Much like Mary, Mother of Jesus, I am entering this season expectant: As in, with child. My due date is 10 days after hers so I have the opportunity to view the Christmas Story that so many know a little differently this year. For example, I have a decent idea of how she probably felt when her fiancé Joseph mentioned they would be travelling over 70 miles to be counted in a census. By foot. Maybe with a donkey (not sure which is worse, really). Thanksgiving was my last travel day, and I’m pretty sure there is a hospital or two in our state’s capital.
After what would have been 4-7 days of difficult travel and many, many potty breaks - Mary was probably thinking, “Someone get me a chair, a heating pad, and two of whatever smells so delicious!” And then, bless it, Joseph had to tell her all the rooms were occupied. “I’m sorry, pump the reigns here Joseph. I know you’re a good guy but how long have you known about this census? Why didn’t you book this ahead of time, sweet cheeks?” (To Joseph’s credit, he had tried to book on Sandbnb but never got a confirmation).
Mary was now days from home, away from her people, and about to give birth in front of a man she would soon be marrying. That’s a lot going on. Giving birth comes with enough uncertainty and fear, now add the fact that it’s going down in an animal stable? I’m thinking this would be like a modern-day parking garage, where people park their transportation. But there would have been actual live animals plus the smells that accompany them. If I was Mary here, I’d begin seriously wondering if Nazareth had a polluted water problem and Joseph and I hadn’t maybe hallucinated God’s messengers telling us that this baby was His Son, sent to save all the people from their sins. I mean, really Lord – WHO DOES THAT?!
God’s people were expecting a King a la Prince George – an arrival with fan-fare, Palestinian paparazzi, and much ado about this HUGE tiny thing. Instead, they got an awkward, smelly, quiet - yet well-lit - entrance of Emmanuel, "God with us." And here I am, 2,000 years later, expectant with life but also expectant for more of this God who does things upside down; in ways that no one expects and people question.
Unlike Mary, I can give praise for modern medicine, clean hospital rooms, and reliable transportation; but thankfully she and I get to share in the very, very good news that this God is still moving, still working, still with us. While there was no room for Emmanuel on Christmas night in Bethlehem, we find there is always room in God's house – for the worn-out, the lonely, the grieving, the too intellectual, the not good enough, the always failing, the never learning.
May God surprise you this Advent season. May we all be shaken from our routines and expectations to find that He is with us in the awkward, stinky, unexpected places – the places He has always had for us.