The Lord Jesus, in his years of teaching, gave this commentary about child birth. “A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world” (John 16:21). There seem to be stages in childbirth. First, there is anticipation but it soon turns to difficulty. As part of the curse Eve was told that she would have trouble in childbearing. Then there is the stage of joy, when the child is finally born. Women experience peaks and valleys in the experience of childbearing. The virgin Mary was no exception. What a roller-coaster of emotions must she have been on! It started so unexpectedly at the appearance of Gabriel. She was told that she would be with child of the Holy Ghost. At first she was troubled, but soon accepted the will of God. And she took a journey to her cousin’s home in the hill country. Then she returned home,
Why didn’t she stay in the little village in the mountains? Why did she go home where people would be apt to talk? But she did. She had to walk by faith. The angel was gone. The assurances of the angelic being were only memories. Yet Mary kept her faith. One thing she knew, a miracle was happening, and regardless of what others would be saying, Mary knew. She was carrying, in her womb, her Savior.
There is a gap in Mary’s story. It was a time of waiting, between the promise and the fulfillment, when nothing else was happening but regular stuff; stuff like morning sickness, tiredness, probably embarrassment, unresolved issues with Joseph. Yet there is no indication that Mary lost faith. Rather, it was an occasion of great faith, where her soul magnified the Lord.
We need faith in the gaps – when our story is not finished, when we’ve had those past experiences of blessings but now things look bleak.
The next time we pick up the story is when Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem to be taxed. The troubles between Mary and Joseph were resolved. We read in Matthew that an angel told Joseph to take Mary as his wife and not put her away. Joseph was assured that God had indeed worked a miracle in Mary’s life and she was to be the mother of Jesus. The angel gave the name to Joseph. And so they went to Bethlehem.
Again, consider Mary’s circumstance: she is to give birth to God’s Son, and yet there is no place; no room in the inn. From a human standpoint, she is bringing this baby into the world in the worst of circumstances. Women plan ahead for babies. But here we see what must have been a sense of almost failure, unrealized hopes and plans. Instead of a nice crib and warm blankets and a well-furnished room, Mary finds herself in a stable. And though she would have wanted to find the best possible place for this most special of all babies, this miracle child, this Son of God, all she could find was next to nothing: a manger probably with hay in it.
Did Mary feel ashamed of these humble surroundings for the birth of the baby? Perhaps. Yet these things were out of her control. The forced journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem left her with little opportunity for nice things. So she wrapped the baby in swaddling clothes – strips of cloth.
Whatever Mary felt about these circumstances is lost to us, because we see the wonder and excitement of that evening through the eyes of shepherds. They didn’t leave extravagant surroundings to find the baby. They left sheep on the hills, probably a fire that had long since died down, but with a new fire in their hearts kindled by the surprising and wonderful visit from the angelic host. It isn’t unreasonable to think that as they made that hasty trip out of the hills they came rejoicing to Bethlehem and infused that humble cave with awesome praises to God and to the newborn Savior, who, the angels said, was born that very day “unto them.”
Nor did these shepherds lose their excitement when they left that manger scene. “And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them” (Lk. 2:20).
That’s the end of the description we have at the manger. That’s all. I believe that after the shepherds left, Mary was fine. The poor circumstances of the birth and the disappointment of not having the baby in a nursery quickly gave way to the wonder of the birth of this special child. And to make sure Mary didn’t miss it, God had dispatched the angelic hosts to send the shepherds to the stable with the excitement of their realization of joy to the world. And Mary’s joy at the realization that “a man was born into the world” who was the fulfillment of the promise of the angel must have been overwhelming.
What a story! If it had been made up, it would be the greatest story ever told. But it is not made up. It is all true. There is a lesson for us in this. It seems that God works in a pattern something like this: He gives an idea of what is out there in the future. It captures our imagination and gives us hope. But then God allows troubles to happen. For us it may not be an unexpected trip to Bethlehem, or a birth in circumstances we would never choose, but something else that is very difficult. Often the trouble is related to the hope that we had anticipated. It’s almost like our hopes are built up just to get dashed.
Then God steps in. It may not be with angels to shepherds who come with rejoicing, but God does something to revive our hopes. He steps in, usually in unexpected ways, and brings great blessings out of those times of trouble and disappointment.
Perhaps this Christmas you are remembering some of your disappointments. You may look at a time when you had hopes of a godly home, or of living a life that pleased the Lord, or you may have even been called of God to something special. Now, looking at your life, you may wonder where that vision has gone. Yet God does some special things for people who call on Him. Mary’s Christmas had no decorated tree, no ornaments, no special cookies, no relatives to celebrate with. But she had one very special gift that made everything else insignificant. In her arms, she held God’s gift to mankind: the Savior of the world. There was reason for joy. And we celebrate that humble birthplace year after year because of that great gift.
One year during Christmas we had a picture on our refrigerator of an old man, one of our friends named Bob Mussmon. He was a retired Methodist preacher who had a wonderful and fruitful ministry. But he had an unlikely beginning. Abandoned as a small boy with his older sister on a cold street corner, they stood shivering, hoping for someone to help them. Kind people took them in. It was under the care of foster parents, at age nine, when he heard that someone loved him. That’s when he found Jesus. Later in life, he was seeking God regarding entering the ministry. His prayer was, “Give me the personality of Jesus.” Many who met Brother Bob realized that his prayer was answered. He found the gift and he shared it with others. What began on a cold street as disappointment and heartbreak turned to joy and blessing because of God’s gift.
If you are looking for a way out of your disappointments, it is found in that wonderful gift that Mary held on that first Christmas. You and I can find peace and renewed hope in the Savior. Mary held Him in her arms. We can receive Him into our lives, by faith. Trust in God’s gift to the world, God’s gift to you.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish but have everlasting life.”