily make. But when you look into my daughter’s energetic eyes, when you hear her contagious, delightful laughter, there is no mistake. She is magnificent! God planned her this way. Wow! Could that really be? Could she be like Jesus being born in the manger? Where she does not fit into this culture’s expectations? But in God’s eyes, she is exactly how He chooses for His glory.
But what about Mary? Her childbirth screams of pain: feeling neglected, angry, cheated, hurt. Any of us who experience such feelings know they are very real; but God was still there, still working out his plan of salvation. The pain that comes from daily life not fitting into my dreams is very real, but none of it is too much for God. It’s just too much for myself to handle on my own—which is exactly how God intends it. He wants me to trust Him, rely on Him. If I look, I see that God continues to honor the weak, not the independent, proud, and strong. This gives me hope and confidence in the reality of His ways on the days that are so hard.