Rev Katherine Rainger reflects on the ancient and contemporary desire for peace.
An invitation to trust
As we sit in longing, the lessons for Mary and Joseph are relevant for us today.
Daily Reading Luke 2:1-7
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
What was running through the hearts and minds of Mary and Joseph as they trekked south towards Bethlehem?
If it were me, I imagine fear would’ve been pretty high up the list.
Fear of being attacked and robbed on the journey. Fear of an early labour, of suddenly having to deliver a baby by the side of the road. Fear of raising a child in a world this deeply broken. Fear of raising this child.
I think I would have prayed a lot.
But knowing myself, I’m not sure all those prayers would have been particularly virtuous.
I mean, hopefully, somewhere in the mix, I would have mustered up some noble, selfless longing for a better world or whatever. But I suspect I might also have spent a fair bit of energy just feeling kind of self-righteously irritable. Partly because exercise makes me cranky at the best of times (though I assume actual Mary and Joseph were in better shape than I am). Partly because of the blisters.
But beyond all that, I picture myself wanting to know why on earth God was letting things play out this way. If he was in control and if this baby was who he said he was, why was I being forced on a dangerous cross-country journey at the whim of an invading empire, all so they could continue to tax my family into oblivion? And why right now, at the worst possible time for my family?
I don’t imagine arriving in Bethlehem and finding no guest room available would have done much to improve my mood.
Probably, Mary and Joseph handled the whole situation way better than I would have done – but, personally, I’m sure I would have spent a lot of time and energy demanding to know what God was up to.
Of course, God was up to what he’s always up to: keeping his promises. Fulfilling prophesy. Working in and through a broken world to bring about redemption.
In fact, it’s this very moment in history that reveals God’s ultimate answer to all my questions and objections and thinking-I-know-better-than-God about the injustice and suffering in the world.
It turns out that God’s ultimate response to all our hopes and longings is not an argument, but a person: God himself, here with us, physically present in the midst of a world gone wrong, preparing to put the whole broken mess back together.
Which means that despite everything, the answer now is the same as it was back then.
Trust that God knows what he’s doing.
Trust that his plans are good and that I have a part in them, even when things seem to be spinning out of control.
Trust that hope will not put us to shame. Trust that the longing is ultimately worth it, because Jesus himself is God’s ultimate sign that he will not rest until his kingdom comes in all its fullness.
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