- Posted by Guest Blogger
- On December 20, 2020
By Daniella Palmiotto
The third Joyful mystery, the Nativity of Jesus, is the vehicle by which the Incarnation and the redemption of humanity were made possible. There is so much joy surrounding the birth of the Messiah. In Scripture, we see the angels proclaiming to the world (via the local shepherds) that this event will bring joy to all people (Luke 2:8-12). However, this mystery is not immune from the common theme amongst all of the Joyful mysteries – in the midst of joy, there is accompanying opportunity for uncertainty and worry. This is such a rich mystery so this is a bit longer than the previous two reflections.
The second chapter of Luke begins stating that Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken of the Roman world so Joseph and Mary were required to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem since that was the appropriate “check in” point for Joseph who was of the line of David (Luke 2:1-4). I did some research on the trip between Nazareth and Bethlehem and all the sources I checked agreed that this was a dangerous and difficult journey. Depending on the route they took, it could have been anywhere from 70-100 miles. It is not clear that Mary rode a donkey for that distance since donkeys are not the most comfortable method of transportation, especially for a pregnant woman. Regardless of how Mary traveled, whether it was riding a donkey or walking this distance over 5-10 days through rugged terrain and forests exposed to bandits and wild animals, it was a big feat for someone close to giving birth.
Even with her hormones and pregnancy moods, we read no mention of Mary questioning her circumstances or complaining to God for allowing her experience to be so difficult when she was just trying to do His will. Instead, Mary was detached from any hoped-for comforts and expectations she could have entertained. I definitely cannot say that I experience this detachment from expectations or imagined outcomes when I am working towards something that I believe is worthwhile and good and I face roadblocks and obstacles. I know that I am not alone in this frustration when I have made plans that I thought would be honoring to God and they did not work out as I had planned. There’s a certain temptation to believe that I wasted my time or that God has forgotten about me. Mary avoided that temptation. Her perspective was informed by her detachment from material things and spirit of poverty that received God’s provision and God’s will with gratitude and surrender.
Once the Holy Family arrived in Bethlehem, they were not able to find a guest room where they could stay. Nevertheless, Mary went into labor and gave birth to Jesus in a manger. The only details provided in the Gospel of Luke are that “she wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them” (Luke 2:6-7). Again, so many opportunities for grumbling and complaining, but there is no mention of it. I think that this is so relatable for us in our own lives. Mary’s experience having her first-born child, who was also the
son of God, was a moment to savor, to relish, and to experience fully. She could have focused on all of the negative factors about their conditions, but she chose to savor and to fully experience the moments. I need Mary’s example because I find that most of my experiences of joy are either accompanied by a focus on what is wrong in the situation or a nagging concern that “all good things come to an end” and that this joy will end as well. It is true that it will come to an end, but God is providing that moment as a gift in which to experience joy. Focusing on anything other than the joy of the moment robs us of the freely given gift.
My 94-year-old grandmother has reached a new level of dementia and as of the day I am writing this, she returned a different person after spending just one week in the hospital. She is unable to remember our names, mumbling and babbling about things that only she knows. As I was sitting with her, supporting her and holding her straw as she drank her meal, I began crying as I leaned forward entering into her world and looking into her dimming eyes knowing that these moments when I can kiss her and laugh with her will be coming to an end likely sooner rather than later. I realized that by focusing on what would come next, I did not allow myself to fully experience the joy and gift of that moment with her. Maybe you’ve had a similar experience recently. This is not the first time I have lost out on a moment of joy because I was already thinking about what was next or was trying to control the future. However, this encounter really hit me and reminded me that joy comes from just sitting, entering into that moment and fully experiencing the laughter, the smiles, even the confusion of not understanding what she is talking about or imagining in her mind. Even though she cannot remember my name, she is still ready to let me hold her and to embrace me back and kiss me on both cheeks, like the Italian grandma that she is. There is so much joy in that and I am so grateful that by God’s grace in being aware of my focus, I can savor these beautiful moments.
Mary is an example of this disposition of receiving beautiful moments. Once the angels had shared the good news with the shepherds, they found Jesus, Mary and Joseph and then the shepherds shared the news with everyone (Luke 2:15-17). Imagine all of the thoughts Mary could have had – how did they know where we are? How do they know who we are? What is going to happen next? The Gospel of Luke tells us, “[b]ut Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). She received the gift and the mystery and didn’t try to control it exhibiting once again, the virtues of a spirit of poverty and detachment from material things.
This mystery also reminds me of God’s perfect timing. Jesus was the fulfillment of so many Old Testament prophecies of a Messiah who would save Israel. They began hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. One example is Micah 5:2, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Micah made this statement about 700 years before Jesus was born! Waiting this long for something is unimaginable for us today, but the moment Jesus was born was the very moment God ordained for the redemption of humanity. II
Peter 3:9 tells us, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” How can we argue with God’s timing when we know that it is always geared towards our repentance and for our good? This is another reminder that I needed – I had to come back from Europe and the plans that I had because of the virus, but it has afforded me the opportunity to have more time with my grandmother. Who knows what will come in the future and what God’s timing is, but in this moment, I will choose to focus on what God’s providence has for me now.
The final thought I will share about this third Joyful mystery is the sacredness of every moment. I imagined myself as another person in Bethlehem at that time of the census. Mary and Joseph walk by and I see a pregnant woman looking for a place to stay. Little would I have known that I just encountered the first tabernacle containing the body of Jesus. What a sacred moment and encounter! I would have had no way of knowing that the Messiah was about to be born, but just be being present in that moment, I would have experienced a miracle. Is this how I am going about my days? Intentionally being present when speaking with friends, family members, and strangers? There are glimpses and mysteries that direct us to God every day, not to the degree of Mary walking by while pregnant with Jesus, but still moments for sacred encounters with God through His creation. I am reminded of the need to be intentionally living the virtues of detachment from material things and a spirit of poverty that frees me from those attachments to the things of this world that numb me and keep me entertained but addicted and not present to reality. By being truly present in the moments of my life, I am able to observe and ponder what is happening and who God is bringing into my path.
Lord, we pray for an increase of the virtues of detachment from material things and a spirit of poverty so that we may be free to love you and others without distractions or addictions, and that we may fully and gratefully receive the provisions that you give us without expectations or disappointments. We thank you that you provide all that we need, especially our salvation and redemption made possible through the birth, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(Photo courtesy of Lisa Leonard Designs)