Summary: The difficult times, the pain, the suffering, the prayers that seemed to go unanswered, none of that meant that God had left them out in the cold and none of those things mean that God has left you out in the cold.
There we were, literally halfway around the world, standing on the edge of a very steep hill, really, almost a cliff, and we were overlooking an expanse of well manicured fields. It was a great spot. We could see every corner of the wide canyon in front of us. We stood on one of the many rocky outcroppings – time seemed to stand still for a moment.
So this was the place. Of all the places in the area, this was the only possible place it could be. It wasn’t a beautiful place. There weren’t any significant geological features at the place - just dirt, large rocks, and acres of dried brown grass. There wasn’t a river, or a lake or any source of water in sight. Nothing about the landscape would make any of us take a second glance, even the trees were unmemorable.
Yet we kept staring. Those of us who had ventured out to the edge of the steep hill ceased talking. We gazed on in silence. It is something to read about a place, and it is something to see a place in a photo – but to be in that place, that is a different thing altogether.
I saw the churches built to honor the event; I heard the lectures that gave fascinating details about the event and I saw the many trinkets stamped “Bethlehem” – I even saw the tourist directed “cave” where Jesus was born, which was filled with lavish ornate decorations, and to me, it was just stuff.
But standing in silence on that quite frankly, ugly hillside, that is what made things real for me that day, for here it was over 2000 years ago, shepherds watching over their flocks were the very first to hear the good news – God is here! He is here in town tonight! It was here at this rock outcropping that the good news was first heard.
It was a silent night. It was a holy night.
It was a night unlike any other night.
Still….it was an ordinary town, that most certainly held only ordinary people, for anyone of significance would be living in nearby Jerusalem and Joseph and Mary were only ordinary peasants, so ordinary, that no one was willing to make room for them. They were so ordinary people had no problem turning away a woman who was nine months pregnant – and very much due.
You know, today, if you walk the streets of Bethlehem, people pretty much ignore you as they did so many years ago. I remember walking through the streets lined with different vendors selling shoes, vegetables, pirated DVD’s – they had no interest in me. I was a tourist, why would I be interested in a pair of penny loafers, why would they waste their time with an American tourist, which I’m sure they had seen thousands over the years, how was I of any benefit to them? Things haven’t changed much over the years.
Ordinary people in an ordinary town on an ordinary night – you would think things would go smoother for the birth of Jesus Christ….but how could anyone have a clue that this night was to be different than any other night if things looked so ordinary.
Joseph and Mary, they appeared so…well, like everyone else.
The whole situation is riff with difficulties. Accusations of immorality, a very difficult journey, no place to stay, and you know, women who are nine months pregnant should not travel. Let me ask you, wouldn’t you expect that people who were highly favored by God wouldn’t have life so hard? I wouldn’t expect that either.
Look. Mary is pregnant, who is going to believe her story? Have you ever been in a situation like that? It doesn’t matter what the facts are, people will believe what they will believe.
Don’t imagine for a moment that Mary’s friends and neighbors supported her in her home town. Mary would be ostracized, ignored, gossiped about – and there was absolutely nothing she could do about it. Life would be very lonely and very hard for Mary during those nine months. You can probably forget about a baby shower for this woman. Isn’t that a lot to ask of a 15 year old?
Joseph. He would have had an intense amount of pressure from his family to divorce Mary. (Understand that the custom was to enter into an engagement for a year and then have the wedding, but for all intents and purposes a couple was considered married at the engagement) Joseph’s family would not want the stigma of a daughter-in-law who was thought to be immoral. They would demand that Joseph end his relationship with this woman. For Joseph to not divorce Mary, well, this would diminish his standing in the community, he would be thought of as a pushover, a fool, a man without wisdom.