Growing up, my sisters and I could be at Grandma’s house in less than a minute. On the holidays, we would gather in her tiny but cozy home to admire her three foot aluminum tree, eat a cookie or two and sip a cup of tea. I also remember that during the holidays she would ask my sisters and I to sing Over the River and Through the Woods.
Our trip to Grandma’s house was anything but a trip over any rivers or through any woods. It was more like out the front door and down the sidewalk to grandmother’s house we go! It didn’t seem to matter. Perhaps, this song stirred memories of her own childhood and a trip she had taken through the woods to visit family.
We often associate travel with the holidays. This year, the week before Christmas, over 2.3 million people are expected to travel through O’Hare and Midway airports in Chicago, on their way to visit family and friends. Millions more will throw the kids in the backseat and stuff the trunk with presents as they literally go over the river and through the woods or, (in our neck of the woods) down the toll road and into the city to visit Grandma.
The story of the first Christmas is the story of a journey. Not only is it a story of Mary and Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, but it is also a story of an emotional and spiritual journey that began when they chose to obey God.
It begins in Nazareth. Nazareth was a small and poor village. Not far from there, there were other Galilean villages that were larger, more prosperous. The residents in these other villages kept up with the Greek and Roman cultures. They were contemporary, modern and proud of it. In contrast, the people of Nazareth were considered backwards. Many years later, when Jesus was engaged in his ministry, a man by the name of Nathanael heard that the carpenter – who was going everywhere performing miracles and preaching the love and grace of God – hailed from backwards Nazareth. He scoffed, Nazareth! Can anything good come from there? (John 1:46 NIV)
Nazareth was a punch line for jokes.
Mary was from backwards Nazareth. The most anyone could expect living in Nazareth was a simple, everyday kind of an existence. People got married, raised families, farmed, cared for livestock, walked to the well to get water, buried loved ones and occasionally celebrated more marriages and more births.
Mary expected to live an ordinary, simple life.
The most exciting thing that ever happened to a young girl in Nazareth was betrothal! Mary was betrothed to Joseph, the carpenter.
For a daughter to be engaged to be married was a source of pride and joy for every Jewish family. Momentarily, the world and family’s attention revolved around the young, hopeful girl. Betrothal was a formal promise, a contract that meant the young man and woman were as good as married. The betrothal ceremony was the first step in becoming man and wife.
Mary was enjoying the most exciting time in her life and anticipating a simple, everyday life with Joseph.
Imagine the shock, the fear, the confusion she first experienced when the angel appeared before. Maybe she caught her first glimpse of this angelic visitor as she looked up from the table where she had been kneading the daily bread. Or, did he approach Mary as she walked to the well daydreaming about her future life with the carpenter, Joseph?
All we know is that her ordinary life changed in a moment. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. (Luke 1: 31 NIV)
In a flash, Mary went from contemplating marriage to contemplating motherhood. She journeyed from the expectation of an ordinary life with Joseph to thoughts of an extraordinary future. She moved from the certainty of her relationship with Joseph to the uncertainty of what he would think. She went from the assurance and comfort of the support of her family and community to wondering what would happen next.
In spite of the drastic change in this young woman’s life and her initial shock and expression of fear, she chose to begin a journey of faith, and obedience that we remember today. May it be to me as you have said. (Luke 1:38 NIV)
Could there have been a more humble response? Every time I read her words I am struck to the heart by my own desire to control my future and choose my own path. Mary’s journey was long and difficult. Though my journey is vastly different from the journey of this young woman, her example reminds me to trust God. I am grateful for the example of her humility and obedience.
Mary’s journey would take her on an 80 mile trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Mary’s unique and God-ordained trip would lead her to the manger. Mary’s journey would bring us our Savior.
Have you ever wondered what this trip was really like? It was no trip over the river and through the woods resembling a Currier and Ives scene! Let’s talk about that tomorrow!
What Do You Think?
1. What does God choosing a young girl from Nazareth say to you?
2. How difficult do you think it was for Mary to adjust to this new life?
3. What can we learn from her humble example?
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