I don't know about your preparations for a trip, but I am the world's worse "over-packer" when I get ready to be on the road anywhere. Ask my family if we've had experience packing for a trip. Their first response will be, "Which trip? We've spent our lives on the road or in the air going somewhere!" And for everyone of those, we carried along everything but the proverbial kitchen sink, and I still wonder if the weight of one of those trunks did not betray that we had even put that in for good measure.
I am making preparations to go to Israel in the near future with a few of my pastor colleagues. We've been told that our trip will be a busy road tour with teaching points where each of us will be taking a turn. The instructions were to pack light, as we will be moving from place to place with our gear. My thoughts at this point are, "What will I give up that I would normally take?" and "What rules do I need in mind as we travel?" Having lived overseas has made me fully aware that there are many "things" I just won't need or use and that each place has its own set of culturally determined rules "of the road."
The two words that describe my need to trim-back what I carry of life's stuff or lifestyle are SACRIFICE and SUBMISSION. Unless I am willing to give up some of what I call my possessions or submit to the accepted rules where I go, I'll not be permitted to participate in the third word's priority - SERVICE!
This brings me to the first couple of travelers that we meet in connection with the ROADS TO BETHLEHEM. Beginning nine months prior to Bethlehem's nativity event, Mary and Joseph were called to walk down the road of SACRIFICE and SUBMISSION to be of SERVICE to the Christ of Bethlehem.
Mary was called upon to SACRIFICE all she had known as a simple maiden of Nazareth, and her future plans for a traditional life with Joseph in the village. Her encounter with the angel Gabriel brought first fear, then doubt and faith as she was given information that to her seemed impossible. SACRIFICE describes what knowledge she had to give up to believe in a conception by Holy Spirit overshadowing. SACRIFICE also describes the good name and reputation she would lose in the community when she was found to be pregnant before her wedding was consummated with Joseph. But all of this she to put behind her in SUBMISSION to her commission to be of SERVICE to God, as shown in her words, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word." (Luke 1:38)
Joseph, too, faced his own need to SACRIFICE upon learning that Mary was expecting a child before their marriage was officially sealed. To keep her from perhaps facing the judgement of being stoned for her supposed immorality, he would privately put her away. His encounter with the angel who informed him of the truth of the situation brought both SACRIFICE and SUBMISSION to follow the same commission of SERVICE in becoming the earthly father of God's Son. Matthew 1:24 records, "Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife."
So, these two entered upon the road to Bethlehem and the birth of the Son of God that they would name Jesus.
As we consider their preparations and the applications to our own lives there are astounding parallels which should be weighed. Consider first the SERVICE Mary was commissioned to give in the Lord's incarnation into life. As she was to be the vehicle of Christ's birth, so is every one who is called upon to believe in the reality of Christ's coming, for each one is called to allow Christ to be born anew in them. It's the new birth of Christ in the heart of every one who is SUBMISSIVE to the call of faith in Christ. The world also calls this impossible, but this idea must be SACRIFICED even as Mary's was. And further SACRIFICE is called for, as in the case of Mary and Joseph, who faced community condemnation for broken traditions. One's standing in the world community will face persecution, as well, when the life commitment to Christ's new birth is made known. But this must be so, for it is the rules of the road to Bethlehem's good news to be given to the world.
The question remains for each of us today, "At what point on the road to Bethlehem do we find ourselves?" For you who has yet to enter the road, Christ is calling you to SACRIFICE all you have known, to be SUBMISSIVE to God's call to repentance and faith, and the new birth of Christ in your life, and inter into His SERVICE as a new child of God. If you already have begun the journey, perhaps it is to lighten your worldly load by SACRIFICE, and SUBMIT to His continued call to faithful SERVICE as a spreader of the "good tidings which shall be to all people." (Luke 2:10)
Be encouraged today and look for another group on the road to Bethlehem next week.