Christmas Far Away

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

The birth of a child is one of the most meticulously-planned events in life. Preparation begins the minute that little red line shows up on the pregnancy test. We change our homes, we change our finances, we even change our names (I never called Christine “Mom” before we had kids.) We buy lots of gear: strollers, cribs, diapers, bottles. We have showers and gender reveal parties. We pack a bag for the hospital with every conceivable need. We ask friends to pray for a “smooth” and “easy” delivery, as if that ever happens. 

Mary and Joseph would have done the same. They made preparations. Their family bought them gifts. They knew where the baby would sleep. They knew who would attend the birth. Moms and aunts and female cousins were on call to come help Mary whenever the time came. Mary and Joseph had planned for everything. 

Except being out of town. 

There must have been a moment between Joseph and Mary, on the day they received word about the census, when they looked at each other and realized that they would have their baby far from home, apart from the support of their family, without a midwife they knew. 

Like Abraham who was called to leave his kindred and his father’s house (Gen. 12:1), the Holy Family would wave goodbye to their parents and set off to experience the most transformative moments of their lives alone. 

Is God calling you to leave anything? To strike out from the familiar and comfortable? To take a journey of faith? Such callings rarely come at convenient times. They’re often difficult and they create lots of “are you sure about this?” moments. 

For the past decade, my family has been part of a small group at our church. These are our closest companions through life. Our family. Our support system. But this Fall, Christine and I felt compelled to “go forth from our kindred” to start a new kind of community with our neighbors. These are neighbors we don’t know as well, who don’t get our jokes, who haven’t been there with us through life’s milestones. 

God does that. Sometimes, he moves us out of the familiar, away from anything dependable except Jesus. 

Mary and Joseph had dreamed of their son’s birthday. They imagined it filled with the smiling, wrinkled faces of aunts and uncles; with the joy-spilling laughter of grandparents; with slaps on the back, even from those who doubted their story and Mary’s virginity; with prayers from the rabbi their family had known for years. 

But God had other plans. The night of Jesus’ birth was to be a lonely one, celebrated with shepherd strangers, and the unfulfilled longing to share the good news of a healthy baby with loved ones far away.