Dec. 20, 2012
He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom. – Luke 2:5-7
Sometimes, life does not turn out as expected.
Case in point: Mary and Joseph. They got engaged the right way only to have their lives turned upside down because of a couple angel visits. Joseph does the right thing and marries his pregnant finance despite the baby not being his. I imagine Joseph telling Mary, “We’re going to make it. Hang in there.”
One day a Roman government representative shows up in Nazareth and announces the Emperor has requested a census. Every man must go to his hometown to be counted and taxed. I imagine Mary’s response being something like, “You’ve got to be kidding! I’m nine months pregnant and now I have to travel to Bethlehem?”
They make the trek. The shortest route is 80 miles; the longest about 100. Either way, it would have taken a minimum of 10 days to travel the hilly, rocky path. We’re not sure Mary had a donkey to ride. It’s a detail we’ve added.
Finally, they get to Bethlehem. We imagine Joseph showing up at the local chain hotel without a reservation only to discover every room was taken. But this is not how it happened. Most likely, Joseph had family living in Bethlehem. Travelers stayed with family or strangers and depended upon this hospitality. Because of the census, Joseph’s out-of-town family members were also in Bethlehem.
I like this translation of this story because it says the “guestroom” was full. Hebrew homes were very small, usually four rooms. People entered through the kitchen which was also the dining room and common area. Next was the family sleeping quarters. A third room was the kataluma or the guestroom, where visitors and guests stayed. It appears Joseph’s family kataluma was full with out-of-town guests. The fourth room was the family stable. This is where the milk cow and sheep were housed. It was also the garage, where the family’s transportation, a donkey, was housed. With other family members present, the garage was probably full. But this is where Mary and Joseph go. This is where baby Jesus is born.
When Mary discovered she was pregnant, do you think she envisioned traveling to Bethlehem at the end of her pregnancy? Do you think she anticipated giving birth in the family garage? Do you think she expected every bed would be full so that a feeding trough would be her new baby’s cradle? Not exactly what a first-time Mom expected. Would have she not asked God what she did wrong? Life did not turn out as Mary planned.
Many times, I’ve contemplated how my life has turned out different from what I expected when I graduated from college. When I read the obituary I wrote for my high school senior social studies class, none of this has happened. Sometimes I regress and wonder why my life end up so different. I selfishly blame God and wonder what I did wrong.
There are a whole bunch of people in Newton, Connecticut whose lives were awfully and dramatically changed last week. How do they go on? What did they do wrong? It doesn’t seem fair and it isn’t.
How did Mary make it through unexpected life changes? How can we? By choosing to believe there is something beyond the disappointment we are experiencing. By anticipating that someday, we will have joy once again, even if it seems a long way off. By knowing and believing that there is One who journeys with us even when life turns out so different from what we expect.
Lord God – when life turns out not how we expect, it is easy to blame you. I can’t imagine how Mary’s feeling those last days of her pregnancy. How could she not feel let down or disappointed? Yet, a baby was born. Emmanuel came to this earth. Just as you, God, were with Mary in those challenging times, please be present with us when life takes us on unexpected journeys. Amen.