God works in surprising ways.

God breaks into the world with amazing love in ways we never would have imagined or expected.

God might surprise you too, if you open your heart with anticipation.

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In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.

Luke 2:1-7

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Google says that the trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem takes 2 hours and 11 minutes by car. It’s hard for us to even imagine what the journey must have been like for Mary and Joseph. It would have taken four to five days of heavy travel – on foot. They would have had to camp out at night, carrying the food and water needed for the journey. And all this while Mary was very pregnant.

Sure enough, the baby arrives while they are in Bethlehem. Instead of wrapping the Son of God in fine baby linens and placing him in a cradle carved by Joseph, Mary wraps Jesus in strips of cloth and lays him in a straw-filled manger. I can imagine Mary and Joseph’s doubts about the whole enterprise – surely this isn’t what the angel meant when he called her “highly favored!” (Luke 1:28)

There’s more to the story. There will be angels and visitors. But just for now, pause and imagine that night. It foreshadows the coming ministry of Jesus – far away from power and prestige, closely aligning with the immigrants and poor.

Tracy Hartman

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God, when life becomes challenging and things don’t go as I expect them to, remind me that you are with me. Remind me that you are working in ways that I do not yet see, and help me to trust you. Thank you for providing Mary and Joseph as models as I learn what it means to follow you. Amen.

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Now go into the world with hope and anticipation, with your heart wide open to God’s ongoing work in the world.

Tracy Hartman

Tracy Hartman mostly recently served on the faculty of Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. She enjoys coaching clergy and serving as an intentional interim pastor. She and her husband Jay live in Richmond, VA.

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