I woke, just after midnight, to contractions. Forcing myself to remain motionless under the covers, I tried to convince myself that it was nothing more than a long series of Braxton-Hicks and go back to sleep. But the contractions were strong and regular, each one arriving with just a little less time between it and the one before, and the baby wasn’t due for another six weeks.
When our previous baby made her entrance into the world, she’d been in a rush. Not the early arrival kind of hurry—she’d been overdue. No, she’d arrived just moments after my husband and I walked through the door to the OB unit in a hospital a mere three blocks from our home.
With that in mind, I imposed a deadline of October 31 to complete my out-of-town Christmas shopping. I had no desire to be on the road when I went into labor. I wanted to be where I belonged, close to home, near my own doctor and the hospital where he practiced.
On the day of my final shopping trip, I drove to the mall with my four-year-old daughter, whose short strides matched my waddling steps. We walked the full length of both floors of the mall. We stopped at Target and Lowes and strip mall stores I can’t even remember. We put in a long and slow-moving day, but when it was over, we’d finished the shopping. But then I found myself, just an hour after laying my weary head on the pillow, awake, uncertain, and lamenting the fact that I had overdone it.
A few hours in a softly lit room hooked up to a monitor gave me time to consider the uncertainties of life in light of the first Christmas.
Did Mary hope, I wondered, she and Joseph would make it to Bethlehem and back before the birth of the baby? Or did she know that the baby would arrive on the journey? Like me, she probably wanted to be at home, where she belonged, with the village midwife and familiar women to help her. But unlike me, she didn’t have the luxury of deciding when she would and would not leave town. Mary left for Bethlehem regardless of her own desires, comfort, or plans. She went because Caesar decreed it.
At least, that’s what it looked like.
Mary, along with her countrymen, were part of Caesar’s Rome, a government which controlled their lives and their finances, one which they looked to the promised Messiah to save them from. They had no choice but to go wherever and whenever the expansive Roman Empire ordered. Even women who were great with child.
But Rome wasn’t the ultimate authority.
Mary made the uncomfortable journey to Bethlehem–the city of her husband’s ancestors–in the final days of her pregnancy, not by choice, not by coincidence, not even because of Caesar’s edict. She went because that’s where she belonged, because that’s how God said the Savior’s arrival would unfold.
The contractions faded away to nothing but doctor’s orders for bedrest and the baby held off until days before Christmas, just like she was supposed to. I was glad she waited, grateful for the memory of those unexpected hours in the hospital, a memory which surfaces once in a while to remind me of the truth of the first Christmas–that God wasn’t bound by Bethlehem’s city limits to choose the mother of Jesus, that he could turn even the heart of the mighty Caesar, that even through all the years of his people waiting and all the miles of Mary’s uncomfortable, uncertain journey he had a plan and the power to bring it about.
He knew where Mary belonged and how to get her there. He knows where we belong, how to get us from where we are to where we need to be. We wait. We wonder. Sometimes uncomfortable. Often uncertain.
He, however, is not uncertain. He is unbound by all the things that bind us, able to turn hearts, able to bring about his plan–both for forever and for tomorrow– for you, for me, for a broken and hurting world. That is a Christmas reality to celebrate.
Merry Christmas to us.