“Receive the gift for what it is, not what you think it should be.” This phrase has settled over my heart over the past month with the anticipation of the holidays. 2020 has been a year full of gifts in unusual packaging. As we enter a Christmas season full of quarantine quandaries and distancing dilemmas many of us feel exiled, away from the ones we love and the traditions we treasure. Some may even feel as though they are in a wilderness, navigating uncharted territory alone and by themselves, similar to the lonely road that Mary and Joseph took over two thousand years ago.
“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. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. ” Luke 2:1-7.
Let’s be honest; if you were Joseph or Mary, would not this whole census thing appear to be the worst possible timing? As if this whole complicated mess of a virgin conception and betrothal to a man she was still learning about wasn’t already confusing enough, now the timing of birth was becoming quite precarious. Mary was very pregnant and had to make a long, challenging commute to a foreign land when there were no hospitals, quick clinics or even roadside assistant services along the way. How alone they both must have felt?! How daunting the journey had to be?! So much could go wrong and there were no earthly comforts to help ease the situation, not even the familiar setting of “home”. Yet, this was God’s plan. But even more than that, this was His gift of hope, packaged in the most unusual, unpredictable, unspectacular way.
God was accomplishing something bigger than birth, bigger than exile, bigger than wilderness weariness. He was fulfilling His promises foretold hundreds of years earlier* and building the faith of Joseph and Mary as they relied fully on Him. In their wilderness journey God was becoming a way-maker, providing for them a place to rest, a quiet space for a sacred moment when the Son of God would enter the world—humbly, peacefully, privately. In that hallowed place and blessed space, God was sharing His greatest gift in the most exiled and backwards of ways.
I don’t know what this year has been like for you. Perhaps it was full of loss or upside down blessings. Maybe it was full of confusion, loneliness, or pain. Although your gifts have come in packages you did not desire, did not request and did not want, press into God. “Sometimes God does His most wondrous works in the darkest of night” (RAW, pg. 24). He can make a dirty stable even fit for a King. God is on the move. He does care. As you navigate your unknown territory, may you find the resilience of Mary, the resolve of Joseph and the hope of Jesus to help you embrace the gift hidden in the rumble.
*But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days. Micah 5:2
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14