A seventy-mile trip. On a donkey. Nine months pregnant.
If I were Mary, those circumstances would not have been a reason to rejoice. Those seventy miles would probably have included a plethora of complaints and lots of sighing. A reasonable amount of frustration during the long journey and a thought or two about a certain innkeeper. Joy would have been low on my list of emotions. But I wonder, if despite her difficult circumstances, despite the inconveniences and discomfort, if the knowledge she was carrying the Son of God brought her an unexplainable joy. A joy which baffled other travelers Joseph and Mary encountered and left the innkeeper dumbfounded. Joy fixed on Someone greater than her immediate discomfort and inconvenient circumstances.
Mary’s words of praise and rejoicing in Luke 2 give us a glimpse of a woman who rejoiced despite difficulties and confusing situations. And although we don’t know all Mary was feeling during the trip to Bethlehem, I think we can assume she experienced a wide range of emotions during the journey, just like we would have. From the intense joy of carrying the Messiah to the reality of traveling on a donkey while nine months pregnant.
Cross-cultural life lends itself to inconvenient and difficult situations – lost luggage, a long visa renewal process, language learning, cultural adaptation, team life and so on. We can easily allow all the crazy “normal” of our lives to become our sole focus and lose sight of the joy that comes from focusing on our Savior. The joy that comes when we reflect on all He’s done for us and how He’s sustained us.
My joy has waned the last half of this year. Circumstances outside of my control have made life more stressful, and I have allowed my focus to be on the inconveniences, the frustrations, the unknowns and the difficulties, instead of on the goodness and faithfulness of the Father. Lately I have started the morning thanking the Father for the beautiful sunrise and His daily provision but by evening I am stressed and grumpy and not joyful at all. (While I knew “normal” life in my passport country would be filled with stress, I allowed myself to romanticize life at home while I was overseas. And since I’ve returned, I’ve found myself romanticizing life abroad. All that to say, life is stressful and rarely smooth for long no matter where we are.)
Allowing the ups and downs of life to dictate my level of joy is not how the Father asks me to live, and this is most certainly not how I want to live. As I have focused my thoughts on joy, I have regularly returned to the first part of Romans 12:12, “Be joyful in hope…” (NIV). The joy in my life is not dependent on my circumstances; instead, my joy is rooted firmly in the hope I have in Christ. What a glorious, marvelous hope this is. Simply the thought of eternity with the Father, eternity without sin and heartache fills me with a deep joy. A joy that supersedes the difficulties of today and the worries of tomorrow.
As Christmas approaches and as my thoughts are drawn to the birth of the Savior, I long to rejoice each day in the eternal hope He provided. Mary might not have entirely understood all of the theology tied to the baby in her womb, but she knew she was carrying the Messiah. And she rejoiced in this despite the circumstances surrounding His birth. May each of us rejoice in eternal hope this December. May each of us focus our eyes on Him and not on ourselves. May each of us strive to remain joyful, even when life is difficult.
What helps you find joy in the difficult seasons of life? Do you have any Christmas traditions that help you focus on the joy we have because of Christ’s birth?
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