Friday, December 24, 2010

A Strange Way to Save the World

Graphic by Angel Hartline
Several years ago, when the Navy sent us from New York to California, my husband and I moved across the country with our dog and 4 children.  Even with modern amenities like minivans and built-in DVD players, this is not necessarily an easy trip.  We had a lot of fun, but by the time we reached our destination, we were all tired and anxious to find a new place to live.  Our 4-year-old told people along the way that we had lost our house and could not find it, and she asked every day if we thought we might find it that day.  Now, during most of the trip, we had not made hotel reservations ahead of time.  We enjoyed driving, finding interesting things to do and see, and stopping wherever was convenient each evening.  Most of the time, this had not been a problem.  And so, after our 30-day trip, we arrived in San Diego.  We called the local Navy Lodge.  They were full.  So were the other Navy Lodges in the area.  We had not expected that.  We began to call other hotels and motels, starting with the less expensive ones that would allow dogs.  When none of these were available, we began to check with the ones that would not allow dogs, thinking the weather was nice enough that we could leave our pet in the car overnight.  We moved up the list through more and more expensive hotels.  Finally, we had called every hotel and motel in the San Diego area in the yellow pages.  We have traveled extensively, and we had never had this much of a problem finding a place before.  Apparently, there were several large events converging upon San Diego simultaneously that weekend, including a Chargers game, an American Idol show, and several conventions.  Everyone was booked.  We had been sitting at a rest area for hours making phone calls on our cell phones, and our tired children were beginning to complain.

Of course, I was beginning to get a little bit stressed out.  I didn't feel desperation yet, just stress.  I was thinking we may have to rent a tent somewhere, or maybe even sleep in our minivan.  My husband said even if we wanted to sleep in the minivan, we would have to find a campground or something where we would be allowed to do so.  What struck me was how upset my husband had become.  He's normally the calm, cool one, while I get stressed over little things.  Small things just don't bother him that much.  On this evening, however, he was feeling desperate.  Somewhere in the back of my mind, although I didn't believe that it was only my husband's responsibility to find us a place to stay, I probably was holding on because he was with me, and I knew he always took care of things.  Had I been alone with the children, things may have been different.  My husband wasn't just stressed because he was tired of calling hotels.  He felt a great sense of responsibility.  He had brought his family all the way across the country, far from family and friends, and now he had no place for them to spend the night.  He felt he had let them down (even though none of us felt that way).  I realized in that moment how different things could be for fathers and for mothers, although I'm sure many single parents take on aspects of both roles.  Although my husband and I both share the responsibility of caring for our family, he tends to be the one who feels responsible when there is just no way out.  Shortly after this, we called one more hotel, and they'd had a cancellation.  We paid an arm and a leg for the room, the dog had to stay in the car, and the kids slept in sleeping bags on the floor because there was only one bed in the room and the pull-out sofa was broken. But we had a nice place to sleep.  Surely much nicer than the stable or cave where Mary gave birth to the Savior of the world.

Living in middle class America, my family has not often felt the desperation of true need.  Even when things are tight, we generally have a place to sleep and food to eat.  This one evening when we literally were not sure we were going to have a place for our children to sleep made me think a lot about Mary and Joseph.  Mary clearly had the rougher trip; pregnant and about to deliver, walking about 60 miles, or possibly riding on a donkey or in a cart.  She finally gave birth to her first child in a place where animals fed and slept, without aid of modern medical facilities, her mother or aunts in her family, no place to shower, or even a bed.  I kind of suspect, though, that she might have been a little bit like I was that night in San Diego.  Although she was uncomfortable and in pain, she had Joseph with her.  He was a great gift from God, and she depended on him to take care of her and this baby.  She assumed he would find them a place to stay, food to eat, and everything they needed.

If Joseph was an upstanding man like my husband, who felt the responsibility for caring for his family like the weight of the world on his shoulders - and I suspect that he was - Joseph was not calmly going from door to door like we see in the Christmas pageants.  He was not gently asking in two or three places if there was a place for his wife to deliver his baby, then returning calmly to Mary and a donkey and saying, well, I guess we'll just stay in this fellow's stable in the back.  Have you ever seen a man rushing his wife to the hospital when she's about to deliver?  Have you seen first-time fathers in the delivery room?  If you are a father, what would you do if you arrived at the hospital here in America with your wife in labor, and the hospital told you they were full, and that you would just have to stay in the parking lot???  This was the frantic state Joseph was in!  Joseph had brought his new wife who was about to deliver to this little town, far away from her family and friends.  Now he couldn't find a place for her to even spend the night, much less deliver her baby.  He was desperate, frantically pleading with any place in town to let his wife in.  "Are you kidding me?" he may have thought to himself.  "I had this one simple task of taking care of my wife, who is giving birth to God Incarnate, and I can't even find a place for her to have the baby indoors????"  He may have even been angry with God.  After all, when we are doing God's work and giving everything up for Him, don't we often expect Him to take care of the little things?  When Joseph finally laid Mary down in the hay near the manger, making her as comfortable as he possibly could, it was out of desperation.  He probably felt like a failure.  He probably wondered why in the world God had chosen him for this task.  And then he helped to deliver the Savior of all mankind.

Of course, it was all in God's plan.  The Savior came into the world in the humblest of circumstances, and the shepherds came to worship Him.  Mary and Joseph were both just the parents God wanted for the job.  They weren't perfect.  They didn't have to be.  God uses imperfect and humble people to do great things.  Joseph evidently found a house for his new family soon thereafter, for the Magi visited them in a house in Bethlehem.  And when King Herod wanted to kill his small baby - God's Son, who had given up His own power and placed Himself, defenseless, in the care of Joseph - Joseph took Mary and the Baby to Egypt and saved them.  He listened to God's leading throughout his life and was an earthly father figure not only to the Son of God, but also to James and Jude, who grew up to be pillars in the early church and wrote some of our Scriptures after they saw their brother raised from the dead.  Yes, Joseph was just the person God wanted for this job.

But how odd to have started out this way.  What a strange way to save the world!

Merry Christmas!

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