For pregnant Mary and faithful Joseph, the walk took at least 10 days. Through the Jordan River Valley and the Bedouin camps, past the olives groves and camel humps, north to south hauling their own provisions and heaving with contractions.
For the 2000 years since, people have been traveling those 80 miles, trying to find their Bethlehem by the end of December. Some negotiate the traffic of McAdenville to witness the blinking homes and twinkling lights, the inflatable Santas and the plastic elves. Some slide a quarter into the jukebox and order the Allstar breakfast at Waffle House before unwrapping gifts. And some 300,000 people this holiday season will pay $85 to experience Christmas at the Biltmore House.
Regardless of what speed you travel, what detours you take, the journey to Jesus remains the same. So where then do we find the baby?
Luke 2:1-7 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In the happenings of life, thoughts of divorce, travel on the holidays, paperwork to fill out.
Not by escaping this world, but by choosing what God chose.
Places where people are being rejected, where there are no vacancies.
The opposite of where the world looks for power.
Timothy Schmalz is a devout Catholic and an artist. He created a provocative sculpture of a small figure with a shrouded face, covered in blankets and shivering to keep warm on a city bench. All that’s visible is the man or woman’s feet, both of which have nail marks. Schmalz offered the first casting to St. Micheal’s Cathedral in Toronto and then to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, but both declined. The piece was finally brought to the United States by a church in Davidson, NC. After installing it outside their sanctuary in an upscale neighborhood, one woman called the paramedics to resuscitate Jesus, another called the police to arrest Jesus, and even more complained that the statue was sacrilegious, that God would never inhabit such destitution.
Where do we find the baby Jesus?
In Luke’s Gospel, the author goes out of his way to locate the nativity story in the dregs of society. There are no royal visitors checking into the penthouse suite but rather crooked soldiers placing their bets and defiled Johns picking out their girls; no gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold, but census forms to be signed and taxes to be taken; no guiding star high in the East but a dim light bulb dangling by a cord, no embroidered onesie with matching hat and socks but a wrap of rags.
Of all the ways to abandon heaven, to trade the throne for the feeding trough, power for poverty, God is born with nowhere to lay his head as a homeless child. God is born a homeless child. “Now he was there,” says Bonhoeffer, “not as a mighty one, but in the obscurity of humanity, where there is sinfulness, weakness, wretchedness, and misery in the world. That is where God goes, and there he lets himself be found by everyone.”
Many of us can become disoriented during Advent, forgetting that all roads don’t lead to Bethlehem. But if the Savior is whom you seek, then search under the Clingman Avenue Bridge, the picnic tables out back of AHOPE and the shopping cart in Hillcrest for the child called Emmanuel, God with us, God among the homeless.