"In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child." Luke 2:1–5
Some of us are more athletic than others. The same day my husband ran a marathon, it took me 37 minutes and my friend's inhaler to finish a 5k.
No matter how sporty Mary and Joseph may have been, I can't imagine their trek to Bethlehem was easy. Getting to Bethlehem was no walk in the park, because this town was on a mountaintop. Especially for the very pregnant Mary. Their journey took days—probably four or five. They likely had a donkey helping them on their trek, but nothing more, because they didn't have the means.
Can’t you just envision their exhaustion and fatigue? We have no record of their complaints during this trek, but this was no simple journey. I would have been cussing at approximately 100 feet.
Maybe their government-mandated hike sounds like the past year you’ve experienced. A true incline, full of confusion and exhaustion. Maybe some thoughts like, “God, I imagined things would be different. I prayed for things to be different. Yet here I am, trudging along.”
Isaiah 55:8 says, “'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.” And earth-side, it can be confusing to understand why.Why can’t I get the job I want? Why did that tragedy have to occur? Why couldn't our babies have lived? Why can’t I shake this anxiety?
How I wish we possessed these answers. Wouldn’t it be so much easier to know? As we study Advent, though, what we find is that amidst our waiting, God is preparing. He's preparing us for things we can’t yet see.
What Mary and Joseph knew was that at the end of their journey, God would be glorified. Each ascending step and each uphill stride got Mary and Joseph closer to Bethlehem—closer to Jesus. And I believe that with Christ, our earthly experiences have the power to do the same. Satan loves to make us feel more like Meredith Blake than Lewis and Clark, but we are not called to walk on difficult paths just for the thigh exercise.
In that same passage in Isaiah, the Lord goes on: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Even this story proves that. You see, the tiny town of Bethlehem wasn't just the "where" in the story of our Savior's birth. This setting also fulfilled Old Testament prophecies. Therefore, Mary and Joseph's journey reinforces that God is a keeper of promises and sovereign over the details. This is the same case today.
Uphill you may head today—with your workday, with your schedule, with your broken family, with your diagnosis—but what has helped me to think about recently is that God is no less faithful. He is just as good to you on your trek as He was to Mary and Joseph on their Bethlehem-bound one. He is no less good to you than He is to the girl who has what you're praying for. He will always and only be a gracious God.
His thoughts may not be our thoughts this season, but they're better. His ways may not be our ways, but they're better. Your hike through 2023 may feel more like when I had an asthma attack during my 5K than when my husband crossed his marathan finish line, but as Elisabeth Elliott said, "Suffering is never for nothing."
This Advent, may we all find the hope that God that has not abandoned us but has uniquely and purposefully mapped out our roads ahead.