Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | December 22, 2013

2013.12.22 The Journey: Walking the Road to Bethlehem, From Nazareth to Bethlehem – Luke 2: 1 – 7

Central United Methodist Church

The Journey: Walking the Road to Bethlehem
From Nazareth to Bethlehem

Pastor David L. Haley

December 22nd, 2013

The 4th Sunday of Advent

Luke 2: 1 – 7


         About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant.

While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.”Luke 2: 1 – 7, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson


Today, as we continue The Journey, we’re late into Mary’s pregnancy; the baby could arrive at any time. By this point in a pregnancy we should have a plan, and preparations should have been made: a room, a crib, how you’re going to get to the hospital.  Mothers and fathers, do you remember that time?

In the case of Joseph and Mary, the circumstances are a little less clear than Adam Hamilton makes it.  One quibble I have with Adam Hamilton is that he overemphasizes the historical nature of the Gospels, at the expense of their literary nature, which allows for poetic license.  Let me explain.

The only two Gospels of the four that tell of Jesus’ birth, Matthew and Luke, tell the story in different ways. Remember, they are writing some 75 years later, although likely using stories and legends which circulated earlier.  To illustrate the difficulties with such an endeavor, how many of you know your birth stories? How about your parent’s birth stories? So you see how hard it might be to track down details of something that happened 75 years earlier?

While it seems historically likely that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and grew up Nazareth, the order of that is less than clear.  According to Matthew, Joseph and Mary were living in Bethlehem when Jesus was born, and then moved to Nazareth. According to Luke, they were living in Nazareth and then – due to a Roman census – traveled to Bethlehem where the baby was born.

The problem is historians have long struggled with Luke’s mention of a census, necessitating travel to Bethlehem for Joseph and Mary. As bureaucrats, the Romans were good record-keepers, and there is no recorded Roman census before Herod’s death in 4 B.C. Even if there had been, Joseph would not have had to travel back to Bethlehem, much less Mary. (If everyone had to return to the place of their birth, it would have upended the whole country!) But Luke needed to get Joseph and Mary back to Bethlehem, so as to connect Jesus with the messianic prophesies and the house of David. 

There is one other possibility: maybe Joseph lived in Bethlehem and Mary in Nazareth, where her parents were taking care of her.  Maybe he went to get Mary, to bring her to his (or his parent’s) house, and that’s how they wound up in Bethlehem.  We tend to make assumptions that engagement and marriage then worked like they do now, but they didn’t, as they still don’t in much of the rest of the world. In actuality, Joseph and Mary might have spent little time with each other up to this point.

So let’s say, for the sake of the story, that at some point late in Mary’s pregnancy, they made the 90 mile or so journey to Bethlehem. Women, think back to late term in your pregnancy? How would you feel about a 90 mile journey over hot, dry, uneven terrain, including mountains and desert, most of it on foot, or maybe worse, on the back of a donkey, if you could afford one?

It would definitely be, as Adam Hamilton calls it, a journey you wouldn’t want to take. Definitely not what Mary must have imagined it would be, when the angel told her she would be having a holy child. “Obviously God has not planned this well,” Mary must have thought. Men, if you’d been Joseph, wouldn’t this have increased your doubts about Mary’s story? “This is a God child? But God is making ME take this 36-week pregnant woman on this journey? Who’s gonna get blamed for that?” 

Let’s go now with Adam Hamilton on the journey Joseph and Mary might have taken, and afterwards, just a few brief comments.  [Video]

Like Mary, all of us find ourselves forced to take journeys we do not wish to take. 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 confused as to why we’ve had to travel such a road, as Mary may have felt.

But here’s what we find in Scripture and echoed in our own lives: God does not abandon us while were on these journeys. Somehow, in ways we cannot anticipate, God works even through them. We look back years later and see how God can take adversity, disappointment, and pain and use even these things to accomplish God’s purposes.

Here’s an example Adam Hamilton shared in his book. 

Ann was five months pregnant when she sensed 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 Anna 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 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 anticipated nor desired to make, but it was the journey life dealt them, and they were grateful for their son.

Adam Hamilton first met Matthew when he was eight. His mom and dad visited Church of the Resurrection, and out of that visit started a ministry for Matthew and children like him, a special-needs ministry named after 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 21. His life, Adam says, shaped Ann and Jerry into two of the most remarkable people I know. And Matthew changes thousands of other lives. Today, over 140 special-needs children and adults are a part of Matthews Ministry. Annually in their blood drives they collect over 1500 pints of blood for people in the Kansas City area. Their 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 bringing 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. (Reflection: The Journeys We Don’t Want to Take, in The Journey: Walking the Road to Bethlehem, by Adam Hamilton)

As we look back over our lives, can we see how God brought good from adversity? And if we are on such a journey right now, may we know that God walks it with us, and will bring good from it.  Amen.


Note to Reader:  This series, The Journey: Walking the Road to Bethlehem, was originally preached by Pastor Adam Hamilton at Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, in 2010. 

It was made available as a series for other churches by Abingdon Press, and is available through them, (here), through Cokesbury, our denominational bookstore, (here) or (here). 

Adam Hamilton’s most complete presentation of each segment may be found in his book, The Journey: Walking the Road to Bethlehem. Note that it is available in multiple formats: hardback, Kindle, etc.

My sermons are my version, intended to go with the video presentation

watched in worship, which my sermon supplements, which you may view here: (Video))

Finally, here is a Vimeo of Adam Hamilton’s original sermon (sermon)




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