In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom be was engaged and who was expecting a child (Luke 2: 1-5)
We come to the journey Mary and Joseph made from Nazareth to Bethlehem, when Mary was “great with child.” This certainly was not a journey that Mary and Joseph wanted to take. They undoubtedly had planned to have the baby in Nazareth. The midwife would have been chosen and the birthing room prepared. But when the Roman emperor commanded that a census be taken, he wasn’t concerned about a Jewish family preparing to give birth. He was interested in assessing taxes.
In the fall of 2010, I retraced the journey of Mary and Joseph by following the most direct route from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Along the way I was struck by how difficult the journey must have been for Mary, and how disappointing. I was also reminded that this was only the first of several journeys she did not want to take with Jesus. She would also flee as a refugee to Egypt when Herod sought to kill the child. And years later she would make the same journey from Nazareth with Jesus, as he went to Jerusalem where he would be nailed to a cross.
Like Mary, all of us find ourselves forced to take journeys we do not wish to make. These journeys are not prescribed by God but by life’s circumstances or the will of others. In the midst of them we may be disappointed, wonder if we’ve been abandoned by God, or simply feel confused as to why we’ve had to travel such roads. Perhaps Mary felt some of these same emotions on the journey to Bethlehem.
But here’s what we find in Scripture and what is echoed in our won lives: God does not abandon us while we’re on these journeys. Somehow, in ways we never anticipated, he even works through them. We look back years later and can see how God took adversity, disappointment, and pain and used these very things to accomplish his purposes.
Ann was five months pregnant when she senses that something was not right. After an amniocentesis, doctors diagnosed her unborn baby with a genetic condition called “Chromosome 22 Ring.” At the time, very few other cases were known. The doctors told Ann and her husband, Jerry, that their child would likely be stillborn. When she asked about delivering the child early so doctors might have a chance to perform a surgery that might save his life, the doctors came back and said, “Ann, this will not be a life worth saving.” Ann and Jerry would remember those words many times over the years.
Matthew was born in January 1984. Ann and Jerry chose the name Matthew because it means “gift from the Lord.” Matthew was born with several serious birth defects, but he lived. This was not a journey Ann and Jerry had anticipated or would have desired to make, but it was the journey life had dealt them, and they were grateful for their son.
I first met Matthew when he was eight. His mom and dad visited our church, and out of that visit our church started a ministry for Matthew and children like him, a special-needs ministry that we named about him: Matthew’s Ministry. Later, when Matthew needed surgery, knowing he would need blood, his surgery prompted us to start an annual blood drive.
Matthew died at the age of twenty-one. His life shaped Ann and Jerry into two of the most remarkable people I know. And Matthew changed thousands of other lives. Today, over 140 special-needs children and adults are a part of our Matthew’s Ministry. Annually in our blood drives we collect over fifteen hundred pints of blood for people in the Kansas City area. Our church and community were changed as a result of this child whose life “wasn’t worth saving.”
God’s greatest work often arises out of the journeys we don’t want to take. God has a way of wringing good from disappointment, suffering, and pain. This is what Ann and Jerry found. It is what Joseph and Mary came to see again and again. Look back over your life. Can you see how God brought good from adversity? If you are on such a journey right now, trust God to walk with you and to bring good from it.
Lord, thank you for the way you bring good from suffering. Please help me to remember that you promised never to leave me nor forsake me. Bring good from the adversity in my life, and grant me your peace when I take those journeys I don’t want to take. Amen.