For many, the Christmas season means spending a great deal of time traveling: a dozen trips in the car battling the traffic to the mall, the annual airline flight to visit the grandparents, or the 10-hour bus ride home from college. Time on the road or waiting in a terminal is synonymous with celebrating Christmas. It makes sense, since travelling has always been a part of Jesus’ birth. I am thinking about a young couple named Mary and Joseph, who were required to travel roughly ninety miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem. To put it in perspective, it would be like walking from Dorchester to Hartford.
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. Luke 2:1-3
Sometimes, we might think that the demands upon us to travel are beyond our control and we chafe at the expectation. That may have been how Mary and Joseph felt. Caesar Augustus thought he had a good idea in counting everyone in his realm and raise taxes to increase his kingdom. Because he was the dictator of the entire Rome world, he could do anything he wanted. So they went, on foot, despite the fact that Mary was ‘heavy laden with child’. God had a plan for them, and God often has a plan for us.
Sometimes, we might think that the destination of our travel plans are outside our comfort zone. That could have been how Joseph and Mary felt as they awkwardly advanced toward Bethlehem together. It was an uncomfortable situation: they were pledged to be married but had yet to have the ceremony when it was obvious that they were expecting. Mary was in an uncomfortable condition: can you imagine walking 15 miles a day for 6 days while 9 months pregnant? God was guiding their every step, and God is also guiding ours.
God may be leading us to places out of our control and beyond our comfort because there are people in those places that need the hope, the joy and the love that appeared in its fulness for the first time in Bethlehem. There are people in parking lots and registers who need a smile and a warm greeting. There are people frustrated by missed connections or missing luggage that could benefit from an act of kindness and a candy cane. The roads and airways are filled with inconsiderate and self-centered travelers; perhaps God could use you to offer those around you common courtesy and Christmas cheer.
Wherever God has you travelling this month, whether it be across the room, across the street or across the country, know that God has a purpose in your journey – to bring forth a witness to God’s grace, mercy and love to those who may not experience it otherwise. We could choose to follow Mary and Joseph’s example and remain faithful to God wherever He may lead us. We could choose to share the delight of knowing the light that shines in the darkness, the hope of nations, the King of Kings and the prince of peace.
May we go wherever we go with gladness and may the gifts arrive unbroken.
I am a product of my environment: I am impatient. I am not sure if it started with the remote control, the automatic drip coffee maker, the microwave oven or the cell phone, but I have grown increasingly uncomfortable with waiting. Fortunately, technology enables me to no longer waste my time in lines at the bank (there’s an app which makes my deposits for me and ATMs at every corner), in lines at the ‘video store’ (there’s On Demand™, Netflix© and DVRs to remedy that inconvenience), or lines at Fotomat (since digital cameras allow you to see, crop and print your pictures in an instant. Waiting is quickly becoming an old-fashioned idea, like a house call from a doctor or handwritten letter from a friend.
Instant gratification is the ideal. Bookstores have been shuttered because we can read electronic copies of almost anything on our phones, tablets and laptops. Texts and social media postings have become the preferred method of communication and we can know almost immediately get a response or a ‘like’. Even the food we eat – 30 minute meals at home and fast casual cuisine at restaurants – shouldn’t typically take long to prepare or consume. We are a people who suffer from road rage when in traffic and buffering suffering when on-line. Most of us hate to wait.
The trouble with this aspect of our culture is that God uses waiting as a tool of our maturity. Throughout the pages of the Bible are accounts of individuals who were required to wait:
- Abraham was given a promise from God that he and Sarah would have a nation of offspring. He waited twenty five years before he held the fulfillment of the promise, Isaac.
- Joseph was imprisoned on false charges, trusting that God would deliver him from his oppressors. He waited seventeen years before he was released.
- Moses ran from God’s plan and people, escaping to the land of Jethro. He waited forty years before God spoke again and renewed his calling to deliver the Israelites.
- Zerubbabel began rebuilding the temple before opposition overwhelmed the work. He waited eighteen years before he was able to resume and finished reconstruction.
Patrick Morley, in his book How God Makes Men, talks about ‘Bible Time’ – a construct based on 2 Peter 3:8 which states that ‘with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.’ According to Morley, ‘Bible Time’ is elastic; ten minutes in heaven compares to ten years on earth and two thousand years in heaven are like two days on earth. Instant gratification is a convention of our human mind when we assume our time table and not God’s. Impatience is an aspect of our human nature where we assume we know how long something ought to last. Waiting is a gift from the Spirit enabling us to grow to become all that God desires.
Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD. Psalm 27:14
For those of us who are waiting for God to act on our behalf, allow me to give you a tool which may help – Wait for God to change your situation or provide your relief tomorrow and one day He will.