So Joseph went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. (Luke 2:4-5)
He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attracts us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. (Isa. 2:2-3)
It was not a journey they would have chosen to make.
That 160-km trip took Mary and Joseph over mountains and the Judean desert in the rainy season, when daytime temperatures were just above freezing and nights much colder. In the heavily-forested Jordan Valley there were bears, lions and wild boars. Thieves operated along major roads, making even these venues far from safe.
Not a pleasant prospect for a girl who was nine months pregnant.
But Mary and Joseph were expecting more than a baby. They both knew the child Mary carried was God’s only begotten Son, and that made all the difference. Because of it, they had expectations beyond the safe birth of a child — expectations they knew God would meet. Indeed, God had far exceeded any previous expectations they might have had about the nature of their union and its fruit.
First, they expected God to be with them on this journey, and throughout their lives. They expected His guidance, His provision and His protection. Their part was to trust Him and follow His leading. He would take care of the rest.
The journey was slow and difficult, perhaps only 15 km a day. It required perseverance, as do many things in life’s journey. But the result was the most personal encounter with God’s own Son it was possible for a human being to have. Although conditions were far from ideal, they didn’t affect Jesus’ arrival or Mary’s recovery.
It’s significant that Nazareth, where Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, is thought to derive from the Hebrew word netser, meaning a shoot or a sprout. It’s biblical meaning is “separated” or “sanctified.” The whole region of Galilee was the object of prejudice because of the many Gentiles living there, and the very small, obscure town of Nazareth was regarded as even more inferior. When Nathanael said “Nazareth! Can any good come from there?” he was echoing the prevailing prejudice. But as God so often does, He chose a place the world valued little for His Son to grow up. When God leads, His children can flourish anywhere.
Bethlehem also has a significant meaning, which is “House of Bread.” Jesus, the shoot from the stump of Jesse in Isaiah’s prophecy, separated to the will and purposes of God, is the bread of life — the body that would be broken for us.
What are our expectations as we journey forward with each new day? How conscious are we that, just as Mary had God within her, so do we. Do we expect to know His leading, His provision, His protection from what would deter His purposes for us? Do we expect Him to guard and guide us every step along the way, and to being us to the place He would have us be?
This Christmas, do we have the gift of expectation from the giver of every good and perfect gift?