Have you ever made preparations to go on a trip? Did you make a to-do list of all of the tasks that needed to be completed before your departure? Did you make a packing list, print off your boarding pass or the hotel confirmation of your reservation so that your arrival would go as smoothly as possible?
Last year, I went to Houston, TX for a Bridges Out of Poverty training and even though I’d only be gone for four days, I set about checking these tasks of preparation off my to-do list in the days leading up to my trip. Not being a fan of flying alone, I looked up the map of the terminals that I’d be flying in and out of so that I would not find myself bewildered or lost during the brief time for my connecting flight. I even set an alarm on my phone for the day and time that I should check in for my return flight. I was prepared.
As we move closer in this time of Advent towards the arrival of Christ, recalling my preparations for that journey lead me to wonder about the preparations that were made by the woman who would bear Him to the world.
Mary, or Miriam, as she would have been called, was a young maiden thought to have been between the ages of 12 and 14, and was engaged to a man named Joseph. He was a descendant of King David. We do not know his age, but that he was a carpenter by trade.
What were the preparations for Emmanuel – God with us?
Can you imagine Mary’s shock, first to be greeted by an angel, but to hear the news of the calling God had placed on her young life? How would she explain this unexpected pregnancy, especially in a time when women could be stoned to death for bearing a child out of wedlock? What would Joseph say when he learned this news?
She was a teenage nobody, from a nowhere town, whose life was not on the track towards anything particularly spectacular. But in an instant her life was changed.
This teenage nobody, from a nowhere town, instead of doubting her ability to carry out the task, what did she do? She told the angel Gabriel, that she was the Lord’s servant, and accepted the things that he said would happen to her.
There was no hesitation. No trial period. No, “let me sleep on it” kind of response; just a humble and faithful response of, “yes, may it be so”.
What were their preparations for Emmanuel – God with us?
As I mentioned, Mary and Joseph were engaged. This engagement wasn’t one with a diamond ring and a man on one knee that we’ve come to expect in today’s culture. Instead this engagement was a permanent relationship, where they were considered husband and wife.
It was the tradition of Biblical Judaism that an engagement, or betrothal, was a legally binding relationship, where they were considered to be husband and wife. As was the practice, the groom would present his bride with a cup of wine and say, “this is my covenant, given to you” and it was up to the bride whether or not she would accept his “proposal”.
If she accepted the covenant of marriage, the groom would go away to prepare a place for them. This place would not be their own home, but an addition to the home of the groom’s father. And this place was only considered to be ready when the father gave his approval to go and collect the bride.
Perhaps this is the reason that an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream to encourage him to take Mary as his wife and not divorce her quietly, as he had planned. Perhaps Joseph had learned of the news while he was still away preparing a place for his bride.
What were her preparations for Emmanuel – God with us?
Were Mary’s preparations meticulously made – as I had done before my travels to Texas, or were they hastily cast aside when the decree came out for a census – an untimely record taking – since the arrival of her child would be soon? Did she pack the necessities that she and the baby would need if the time would indeed come?
Did she realize that it would be approximately a week long, 4-mile per hour donkey ride as they made the 90-mile journey to Joseph’s hometown? Did she wish to be able to remain behind to bear her son being surrounded by the familiar chatter of women in her family, in her own home, in her own bed? Perhaps she wished they were all to experience the birth of her first born together, that they might believe her story.
Only the gospels of Matthew and Luke refer to the birth of Jesus, and very little is mentioned regarding Mary’s preparation of his arrival.
But the first five verses of John talks of another preparation that was made, one not yet of human hands.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
The preparation of His arrival, of His exit from Mary’s womb didn’t begin at immaculate conception. No. The preparation of His arrival began at the beginning of time. When Christ spoke creation into being.
The Old Testament, almost seems like a documentation of God’s to-do list, of what needed to be completed before His Son’s departure from His heavenly throne and into the singular cell that would grow and mature into Emmanuel, God with us.
What patience. What endurance. What love.
Though Jesus helped set the world in motion, He had to wait for His Father’s perfect timing in order to come rescue us. What patience. What preparation. What love.
As the gospel of John continues in chapter 1, verse 14…
“So the Word became flesh and made His home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness.”
Advent is a season where we prepare our hearts to receive Christ as He came in the humblest of forms, as an infant, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, and to recognize our need of the man He would grow to be. But Advent is also a season to prepare our hearts for His second coming.
Let’s think back to the practices of Biblical Judaic betrothals. Did any of those images sound familiar?
Cup of wine as a covenant – Groom going away to prepare a place at his Father’s home – The Father being the only one to know when the Groom will return to collect His bride?
The grown-up Jesus says to his friends, in John 14:1-7, 12, after predicting Peter’s betrayal,
“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.”
“No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on,
you do know him and have seen him!”
“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.
What are our preparations for Emmanuel – God with us?
So as we wrap up our Advent season, consider how you will prepare your heart to receive Him. But also consider how you might share Him. Next week is the day that we remember His arrival. Consider who in your life you could invite so that they too may come to know the truth, the way, and the life.
And now I leave you with the words of one of my favorite Christian authors, Max Lucado, as a reminder that you, just like Mary, have what it takes to accept God’s calling on your life.
“Christ grew in Mary until He had to come out.
Christ will grow in your heart until the same occurs.
He will come out in your speech, in your actions, in your decisions.
Every place you live will be a Bethlehem,
and every day you live will be a Christmas.
You, like Mary, will deliver Christ into the world.”
Message originally delivered as a Christmas sermon in Bethesda, OH on December 18, 2016.