I feel a little like Joseph after he got the news that he had to take an inconvenient trip to Bethlehem. We will make an inconvenient trip to the hospital three days before Christmas to take our daughter, Lisa, to surgery once again. It will be another cornea transplant. It is complicated beginning with hospital scheduling to tricky anesthesia issues. Why is it that Christmas has a way of colliding with our best-laid plans?
I balked at first. I justified every negative reaction as reasonable.However, the voice that countered those thoughts reminded me that inconvenience was a part of the first Christmas story. It was worse than inconvenient to have a pregnancy story no one believed. It was inconvenient for full-term Mary to make the nearly 70 mile trip to Bethlehem. It was inconvenient to be forced into an overcrowded town. It was inconvenient to turn a stable into a maternity ward.
No, the first Christmas was not convenient.
But God never promised convenience; He promised redemption. He promised Emmanuel. Jesus won't always take away inconveniences, but take it from someone born in a stable, what God inhabits, He changes. As theologian Frederick Buechner said,
Once He appears in a stable, there is no way
to know where He will show up next.
Somehow I don’t think Joseph looked back on that trip to Bethlehem with regret. God provided a quiet, out-of-the- way place, removed from pointing fingers and innuendos. Perhaps it was a respite of sorts. And when the shepherds showed up with their message from God, did Joseph accept their visit as God’s reminder that He was with them, always present.
Bonding with Joseph in these weeks has forced me to take a different journey to Christmas. I’ve been more selective. I have leaned into the waiting side of Advent in ways that have revealed God’s answers. Why should I be surprised that the God-with-us message comes home clearly when I give up the way I want the answers to come?
I am not the only one facing inconvenience at Christmas. I have several friends who are taking unexpected journeys and finding themselves in stable conditions. Here is what I pray for all us preparing for inconvenience at Christmas: