Christmas 2022 -- The Dusty Road to Bethlehem

Post date: Dec 19, 2022 4:5:2 PM

Dear Middletown Reformed Church Family Member,

Christmas blessings to you! Our Advent journey of hope, peace, joy, and love is leading us closer to a stable with a bright morning star shining over it. We’re almost there — almost to the moment when love comes down in the form of a vulnerable little child. For the rest of our travels as we walk the dusty road to Bethlehem, I am sharing an adapted narrative sermon I preached years ago titled Almost There, which imagines the days before Jesus’ birth from Mary’s perspective.

‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’ 

It had been nearly nine months since she had heard those words from the angel Gabriel. It felt more like several years. She shifted uncomfortably in her chair, as the baby kicked hard inside her swollen belly. The baby. She really shouldn’t call him that. She knew his name, and she had been whispering it to him ever since she was told what to call him. She only told her closest relatives what happened that day with Gabriel, and so they also knew his name. But still, everyone referred to him as the baby. 

This was not what she had expected for her life. She was to marry Joseph, and after a while start a family. They would raise them in their faith, and if she had sons, they would be carpenters like their father. But it didn’t happen that way; everything was in reverse. Her world had been turned upside down. Why did God pick her for this task? She remembered the feeling of being perplexed and then terrified when the angel came and told her that she would become pregnant. “The visit,” as she referred to it. And not just any pregnancy, but carrying the Son of the Most High, her people’s long awaited Messiah. Deep within she felt herself fighting against the prophecy, saying a resolute NO, but the words never came from her lips. She knew that if God picked her to bear a son — God’s son — it would be as the angel said and according to God’s will. She sighed. Still, it would’ve been nice if the angel had visited from time to time, given some encouragement, checked in to see how she was doing, but not a word from any angel, much less God in the last nine months.

As much as she would like to hear some words of support from the heavenly realm, if she was honest, she really just wanted to be left alone and pretend he was a baby just like any other baby. But this was not to be. This child would bring hope to her people where they had been missing hope for so long, and because of this she found herself guarding her child with a fierce, protective love that surprised even her. For nine months she had been clinging to this promise of hope, humbled and perplexed that God had chosen her to bring this life into the world. She certainly didn’t feel like a favored one, and sometimes wondered if she had imagined the whole thing.

The baby kicked again, and rolled in her womb, reminding her that what she had seen and heard that day was all too real. As she put her hand on her belly to quiet him, she wondered, what would he look like? Would he have her eyes? Her chin? Her mouth? Would his hair be curly or straight? Would he look any different from others being God’s son? What would their lives be like as she and Joseph raised him, knowing what they knew? How do you parent the Messiah? These thoughts had been weighing on her mind for some time now, and as the date for Jesus’ birth drew near, they were even stronger. She was scared, but there was no turning back at this point.

And now, in her last month of pregnancy, the Emperor had ordered a census and they had to travel to Bethlehem and be registered. They were mostly packed for the trip, but she didn’t want to go. Talk about bad timing. She could barely move around the house, much less have to travel all that way. Jesus could be born any day now and she really didn’t relish the idea of giving birth in a strange house, much less a different city. She preferred to be at home, safe and comfortable in her own surroundings and with her family nearby. Her cousin Elizabeth said she would be there for the birth, and she was counting on her help.

She started to doze in her chair; the baby had finally calmed down from his kicking. As she was enjoying the brief moment of quiet, Joseph called to her from the next room, letting her know that it was time to go to Bethlehem. Groaning, she heaved her body up from the chair, steadying herself for a bit in anticipation of the long journey ahead. “Not much more to go, Jesus” she said. “We’re almost there.”

All are warmly welcomed to come at 6 PM in person or on Facebook live and bring a friend this Christmas Eve to celebrate the gift of love coming into the world at our Family Friendly Candlelight worship. Our Handbell Choir will call us to stillness for the Prelude. The New Jericho Choir will bless us with the song “Hear the Good News”; the Joyful Noise Adult Choir will sing “Christmas Canticle”; and Juliet Gallagher and Michelle Reno will sing a duet “O Holy Night.” I will be reading The Tiny Star by Arthur Ginolfi for story time with the children and my message for this Christmas Eve is called God with Us. You will see in the sanctuary an Angel Wings art project created by our Bible study group led by pastoral intern Grace Modla. You are invited to take your photo in front of the wings remembering the holy messengers who were a part of the Christmas story. And then on Christmas Day come back to church at 10:30 AM for a carol sing, Scripture, readings, and the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper to celebrate the birth-day of Jesus.

In addition, the Consistory and I invite you to send in/bring a special Christmas offering in addition to your regular offering so we can continue to do the good work to which God has called us. Perhaps you would like to give to the Pride Fund, or the Capital Campaign Fund to help pay for building projects (our driveway is in dire need of repairs), or an additional offering to the General Fund to support the operating expenses of the church. Whatever you give, may you do so with a glad and generous heart as we rejoice that Christ is born.

We’re almost there, beloved one of God, we’re almost there.

Christmas blessings,

Pastor Trish