The pathway to Bethlehem this year is crowded. It is full of people making their way, schlepping their stuff, from all of the towns and cities nearby. We were commanded to go there, in order for Caser Augustus to take a census. Although why he couldn’t simply send some of his employees to count people in their own cities rather than making us walk 110 kilometers, I’ll never understand. It seems entirely inefficient to me. But here we are. Plodding along to Bethlehem. Me, on a sad, tired little donkey, and Joseph walking beside us.
I was exhausted before we even left for Bethlehem. I had just visited my cousin Elizabeth for three months; staying in the home she shares with her husband Zechariah. They were gracious enough to receive me, to let me stay with them, given the fact that I’m pregnant with no logical explanation for it. The Holy Spirit made me pregnant? Ha! No one even knew what the Holy Spirit was!
My parents were so angry, my dad threatened to disown me, and it took him quite a while to come around. My mom did a fair bit of convincing him on that one I think. My fiancée Joseph was no better. He thought I had cheated on him and was ready to pass me over. And then he had that dream- God telling him that this wasn’t an ordinary baby- this was The baby. The Messiah. The one we have waited for so long for. The one my grandfather would speak of with longing in his voice, with hope and expectation that it would come in his lifetime. Oh, if only he were still here with us in this life.
The journey to Elizabeth and Zechariah’s place wasn’t as long as this one to Bethlehem, but it was long enough. When I saw Elizabeth, I was startled, to see my oldest cousin, heavy with her first child. I had heard this news through the grapevine, but seriously, to see this at her age! It was hard to wrap my head around! As I got to their gate, Zechariah waved to me from the window, and Elizabeth ran out to meet me, and she told me that as soon as she saw me, her baby jumped inside of her! It started kicking like crazy, and she knew she was filled with the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit. The same “being” that came over me when the angel Gabriel told me I was going to have a baby. The Holy Spirit. Something I don’t understand at all, and yet, feels completely comfortable and reassuring to me. The Holy spirit. When I arrived at her home, a poem bubbled up in my heart, and I couldn’t help letting it out…
I’m bursting with God-news;
I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It’s exactly what he promised,
beginning with Abraham and right up to now.
~ Luke 1:46-55 The message ~
Will this baby really be my Lord? The Messiah that we have been awaiting for centuries? The one that will come to save us all? To deliver us from all this wretchedness? Or was it all simply a dream?
Elizabeth and I sat up late, many nights, talking about our babies, and life and the gifts that Yahweh had given us. Zechariah sat with us too, pretty quiet since he lost his voice when Elizabeth conceived. But he’d nod, and smile and every now and then he would scratch out a little note or thought for us.
Zechariah reminded us of a passage, in the scriptures. He’s a priest and always seems to have a knack for knowing the right scripture for the right moment. Elizabeth read it for us all, in her beautiful soft-spoken voice:
The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies
until the woman in labor gives birth.
Then at last his fellow countrymen
will return from exile to their own land.
And he will stand to lead his flock with the Lord’s strength,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
Then his people will live there undisturbed,
for he will be highly honored around the world.
And he will be the source of peace.
~ Micah 5:3-5 ~
That passage though. Will this really be it? With each passing day, I become more convinced that it might be… That as I travel this journey of motherhood, I am also walking along a much more important path. As much as I know that this child I am carrying and already love so dearly is The One I still have no idea how that’s going to work. What will this look like? How will he lead us? How will love and peace come upon our earth?
There are so many times when I find it hard to love. When I see beggars sitting on the street corner, asking for money and food. I often find myself walking past them, looking up at the sky, anywhere to avoid looking them in the eye. It’s just too hard, I don’t know what to do for them, or how to help them. Joseph says to just show them kindness, to treat them with love and respect, but some days, I struggle to do so. I guess that’s a journey of love that I must continue on…
And what about my sister? She drives me nuts. Especially these days with my wedding coming up, and the baby on the way, she seems to think it’s all about her. How can I show her love? How will this baby bring love to this whole earth? To each one of us that is broken and struggling? I simply cannot fathom how…
It’s so dark out. Each day seems to be darker than the day before. I’ve been feeling a few pains on and off all day. I’m so scared, and I wish my mother were here with us. She would know what to do. She would encourage me to be brave and remind me of her favorite saying “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.”
But we’re almost to Bethlehem now. We’ve had a really long day, but Joseph says he wants to push it. We’re so close to the city, we can see some of the lights in the distance. Joseph says he knows the city will be full, and it’s better to get room tonight rather than wait until tomorrow and chance it… I think this baby will be coming sooner, rather than later, and I desperately hope we can find a room…
Note: A great followup to this piece is “There Was Room at the Inn” by Rachel Held Evans