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Where is your Bethlehem?



Your destiny awaits you in the most unlikely places

Posted by Chris Scott (Senior Leader Bridge Church)


Joseph went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem… He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. Luke 2:4, 5


These are well-known words from the Christmas nativity account in the Bible, but as we read them it’s can be easy to get lost in the popular imagery that surrounds this journey. Most Christmas cards depict this journey as a pleasant and peaceful trip through the still, star-lit night of an eastern sunset. However, it was most likely nothing like that at all. The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem is around 60 miles, but with all the hills to tackle, and rivers to cross it would feel much longer, particularly when you are on foot, pregnant and just a few days from giving birth.


The most common and beloved image of Mary and Joseph travelling to Bethlehem, is of a pregnant Mary riding a donkey, while Joseph is gently leading the way on foot, yet there is no mention of a donkey at all in the Bible. Incidentally, for those who are interested, the main reason why a donkey is even associated with the Christmas story, is because of an ancient non-biblical account of Mary’s life that traces back to the 2nd century, called the ‘Protoevangelium of James.’ This states that Joseph ‘saddled up the ass’ for the journey. This image has been adopted into the Christmas tradition ever since, but to be honest it’s more likely that they walked parts of the journey, and hitched a few rides with other people making the same trip to Bethlehem.


Anyway, whatever the truth of that, what we do know is that they would have been very tired, and very anxious about where they were headed. Firstly, they had been forced by law to make this journey to register for the census. They were far from home and from family, in a strange place, with no assurance of being welcomed, and no guarantee of a place to stay. Also there was the hurtful sniggers, the disapproving tut’s, and the wagging tongues of those who would have looked disparagingly at a young girl pregnant and out of wedlock. So it was far from being a stress-free and pleasant little jaunt. The only thing certain about their life at that moment, was the uncertainty of it!


The only thing certain about their life at that moment, was the uncertainty of it!

But Mary and Joseph carried a divine promise! When you have a promise you have hope, and when you have hope, you can endure almost anything. Just nine months prior to this difficult and anxious journey, Mary received an unexpected and terrifying visit from an angel, but with it came the most exhilarating and lifechanging promise for her and Joseph. We read about it in Luke 1:30-33.


Mary, you have found favour with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”


Wow that's a zinger right? Mary receives this astonishing promise, that God would bless her and Joseph with a very special child. All children are special of course, but the angelic promise for her was that her son would be the human incarnation of God Almighty on the earth…..now that’s special!


Mary’s response in verse 38 is almost just as astonishing. We don’t know how long she pondered on this, or chewed over the potential ramifications to her own life; but with a mixture of faith and trepidation she responds “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.


With just those few simple words of faith, Mary was able to embrace and embark on the most arduous, anxious, uncertain journey of her life. I am sure she was reminding herself of that promise all the way to Bethlehem. With every bone-shuddering bump on the road she would be muttering under her breath ‘I am blessed and highly favoured…..ouch that hurt….I am blessed and highly favoured…etc etc.’


Here's the deal. Mary and Joseph did not choose Bethlehem to have their baby, God did! I mean who would choose Bethlehem, given the choice? I am sure if they had their way, they would have stayed in Nazareth with the support of family and friends. I know I would! But God had different journey for them to walk. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t convenient, it certainly wasn’t what they wanted, either for themselves, or their new baby, but it was the journey God destined for them, and Mary embraced it wholeheartedly.


Mary and Joseph did not choose Bethlehem to have their baby, God did!

Why would God choose Bethlehem you may ask? I mean he could have chosen anywhere, right? Maybe somewhere a bit more upmarket, with more significance, and a higher profile perhaps. The answer to this question is easy. We don’t know! We can speculate, but who can fathom the depths of Gods wisdom. We know Bethlehem was prophesied in the Old Testament as the birthplace of the messiah, so it had to happen; but that was obviously God initiated too, that so it only goes to reinforce the fact that the divine choice of Bethlehem was both pre-meditated and purposeful. God in his wisdom chose a sleepy, insignificant backwater in the middle of nowhere. We don't know why he did, but he did, and he's God after all!!


What’s important here is the way that Mary obeyed. Bethlehem was the place that God chose to unleash his master plan of grace and salvation on the world; and Mary understood that she had an appointment with destiny there.


Bethlehem was the place that God chose to unleash his master plan of grace and salvation on the world; and Mary understood that she had an appointment with destiny there.

So where is your Bethlehem? What journey is God calling you to walk in the next season of your life? The road may look tough, tiring, costly, and inconvenient; and the destination may not look as full of promise as you hoped, but let me assure that’s where God will meet you, and do his best work!! The journey that God is calling you to may not fit in with your personal wish list, but it is the place of destiny for you; so go there anyway! It is often in the most unlikely places that God does most powerful work in us and through us.


Mary did not know what lay ahead for her when she received that incredible promise nine months previous, but she quickly realised that when God speaks there will always be a destiny moment at the other end of her obedience! Even if that’s meant going to the back-end of nowhere, Bethlehem.


Mary quickly realised that when God speaks there will always be a destiny moment at the other end of her obedience!

Interestingly, Jesus was brought up in Nazareth, another place that was despised. A place about which Nathaniel commented later ‘can anything good come out of Nazareth’ (John 1:46). Jesus didn’t come from the right side of the tracks! He was born in an obscure backwater, and then brought up in a less than fashionable part of town, but it was all part of the Father's masterplan.


So don’t rule out God’s call on your life, or interpret difficult parts of your journey as not being Gods will, just because it doesn’t fit your plans or your preferences. Instead respond with a Mary mind-set ‘ I am your servant, may your word and your will be fulfilled through me’


Hitch up your donkey and prepare yourself for an exciting and adventurous journey next year. Your Bethlehem awaits!


Have a Wonderful Christmas

Chris


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