Amid the bustle–and often, stress–of this season for many of us, it helps me to have intentional ways to focus my mind and heart on why we celebrate this time of Advent anyway. To remember that Jesus really did come to this messy world of ours, to real people in real, and often difficult, circumstances, and that He is every bit as much Immanuel for us today as He was then…if we take the time to look for Him.
And so, over the past several years, I’ve taken a written journey through what might have been on the hearts and minds of those God chose to involve in our Messiah’s coming. They didn’t know what this plan was all about. They didn’t always understand everything. They must have wrestled and questioned and wept at times. But they trusted, and obeyed. And as I’ve written these little vignettes of “Toward Bethlehem” and “God of the Unexpected,” I’ve found my heart tenderized and my faith strengthened.
I hope you’ll join me in this compiled “Journey Toward Bethlehem” this year. Feel free to “like” my Author page on Facebook here if you’d like to get specially formatted installments that way, or to just follow along as I post them on this blog.
And a blessed Christmas season to you, friends. May Immanuel be very real to you this year.
But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish…The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.
I watch them leave, still smiling and calling out farewells to each other, these women who came to spend the afternoon with me. To spin and visit, to boast about their families and gossip about others.
How they love to complain about their children–and now their grandchildren. Yet the smiles and lift of their chins tells plain that all their grumbling merely shields in supposed humility their pride and joy.
And I, left alone, at last give my aching jaw permission not to smile, my face not to beam in supposed welcome.
I latch the door behind me and tread the long-familiar way into the kitchen, my feet heavy with the dull darkness weighting my heart. I want only to climb in bed and pull the coverlet over my head, but Zachariah will be home from Jerusalem soon, weary from completion of his temple duties and wanting his supper.
I draw the bowl of raised bread dough toward me and push my fingers into it. An honor, for him to be chosen to burn incense in the temple of the Lord. An honor, to be his wife.
My vision blurs, and I raise shaking floured hands to my face. Why is it never enough?
The sobs come sudden and hard, as they haven’t for some time—years perhaps. Yet always the pool of grief lies there, if often buried in striven-for submission to the Lord’s will. Till something pierces through, and it wells up fresher than ever.
I drop onto a stool and press my fists to my mouth. Do any of those women with their careless words have any notion what I would have given, all these years, to have even one child? Let alone the tumbling grandchildren?
Do they think I don’t feel their subtle barbs, the veiled disdain for the barren one?
The anguish wrenches my heart, and I groan aloud. Why, O Lord? When we have tried so hard to walk blamelessly in Your commandments? What have we done wrong? Do you hate me so?
No answer. Just the rustle of leaves stirred by a Judean autumn breeze without my open window. And a little bird, opening its throat with trillings and chirps.
The violence of my tears wearies, and I lean my head back with a shuddering sigh, listening to the bird’s song. He doesn’t even know where his next meal will come from, yet he sings. He trusts. As must I. For the Lord has promised not to forget us, not to forsake His people, bleak as the times may seem. Though I gave up the hope of a child long ago, I must not give up my hope in Him.
Even if at times my faith seems as a dried leaf clinging to a sapling’s winter-stripped branches.
I wipe the backs of my fingers across my eyes and heave myself from the stool. The bread—I am late getting it to bake. I must keep on, do the next thing. It’s all I can do. It’s what I must do, even if sometimes it takes all the strength I have and more.
Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness . . .
I’ve long since nearly stopped hoping He might still fulfill the desires of our hearts, somehow. Yet the remembered ancient words touch me with a stillness as I shape the loaves for the oven. The bird still sings—or is there more than one?—and I step near the window to look.
It is then I see Zechariah hurrying up the dusty road, back from the temple.
Originally posted December 7, 2013.