Coming ready or not! (17-12-21)
A Bible Reading: Luke 2. 1 – 6
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.
I remember when I was expecting Rachel, we were also anticipating the building of an extension at the back of our house. However, we were rapidly discovering that a builder’s idea of a fortnight could actually mean anything from two weeks to two months or even longer! The builder’s wife worked in the local greengrocers, so I decided to enlist her help. My plea was simple: “If Alan doesn’t start the extension within the next week, it will be too late. It will have to wait until after the baby!” The builder’s wife clearly ‘had words’ with her husband, and remarkably, within a few days, Alan and his workmen appeared, and the extension was begun.
I have to say that a major building project and a heavily pregnant mum with two other children under four doesn’t combine well together. It was a major upheaval at an inconvenient time, but somehow we all survived despite living upstairs with no kitchen for several weeks. The extension was duly completed and fully decorated in the nick of time before Rachel arrived on the scene.
Now picture Mary, a young and inexperienced mother-to-be, expecting her first baby. The baby has not exactly been conceived in the usual way and she has already had to deal with the fallout from Joseph and the immediate family. Then, just as the due date is coming into view, Caesar Augustus issues his decree, and Mary discovers that she will have to make a 90-mile journey to Bethlehem, heavily pregnant and probably on foot. (Mary and Joseph were not wealthy and there is no mention of a donkey in the Bible.) The prospect of such a last-minute upheaval must have been daunting, but there was no choice. The journey had to be made. And then, to crown it all, on arrival in Bethlehem there was nowhere to stay. Possibly shunned by members of Joseph’s family over the pre-marriage pregnancy, by now all the inns were already full. The sense of distress and desperation is palpable.
Now picture the refugees and asylum seekers fleeing war or poverty, making long arduous journeys, risking everything in the hope of a better future. Among them, there will also be the heavily pregnant. Babies arrive when they choose. They come whether things are ready or not, and if that arrival is in the midst of great upheaval, so be it. However, in all this trauma, we can be reassured that we have a God who understands, who himself crept in beside us, Emmanuel, God with us, born in a stable, the only shelter to be found, and laid in a manger, the most draft free cradle available at the time.
We pray for all refugees and asylum seekers as they journey, especially remembering the pregnant mothers amongst them. May they draw encouragement from Mary and Joseph and the Christ-child, who is ever Emmanuel, God with us. Amen.
O Little Town of Bethlehem, an arrangement by Fernando Ortega