Summary: This sermon looks at the journey Joseph and Mary took to Bethlehem and draws some life lessons from it.

AM sermon preached at Central Christian Church December 23, 2012

Take the Christmas Journey: meet God at every turn sermon series

The Journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem Luke 2:1-7

We’ve been looking at journeys made that first Christmas in our current sermon series and today we’re going to look at what is probably the most familiar journey of the Christmas season---the journey Joseph and Mary made from Nazareth to Bethlehem. The reason I think this journey is so familiar to us is because it is the one most often acted out in plays and musicals and because our nativity sets portray how we envision the trip ending at a stable. Here’s how the Bible describes that journey in Luke 2....

1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.

4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

It’s interesting when you think about it---how the Bible never mentions Mary riding a donkey, although we usually imagine her doing so. The Bible never mentions an inn keeper although there’s almost always one present in our children’s plays. The Bible doesn’t say anything about a stable or about animals being present. But we have those things in our nativity sets. I could go on in detail and explain things like why it’s more likely Jesus’ birth took place in a cave or even an underground room than a stable or barn but that’s not what I want to do with my message this morning. Rather than get bogged down with pointing out the differences between what the Bible says happened and what tradition has us thinking happened, I want to share some truths that that Bethlehem journey reminds us of or points to.

First, I see in Mary & Joseph’s travelling from Nazareth to Bethlehem a reminder that Jesus never promised His faithful followers an easy journey through life, rather He promised them a safe arrival in heaven. There are at least five reasons tough stuff happens as we journey through life. To begin---there’s us. I mean if we’re honest with ourselves we’ll have to admit that sometimes things get tough because we’ve made them tough through our own actions and choices. For example, maybe we began a bad habit only to have it come back and bite us. Or maybe we overspent and now have trouble keeping up with the bills. Or maybe we dropped out of school and now find it difficult to get a good paying job. Or maybe we let our gas tank get too low and we went through a lot of unnecessary anxiety worrying about our car running out of gas in the middle of rush hour traffic on the MLK bridge. Let’s just say, I was recently guilty of that last one. Without a doubt, we encounter problems and hardships and life is tough on us sometimes because we made it that way. On the other hand life is sometimes tough on us because others have made it that way. The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem which Joseph and Mary made was not something they would have chosen for themselves, especially with Mary being so far along in her pregnancy. After all, we’re talking about a 70 or 80 mile trip---mostly over dusty, gravel roads. And we’re not talking about making it in some climate controlled luxury SUV in an hour or so. We’re talking about a trip that would take between four and seven days---and we’re talking about a woman who is about to give birth walking those 70 or 80 miles, or possibly riding them on a donkey or on the back of some wagon. No matter how you look at it, it wasn’t an easy trip for Mary and Joseph to make. It wasn’t a road they would have chosen for themselves, yet because of Caesar’s decree it was one they travelled. Sometimes we face tough stuff in our lives because of other people.

And listen, when it comes to facing hardships, tragedies and other tough stuff in our lives, let’s not forget folks that there is a spiritual battle going on. What that means is that sometimes things can get tough in our lives as the direct result of our being under spiritual attack by Satan and the forces of darkness. The Old Testament book of Job makes that possibility very clear. In that book we read how Job was the most upright man living in his generation---and yet he had to face life’s worst nightmares head on. Not only were all of His children killed, but his personal health and his vast wealth were ripped away from him as well. And according to the scriptures, the culprit acting behind the scenes who did those terrible things to Job was Satan. Satan did what he did in hopes of ruining the close relationship Job had with God.

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