I’ve been packing up our house over the past couple of weeks. Endless boxes of books (seriously, I need to get rid of some theology books), paintings coming down off the walls, trash bags of clothes, heirlooms and artifacts carefully wrapped then disappearing into plastic tubs. Our home slowly becoming more and more sparse, barren, like the day we first moved in. Like a light slowly dimming. Soon all that will be left are memories as we lock the yellow front door for the final time and drive away.
In the midst of all the sorting and taping and labeling with my faithful sharpie, I have found myself wondering what it was like for Mary and Joseph as they prepared to head to Bethlehem all those years ago. How long did they have to pack up their home? Did they even have a home? Did they agonize over what to bring and what to leave behind? Were they lucky enough to have family who were willing to watch their things while they were away, or had the scandal of Mary’s pregnancy caused too big a rift for such a kindness? Were they planning to be gone for a week, a month, a year? How much stuff could Joseph fit on the donkey alongside pregnant Mary? What travel snacks did they bring?
As the days before their departure dwindled, was their enough time to say their good byes, or were their old friends painfully absent, afraid to be connected with the scandalous couple? Did they have any inkling of just how much their lives were about to change as they embarked on this new journey?
How did Mary and Joseph handle the stress of packing up their lives at such a tenuous moment? Did their anxiety slip out in snippy comments and huffy looks (this never happens in our house…). Did Joseph find himself waking up in the middle of the night with his mind racing with a million questions and things to add to his to-do list? Was there the ever-looming dread about finances and how they could afford this unexpected trip?
I find myself carrying many questions as our family prepares for our journey to Kenya. Will we be safe? Will we like our new home? Will we make friends? Are we crazy for uprooting ourselves in the middle of a global pandemic? Will it be worth it?
Maybe this is twisted, but I have found comfort this Advent in imagining that Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem was fraught with questions. Not just the question of where they would stay, but all the other questions along the way. The questions that could not be neatly boxed up, labeled and packed away.
We find ourselves living in a year and a world filled with questions, and I’m grateful that there is space in the Christmas story for our questions. Jesus arrives in a sea of questions and unknowns with all manner of unexpected twists and turns. When he is born they don’t even know where to put him! Immanuel, God with us, is not a guarantee that we will get all the answers we want. It is a promise that for those of us who are willing to embark on the journey of faith, God is with us in the midst of our many questions.
Perhaps this year you are not journeying to Kenya. Perhaps due to Covid this is the first time in recent memory that Christmas will not involve any sort of a journey at all. No going to visit friends or families, no Christmas parties, no caroling. More staying and sitting and staring at screens that you are used to. More unanswered questions and uncertainty than normal and a harder time finding hope, and peace and joy than in Advents past.
Friends, may we be reminded that God was present in the mist of the uncertainties and the hardships of that first Christmas, and in the midst of this difficult Advent season God is with us still. So, bring your boxes of questions and fears and disappointments and place them at the foot of the manger. Immanuel is waiting.