Christmas is challenging. It’s hectic. At times, it’s downright CRAZY!
I was feeling this all too acutely the other day while I was on the porch wrestling with the Christmas lights. I could hear my wife in the living area rifling through our many buckets of Christmas decorations while the kids bounced off of the walls, fueled completely by the natural Christmas high of hot chocolate, candy canes, and the general mayhem of getting the house ready for the season.
As I threaded the Christmas lights in and out of the railing, I mentally ticking off all the things I had to do to get ready for the big day. As the list got longer and more complicated, I began to feel a little sorry for my predicament—how was I going to get it all done? Then it hit me. I have it pretty darn easy. My challenges don’t even come close to holding a candle to the divine requests and subsequent challenges faced by Mary and Joseph on the very first Christmas.
Can you imagine what it was like for them? Can you imagine how you would react to those kinds of asks during those types of circumstances? I can’t.
First Challenge: Mary’s Predicament: Mary was asked to take on the ultimate challenge of birth at what many biblical historians believe to be the tender age of 12-14 (the normal age many girls were married during that time period). At the time she was only betrothed to Joseph and this sudden encumbrance would have scandalized Joseph and the whole community around them. In fact, when Joseph found out that “before they came together she was found to be with child” he “being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.” (Matthew 1: 18-19)
Second Challenge: Joseph’s Predicament: Joseph was asked to remain betrothed to a girl who by all intents and purposes looked to be dishonorable and unfaithful to him. Think about it, how would you react? Would you be humiliated, angry, or jealous?
Instead, “As [Joseph] considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.’” He was given the context to understand that his soon-to-be wife was not ruined, but instead the holy vessel of the Son of God and took up this unlikely task.
Third Challenge: The Census: It’s hard to imagine that there was a time when every man, woman and child would gather their belongings and travel to the hometown of their ancestors to be enrolled in a census. Can you imagine what it must have been like? It was not just a matter of packing for a simple trip. Provision had to be made for their animals while they were away and for their homes and businesses. Packing food and clothing would have been a major undertaking — and it had to be carried by man, woman, or animal, on the most wearisome of journeys.
In the case of Mary and Joseph, not only did they have to contend with this, but they also had to travel 90 miles to Bethlehem while she was she was very pregnant.
Fourth Challenge: No Place to Stay:
When Mary and Joseph finally arrived in Bethlehem, she was ready to give birth and there was no place for them to go. Can you imagine being a scared, young girl, about to give birth to the savior of mankind and you have nowhere to go and no one to help you? Can you imagine being the husband and not being able to provide a safe place for your wife and soon-to-be child?
As I catalogue each of these obstacles to the First Christmas story, I find that I’m not in want this Christmas season. I have a wonderful wife and three healthy, smart, and funny kids to spend the holidays with. I have a warm home, money in the bank, a profession, a purpose, and a calling. Most importantly, I know my God personally and I know I’m loved and provided for by Him. And although God has sent me many a challenge over the years, they are small and inconsequential in comparison to the challenges Mary and Joseph faced on that first Christmas.
I, for one, am glad they were up to it!