I was having trouble getting to Bethlehem this year. My mind has been on other things. The icy weather, the closures and delays, the changes in plans and changes again have taken their toll. This blanket of beautiful, fluffy white snow smothered everybody's plans for travel, shopping, rehearsals, and special events. The airport was jammed for days, highway 84 was closed, and a whole bunch of people have had to do some serious improvising. We had some pretty treacherous conditions on our way up to Seattle and back, and the roads in Portland went from "bad" to "are you kidding me?" I haven't seen the church choir in over two weeks. We had to cancel Christmas Eve services at church because of the icy conditions. It suddenly hit me that this stuff has really kept me distracted from the main point of Christmas. So much so that this almost was the year that I missed Bethlehem.
A beautiful thing occurred at our house. Some of our special friends were able to come over for the evening. Then some more joined in. Everybody brought some kind of food. We gathered with prayer, a meal, some carols and lessons, and lots of laughter. They stayed well into the night, and some great lifetime memories were made. And yes, it was the kind of stuff that lifts you from your own circumstances and transports you to the manger in Bethlehem. We would have had a wonderful service at church, but this was a different kind of wonderful thing that happened. It affirmed for me that the unexpected and unplanned events sometimes yield the most amazing, life-changing things.
Sometimes I have these preconceived ideas of what it must have been like in Bethlehem. It's easy for me to forget that it took place in a last-second makeshift shelter in a run-down little town, during a time of tremendous social upheaval, brought on by an oppressive regime. I was thinking about how everyone had to drop what they were doing and go to the hometown where they were registered. What an amazing disruption that must have been for thousands of people who had to make arduous journeys along rocky trails and roads, wait in long lines with scarce resources, extreme frustration and probably some peril.
I try to imagine that in the midst of all of that, the moment came that changed the world forever. In the midst of a chaotic time, God introduced Himself to the world in a whole new way. Life truly is what happens when we're all busy making other plans.
By the time I got to Bethlehem this year, all of our planned Christmas activities had been changed. That's okay by me. I'm hoping to lengthen my stay in Bethlehem this year and see what else I learn.