How can we obey God despite difficult circumstances? Maybe we should ask Mary. But what did she know?
She knew she was bearing the Son of God in her womb, she knew ridicule and misunderstanding from almost everyone, and she knew joy. The kind of joy that comes through obedience to God’s revealed will.
We all have journeys that are difficult. What got Mary through and what can we learn from her story?
It’s not an easy journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Especially when you’re pregnant.
I walked that road once, a long time ago, and we didn’t have cars, planes, motor bikes, or any other kind of powered vehicle to help like you have today. We didn’t even have a horse or a camel.
I was incredulous when Joseph said we had to travel south, all the way to the town of Bethlehem. He said it was for a census so the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, could tax us. Like he needed more money!? He was sitting fat and happy in his palace in Rome or Capri or wherever he lived, and here we were, struggling to survive. Go figure.
I shook my head in disbelief when he told me.
“Joseph, you know I only have a short time before the baby comes. Have you forgotten how important this child is? I can’t leave. Who will help with the birthing? Amma and the women are going to be here. Who’s going to do it? You?” I smothered my laughter with my hand because I didn’t want to offend him. He’s such a gentle soul that I hate going against his wishes.
He blushed and looked over the treetops as if searching for inspiration. “Of course I know who the Babe is that you are carrying, Mary. How could I forget? But I don’t see a way out of it. Both of our families were from Bethlehem as we are of the line of David. The order says to go to your home city.”
He paused and wiped sweat from his forehead. It was hot, and he’d been pounding nails into the new house we were going to live in. “God will help us. I know He will.”
Well, that was fine for him to say, but he’s not a woman.
How could he understand? I had it all planned how I would have the most important child that was ever born on the earth. It should be done with some style, I figured. So even though we were poor and had nothing that a royal child might wear, I’d been saving a few coins and figured I could get a bolt of fine silk I’d seen in the marketplace. It would take every cent I owned, and then some, but I had my heart set on it for His first clothes when I took Him to the temple.
I figured we could fix up the little extra room real fancy-like with quilts on the walls and maybe Joseph would cut some grass and bring it in so we’d had something nice underfoot instead of dirt. And I wanted lots of light. Maybe Amma would loan me her set of silver candle holders that she used for Hanukkah.
But I couldn’t get out of going with Joseph to Bethlehem.
I had to take that hard road if I wanted to do the will of God. I had to obey God despite difficult circumstances. There was no easy way to do it.
I learned this lesson: 1. Obey God even if it’s hard.
We didn’t have very much money, not nearly enough for the journey ahead.
We had to buy food and pay for rooms along the way. If we were lucky, we might find a room in someone’s home, but even then, we’d give them something because everyone was struggling in those days. With a sinking heart, I knew I couldn’t buy that material for my dear son’s first garment. I wouldn’t be able to get anything, for that matter, not even a pair of good sandals to replace my old, worn ones that were patched a hundred times.
Amma was in tears the morning we left.
She patted the pack where she’d stored some swaddling cloths and told us good-bye. As Nazareth disappeared behind the hill, and we started south, I stumbled more than once because tears blinded my eyes, too.
There was a donkey, but I didn’t ride it. Whoever heard of a woman riding while her husband walked? We traveled with a group of people, and they had the skinniest donkey I’d ever seen. They proceeded to put all the packs on its back, poor thing! One donkey for six people. I was glad I didn’t have to carry anything on my back, but I wondered how I was going to make the journey because I knew I was closer to having the baby than anyone guessed.
I sang softly to my Babe as we entered the Jordan valley that stretched south. I still hadn’t figured out what I was going to do if He came while we were on our journey. Could I find some women who would help?
Sighing, I glanced at Joseph and saw worry in his eyes, too. This wouldn’t be easy, but I remembered what Amma told me just before we left:
Lesson 2: Do what you can with what you have.
Obey God despite difficult circumstances. Step out in faith, and God will provide. Do what you can with what you have. It seemed to have a rhythm to it. I made up a little song and hummed it to myself. We had a donkey and our good strong legs. Joseph talked with the men, and I visited with the women.
Yet how I longed for my precious Child to have a grand entrance into the world!
I wanted a herald outside the door to proclaim His birth like they do for royalty. I wanted regal clothes for Him, too. I wanted everyone to know this Child was special, that He was, in fact, the Son of God. But as the days wore on, and I wilted in the heat like a primrose on a hot day, I knew it would not happen like that. I knew all my dreams and plans were ruined.
Just because a stupid Emperor wanted more tax money.
Anger welled up inside. This Child I carried deserved better than this! Why, the Son of God should be born in the best palace in the world, attended by the most prestigious physicians, and welcomed with great glory, pomp and splendor.
But I knew He would be born to poor parents in the back-water of Israel. Not a grand beginning. Yet God was in this. He chose me, prepared me, and gave me grace. I lifted my head and my step became firmer. And I learned this valuable lesson:
Lesson 3. Don’t aim for greatness when you have a big task to do.
Focus on your task. Allow God to work out the details. Don’t get in the way of His plan. Obey God despite difficult circumstances.
I can’t say how I did it, but step by step, each one becoming more difficult than the last, I walked that hard road.
My right sandal broke. Joseph mended it as well as he could, and a man in our group gave me another pair, but they were too big for me. Joseph had to tie them on with leather thongs. They bit into my feet and made awful sores. When I fell far behind the others, Joseph came back for me and gave me a lift on his back. I hated that because I knew he was as tired as I was.
Finally we got to Bethel.
It’s a small village north of Jerusalem. This was our last night before we got to Bethlehem. The others got an inn, but Joseph said our money was running short, so we camped with a group of other travelers around the well outside town. The ground was hard and lumpy. Joseph brought out our meager supper — cheese and hard bread.
I settled down on my sleeping pad beside Joseph and tried to get comfortable. My feet hurt, my back hurt, my head hurt. As soon as I grew quiet, the baby woke up and started kicking his little feet. As much as I loved Him already, I wanted to sleep. Yet I couldn’t. I tossed and turned. Finally I sat up.
Joseph was awake, too. He rolled over. “Are you well, Mary?”
“No. I’m tired, discouraged and I hurt everywhere. The Baby is restless, and so am I.”
There was a pause. “Can I do anything for you?”
Do anything? What could he do?
Whisk me home? Give me new feet? Wave a magic wand over me and make all my pains go away? Take me out of this nightmare?
I shook my head, fighting tears. “It isn’t fair,” I said, my voice rising with my indignation. “Joseph, this baby deserves the best and what is He going to get? The worst! I hate that Emperor and his soldiers! I hate Rome!” I pounded my fist on the ground.
Joseph laid his big hand on mine, unclenching my fingers one by one. Then he tipped up my chin. In the light of the moon, love glimmered in his eyes.
I will never forget what he said.
“Mary, let it go. God is in control. I know how you feel. I’m tired and confused, too. But God is in this! Can’t you feel Him? Do you think He will dishonor His Son at His birth? Don’t hate Rome, dear one. Forgive them and pray for them. That’s what I have been taught from the Scriptures. It is the only way to live, for hatred and bitterness will sour your soul.”
He paused to take a deep breath. He was older than I – by ten years – yet he was a good man, a devout Jew, one who loved the Torah and worshiped Jehovah sincerely. At first I hadn’t wanted to marry him, but now I knew he was perfect for me. And for the Baby Jesus.
“Live in love and joy,” he continued softly as the breezes played among the branches of the palm tree. “Obey God even though it’s hard.”
He paused again, then said, “You have been chosen for one of the greatest and noblest of tasks, my love. We must be careful to guard our hearts against evil.” A smile tugged at his lips. “Can you do that? Can you make this journey?”
I nodded and tried not to let him see the tears that wet my cheeks.
I wanted to say do I have a choice? But I would not dishonor this wonderful man. I had to obey God despite difficult circumstances.
“Yes, Joseph, I can do it if you help me. I’m sorry for what I said. I will try to forgive them and pray for them.” I sighed and closed my eyes, grasping his hand.
Joseph leaned over and lightly kissed my forehead.
Then he turned on his side and in a short time, he was snoring. In that moment, I learned another important life lesson.
Lesson 4. Believe God’s Word even when you can’t see or feel the answer. Trust Him and don’t be bitter.
I lay back and gazed at the sky. It spread out above me like a canopy, sparkling with a million, trillion lights. I’d never seen it this way. It was dazzling with light. I thought I could see every star in the sky. There was one particularly bright, large star that I’d never seen before. Tears of joy slid down the side of my face.
Suddenly deep peace filled my soul. It was like God wrapped His great arms around me and whispered in my ear.
“Be comforted, my child. You will arrive in Bethlehem and this Child will be safely born. He will be great and will bring salvation to all peoples of the world. You have a small part to play, Mary, but I will help you. I will be with you and strengthen you. Rest now. Rest in My love.”
And I did.
We arrived in Bethlehem in next evening.
The city was crowded, noisy and confusing. Definitely not a silent night! All the inns were full. Finally we found an innkeeper who allowed us to sleep in a cave where he kept his animals. I was grateful for it because the baby would be born soon, and I didn’t want Him to arrive on the street.
It was there that Jesus was born.
Joseph helped me and did a good job. The cows and sheep watched as the Son of God came into the world. It was so unlike what I’d pictured and planned, yet it was peaceful there in the stable.
I thought I heard angels singing, and awhile later, some shepherds came and told us that a choir of them filled the night sky and told them where to find the Baby.
Yes, all these things are recorded in the Scriptures, even the arrival later of the Magi from the east who brought us rich treasures, fit for a king. They were God’s provision for our longer journey to Egypt later to save Jesus’ life. This time we had our own donkey and I did ride it, holding Jesus. I am glad I obeyed God’s will despite difficult circumstances.
Here’s the final lesson I learned on my road to Bethlehem:
Lesson 5: Rest in God’s love and live in joy. Be thankful. Praise God for what you have.
You’ve read these events, heard them preached in sermons, sung them, acted them out, made poems of them, sent Christmas cards about them, and taught them to your children.
I, Mary, was humbled to have been the instrument God used to bring His Son into the world. Later, I acknowledged Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah and my own dear Savior from sin. I saw Him die on the cross, and I saw Him after He rose from the grave.
There’s been a lot that’s happened since those days. Churches have been formed. People saved and baptized. God’s Word has been written and is spreading across the whole world.
Yet I will never forget the night I wrestled with the demons of hatred and bitterness, nor will I forget Joseph’s wise words. Yes. My precious life lessons. As you hurry through your days this Christmas season, remember them. Practice them. They will bring you joy.
Obey God even if it’s hard.
Do what you can with what you have.
Don’t aim for greatness when you have a big task to do. Believe God’s Word even when you can’t see or feel the answer.
Trust Him and don’t be bitter.
Rest in God’s love, live in joy. Be thankful and praise God for what you have.
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