When Mary is in the ninth month of her pregnancy she and Joseph have to go to Bethlehem to register for the census decreed by Caesar Augustus. I can’t imagine that Mary was pleased to have to travel to Bethlehem when she was so physically uncomfortable. When she discovers she is going into labor in Bethlehem and there is no room at an Inn she must have gone from irritation to panic to think that she would have to deliver her baby in filthy and cold surroundings. I would think at this point in time Mary did not want to be in Bethlehem.
And yet as Mary delivers her baby and he is wrapped in strips of cloth and he is laid in a manger she sees that what the angel had promised had come true. This was no ordinary baby. Angels proclaimed his birth to shepherds. They came to see him, to kneel at his manger throne, and then to go to tell others what they had seen. At this point Mary was glad she had gone to Bethlehem in spite of the drama and the trauma.
I talked about this last week at a cancer support group meeting. I spoke of how their having to come to the cancer center for treatment was like having to go to Bethlehem. They didn’t want to come for treatment. They had experienced many unpleasant and traumatic things. In spite of the fact that none of them wanted to be in this place and this situation I wondered if they had made any discoveries like Mary had. I wondered if they had discovered something new about themselves or the world in which they lived.
As I asked them to ponder this thought one lady said that she had found out she was stronger than she thought she was. She had discovered the truth that we don’t know how strong we are until we have to face our time of testing. It is then we find out that God has given us more strength than we thought we had. Another lady said she had found the opposite to be true. She had always been very independent and self sufficient but now needed to ask for help and needed to depend on others. She didn’t like being weak and vulnerable but had also found out it wasn’t totally negative. We talked more about how being vulnerable can open the door to let people show their love to us. It can deepen relationships when children can now take care of their parents and let their parents know how much they appreciated the care they had received when they were young. And so the group went on talking about how they didn’t want to be in Bethlehem and yet had found many things that had deepened their understanding of life and lifted their spirits.
Perhaps you also know someone who doesn’t want to be in Bethlehem. You know someone with cancer, someone in a nursing home, someone going through a divorce, someone going through a difficult transition, and they could use a visit. Maybe you could be the one who could sit with them and let them talk about all the reasons why they don’t want to be in Bethlehem and then see if they want to reflect on what they have found in their Bethlehem that might have taught them something they didn’t know before. Something hopeful, something uplifting, something life giving, something that helps them see that God is there with them.