The familiarity of the Christmas Story can sometimes cause our eyes to glaze over and make us miss spiritual insights and applications God desires to reveal to us. A fresh way to look at it is to consider the unexpected journeys a number of the cast of characters ended up taking. From Mary and Joseph to the shepherds and Magi, each one had their lives interrupted with a call to take journeys to unexpected places they never would have planned to go. In the process, God’s redirection positioned them to fulfill His divine plan and purpose for them. In some cases it even preserved their lives. Examining those unexpected journeys helps us to find ourselves in their journeys and gives us 5 ways to identify with the Christmas story.
This holiday scene in Fergus Falls, MN, could almost pass for Bedford Falls, the setting of the Christmas classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” In that movie, the main character George Bailey finds himself in desperate financial straits and despairing of life itself. It is only the miraculous intervention of an angel named Clarence that redirects him from his suicidal course. Enlightened by this encounter, as to the meaning and purpose of his life, He returns home. There, to his surprise, he finds the entire town has rallied to bail him out. His angelic visitation was not unlike all the supernatural visitations in the nativity story. Thanks to it he was saved from missing out on both a life defining event and the discovery of the “Wonderful Life” God had planned for him.
Let us therefore revisit the nativity story and specifically look at those visitations that arrested people in their tracks and redirected them on unexpected journeys. In so doing we discover the following five ways you and I can likely identify and recognize our own “George Bailey-like” story.
1. Mary’s Journey to Elizabeth’s (Luke 1:24-45) – When the angel Gabriel interrupted Mary’s life with the startling news that she was chosen to be the mother of God’s son, he also told her of Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy in her old age. As relatives and now sharing a similar encounter with God, Mary “hurried” to visit her. Although it was an unexpected eighty mile journey on foot from Nazareth to Ein Kerem near Jerusalem, her joy to find mutual encouragement spurred her on. At their greeting, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth spoke a prophetic blessing over Mary. And Mary in return broke forth into praise and worship in what has come to be known as the Magnificat or Song of Mary. What has God recently done in your life that is worthy of sharing with others? Who has He put upon your heart that He would have you reach out to for mutual encouragement?
2. Mary and Joseph’s Journey to Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-7) – There are times when God uses unwanted, inconvenient circumstances for His perfect timing in fulfilling His promises to us. That was the case when a worldwide census forced Joseph to make an eighty mile trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem with Mary in her ninth month of pregnancy. Further hardship faced with even the denial of a room at the inn. They nonetheless persevered and were richly blessed at journey’s end with a perfect and much celebrated birth. Has the path you’re treading upon, perhaps a trying and foreboding one, been forced upon you? Persevere in it. Trust God to help you overcome every obstacle. In the end, like Mary and Joseph, you’ll experience His redemptive blessings.
3. The Shepherd’s Journey to Bethlehem (Luke 2:9-20) – On an ordinary night, an extraordinary announcement interrupted the shepherds in their routine and sent them scurrying off to Bethlehem in search of the Savior. Although they were not by nature seekers, God chose to break in upon their lives with an invitation to seek Him. Their interest piqued, they “hurried off” like Mary on an unexpected journey. In this case it was a short distance into the town of Bethlehem where when they found Him they believed in Him. Fired up by their revelation they went out spreading the news with everyone they met of their life-changing encounter. Has God ever sent someone into your life announcing good news that prompted you to drop what you were doing? Did it cause you to make a decision to redirect your life in pursuit of Jesus?
4. The Magi’s Journey to Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1-12) – God uses a diversity of means to interrupt life as usual and get our attention. In the case of the Magi, who were seekers after truth on a quest for knowledge through the study of the heavens, it was a revelation. He revealed to them an unusual star that beckoned them in pursuit of the one born King of the Jews. It took them from Babylon to Bethlehem. It was an arduous journey of more than 700 miles, which may have taken many months. Undeterred, they were finally rewarded in their relentless pursuit. Delighting to see the Christ child face to face, they fell before Him in worship and lavished their gifts upon Him. Has God given you a heavenly revelation calling you to seek after Him? Like the Magi, are you committed to pursuing Him, until you’ve given your all to come and worship Him?
5. The Holy Family’s Flight to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-23) – The joy of the visit of the Magi with their gifts was short lived. After their departure, God, through an angel, warned Joseph in a dream to flee in the middle of the night to Egypt. It resulted in a three year delay in their return to Nazareth. The dramatic turn of events, due to Herod’s intent to kill the Christ child, necessitated an unexpected 450 mile journey. Thankfully, provision for their escape was already supplied by the Magi’s gift of gold. Where God guides He provides. And with God, detours are not dead ends, but paths to blessing. Those things which are an emergency for us, are no surprise to Him. The next time you are caught off guard by a threatening situation, pause and consider, God has already gone before you to make a way where there seems to be no way.
Conclusion: All of these unexpected journeys were initiated by the inconvenience of an interruption, accompanied by a heavenly call to set aside previously laid plans. Each journey however, proved to be a great blessing to those who embraced it. Where could you find yourself in the Christmas story? With whom can you most identify in how God has intervened in your life? What blessings can you see God has ordained for you through the journey He’s led you on? What do you believe was His purpose in it all?
Lord, give me joy and perseverance in the unexpected journey You set before me. Thank you that it is for my benefit and blessing, and for leading me into a closer relationship with You. Amen