Readings – Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:1-14; Luke 2:1-20
There is a French proverb that Voltaire was fond of stating-
Winston Churchill wrote in a similar vein- Perfection is the enemy of progress.
If we pursue only the perfect, we will never advance, never do the possible good.
The birth story of Jesus is not a perfect birth narrative. A lot goes awry, a lot goes not according to expectations. Yet Mary and Joseph and the donkey partner with God in bringing the Promise of God to life.
Mary was a young girl, engaged to an older man, Joseph, a village carpenter. Wedding plans were in the works. And then, as Holy Scripture tells us, she said “Yes” to the angel Gabriel, and the Holy Spirit “overshadowed her”, and within her grew the long-awaited Messiah, the Prince of Peace, indeed, the Son of God.
She fled her hometown to visit with her cousin Elizabeth, who in her old age, was unexpectedly with child, also “overshadowed” by the Holy Spirit. Her betrothed had second thoughts until a messenger, an angel, reassured him that he, too, was part of God’s planned entrance in a new way into the world. Though most likely shunned by their own families, the Roman government decreed that all had to be registered for a new tax. All were to be enrolled at their ancestral home. For Joseph, of the house and linage of King David, it meant a trip to Bethlehem, over seventy miles distant. Mary, now showing so all knew her plight, would accompany him to Bethlehem.
Was this any way to begin a marriage? How far from perfect was this?
They walked, step by step, from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Because things were rocky in Nazareth, Joseph took along his tools—mallets and hammers, planes and saws, chisels and clamps. Some he put on his back, and the rest were carried on the donkey’s back, not Mary’s. Step by step they went. It was not the perfect wedding walk they had planned. God was with them.
Days later, ready to deliver, because of other decedents of David making similar treks, and because there were Roman officials in town, everyone’s spare rooms were full to overflowing. Besides, word had spread; Mary was bearing a child, not of Joseph’s making. Step by step they went from household to household seeking lodging.
Finally, a woman suggested the cave behind her house; she spread some fresh straw; shoved the resident animals aside; provided a lantern, and she assisted Joseph in the birthing of Mary’s first-born son who was laid in the food trough of the resident cow. The kind woman and Joseph did the best they could, far from perfect. God was with them.
To celebrate the birth of a son, shepherds were invited, by angels, to praise God and to cheer on the exhausted mother, the proud father, and their son surrounded by the cave-dwelling friendly beasts. Far from perfect, it was, yet they managed with some nearby rags to wrap him warm. God was with them.
As the Gospeler, St. Matthew told it, almost as soon as Mary recovered from birthing, they had to flee. Magi from Persia came and gifted them, but also warned that King Herod sought the child to murder him so that his legacy would be secure. So, Joseph, who had just reestablished himself, packed up, sack on his back, and on the donkey’s back, too, and step by step, they fled, refuges to Egypt. No perfect honeymoon, homeless, and on the road again.
Nazareth to Bethlehem to Egypt. Yet, to the purpose, they remained true. God was with them.
Circumstances changed – a surprise pregnancy, family shunning, professional uprooting, unexpected lodging, unexpected visitors, dangerous threats from the King, and mile upon mile walking. The Holy Trio, Mary, Joseph, and the donkey, wound their way through it all as best they could, keeping true to their purpose. Mary, Joseph, and the donkey were partnering with God.
And God was with them every step of the way.
Like Mary, like Joseph, like the donkey, we now walk our life’s journey, step by step, to give life to the light of God alive in each one of us.
Our journey has not been perfect as we one day imagined and planned, yet we live the goodness within us step by step, day by day. And God is with us, Emmanuel.
God is with us.