It is that week between festivities, between the Christmas celebrations and the welcoming of the new year. We seem to have abandoned the old agricultural tilt to the calendar, when the new year began either in the spring with the arrival of new life in the fields or in the fall, Celtic style, when the harvest was in and it was time to think about the future.
So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. – Luke 2:16
We are here, and whatever were the difficulties of the long journey, they are forgotten. We had a destination and we have reached it. And what do we find? Just a Child, the most helpless and vulnerable among us, born as we have all been born, but this little one does not even have a bed. When he is not in his parents’ arms, he lies on carefully piled straw in an animal’s feeding trough. He sleeps and we look on with love. This is a moment beyond words.
Our prayer is simply love.
“Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing which has taken place...” – Luke 2:15
That song was a clarion call to action and the shepherds have to set out immediately. There seem to be no suggestions of waiting until dawn, of worrying about stray wolves or similar practical matters. They go with haste. Can you see them scrambling in the dark down that hillside, through the sleeping flocks, and out upon the starlit road. They have a mission and they will fulfill it with alacrity.
Shall we match our steps to theirs because we are bound for the same place where a Child has just been born?
“Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy...” – Luke 2:10
Our cast of characters is almost complete as the final angelic message is given to shepherds on a lonely hillside outside Bethlehem. It has the usual prelude that reassures and then it gets right to the point. This is a happy message and it has to come in a song. In a wonderfully incongruous scene the poorest folk of Bethlehem hear music that is unearthly. God is lavish!
Let us find our way to this hillside and listen with the shepherds. Where must this song lead them?
He went to be registered with Mary... – Luke 2:5
Joseph never gets to say one word in any gospel. He is there as Mary’s support, as Jesus’ first teacher, as the neighbor many of us would love to have had. He is a young man of duty and of a great willingness to enter into God’s plan. There is so much to admire in this silent background figure without whom Bethlehem would not have happened. Would we have been content with such a role in God’s plan?
In our quiet time today let us move Joseph front and center and really see this extraordinary person with his amazing qualities.
They set out; and there ahead of them went the star... – Matthew 2:9
This is an intriguing verse. The Magi thought they had lost their way so they stopped to ask directions. It was only when they got back on the road that the star reappeared. It was missing as they sat in Herod’s palace and waited for the scholars to scan the scrolls. They are being led, not to the splendor of a king’s residence, nor to the crowded courtyards of the Temple, but to a tiny town almost lost to history. Nothing of note has happened in Bethlehem in a thousand years.
In prayer let us reflect on the truth that our Bethlehem star is leading us past the “we’re number one” world into the unknown.
“Go and search diligently for the child...” – Matthew 2:8
These are the words of Herod as he sends the wise men off on a search he is too afraid to undertake, but they are also the words that underscore why we come down this Bethlehem road every year. We are always in search of this Child, always looking for him in the changing circumstances of our daily living. Finding and keeping do not always go together, since the dynamics of life keep us alert to see him in our daily challenges.
In prayer, let us ask for the grace to keep that search alive and fresh.
“For nothing will be impossible with God.” – Luke 1:37
These are the words that are Mary’s reassurance and ours as well. God’s sees far more than we do, God’s grace is greater than all human frailty and God will bring this incredible idea to a satisfactory conclusion. Then, as now, it is only faith in these words that give any meaning to our human situations.
We need to repeat this sentence to ourselves again and again until it pierces our inner consciousness and becomes real: God is greater than our human frailty.
“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” – Luke 1:30
Mary, nearing the end of the exhausting physical journey, is also near her delivery time. She must be concerned about what will happen next. How are she and Joseph to raise this Child as part of God’s plan? Do they have the necessary skills and resources? As she looks around at those traveling with her, she must have concerns about their reaction to the One who is about to be born. Humanly speaking, she has many reasons to fear the future.
In prayer, let us consider how we might have reacted had we lived in Mary’s world, we who were expecting a new King David. Would we have been disappointed or excited to have bypassed Jerusalem and to be heading for Bethlehem?
The one who moves too hurriedly misses the way. – Proverbs 19:2
The Christian calendar carves out four Sundays for the way to Bethlehem, far too long for those of us who want to get there ASAP. The spiritual changes necessary to be truly ready for what we will find at journey’s end require time. We cannot hurry this journey. We can each think of errors made by trying to go faster. While all around us says “Hurry”, God says “Match your pace to mine.”
Let us pray at this week’s end for the grace to slow down in our soul’s depths.
The human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps. – Proverbs 16:9
This biblical proverb is just a rephrasing of the “man plans and God laughs.” Haven’t we all made lovely plans, thus saving God the trouble of doing it, only to see them crash through circumstances that we feel are beyond our control. Why doesn’t God see it our way? Almost everything concerned with Christmas comes to mind here. Going to Bethlehem is all about the unexpected. It is God’s surprise.
Let us ask for the grace to welcome God’s surprises in our lives.
“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid...”– Matthew 1:20
That young carpenter is sleeping restlessly tonight. In what has he become involved? It is too late to suggest that God choose someone else. He has legitimate concerns for what seems to be happening, if he is to be the material provider for his wife and this Child who is destined to be born away from home. He worries.
Hear God’s words to Joseph and then apply them to yourself, putting your name in the place of his. God cares no less for you.
“For we observed his star at its rising and have come to pay him homage.” – Matthew 2:2
Just suppose that our road intersected with that of these star-travelers come from the East. Would we find their story interesting or would we look on them as a bit weird. After all, who follows a star for weeks? Would we dismiss them as unworthy of joining us more serious seekers of the Child? There is reason to wonder here.
Let us sit beside our campfire with the Magi and decide if we want to journey with them or not? Why?
And when you turn to the right…or to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” – Isaiah 30:21
Wouldn’t you love such a clear directive? It isn’t often that easy, but the grace of God is that inaudible voice for those of us who would walk the Bethlehem road as pilgrims anxious to arrive but equally concerned that we travel as God would have us journey.
Let us ask this day for ears to detect that accompanying voice of God in our hearts.
When you walk, your step will not be hampered... – Proverbs 4:12
We have to be this confident or every tiny obstacle will be interpreted as having an ominous meaning. If we walk with purpose and energy, in harmony with whoever is today’s traveling companion, then there can be nothing that is a real hindrance.
In prayer, let us ask for the grace to walk with this kind of determined faith.
Therefore, lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees. – Hebrews 12:12
We are at midpoint today and this is when we begin to feel the fatigue. The excitement of beginning is over. The new companions have become old. People’s idiosyncrasies are apparent. “I want to go home.” No, it is time for a second wind, so let us regather our energy and think ahead to where we are going and whom we are seeking.
Our prayer intention is in that last sentence. We must not flag now.
For he is our peace; [he] has broken down the dividing wall. – Ephesians 2:14
If we are to travel together to a common goal, there can be no walls dividing my side of the road from yours. The very image is ludicrous, but that is how some people suggest we journey through life. No, the real Christian sees all as part of the family. He who is not against us is for us. Looking at history, we haven’t done well on this, have we?
Let us resolve to tear at some wall we see in our thinking or acting towards those who are not “of us”.
Let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. – Romans 14: 19
What a challenge this can be. It is so much easier to listen to gossip or to roll one’s eyes with suspicion. The genuine peacemaker has a lasting challenge to smooth the tangled ends of resentments or the beginnings of a quarrel. What Paul suggests is both a gift to the community and grace for the one who practices it, but it is not easy.
If practice makes perfect, then let us resolve to start our peacemaking before another day elapses. The occasion will present itself.
All her paths are peace. – Proverbs 3:19
While we are about our journey to Bethlehem, there is that other one that came first. Mary and Joseph were traveling together, probably in a caravan of friends and relatives, making their way to David’s city. How do you think she traveled, she who carried in her womb the One who is our journey’s end? Walk beside her this day and see that peace, trust in God’s providence and hope for the future were part of her attitude.
In prayer, walk with Mary and adopt her attitudes for your day.
Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him. – Psalm 37:7
Sometimes on a journey, we do have to be still: to rest, consult a map, solve a problem. However, being still is one of the hardest things for us humans to do. We have to be “up and about” or we feel that we are somehow missing something. But stillness is one of the places where God can be found. Since this journey is not just to reach a goal but to become someone new on the way, we will need times of stillness.
In prayer this day, let us do as the psalmist suggests. Be still and wait.
Sister Carol Perry
A gifted teacher and resident bible scholar at Marble, Sister Carol uses her extensive scholarship and imaginative storytelling skills to offer a fresh and innovative approach to exploring the Scriptures, bringing the stories of the Bible to life.
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