Rev. Andrew Cunnington
24th December 2017
Mary’s Christmas Journey’s

At 4.10pm on Christmas Eve, Jessica Hossack and Jacob Buckfield were dressed as Mary and Joseph for the Family Crib Service. In the time it takes to sing three verses of “Little Donkey”, they made the whole journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, in one single circuit of the church.

When you think of Mary in your mind’s eye – I wonder how you see her? A semi angelic figure, face full of radiance, eyes dancing with excitement, not a blemish on her skin, not a cut or a blister on her feet, and not a single stain on her long, blue robe.

And finally, if you had to sum up in a sentence, what difference this holy night makes to your life, I wonder what you would say?

I’d like to focus these three seemingly disjointed thoughts into one, by saying that the Jesus of the nativity story is so easy to contend with. He makes no demands on us whatsoever.

He is in Mary’s womb and then he is in the manger.

“No crying he makes” asserts the writer of “Away In A Manger” and then that redoubtable lyricist Mrs CF Alexander – in “Once In Royal David’s City” is emboldened to say “Christian children all must be mild, obedient, good as He”.

It is easy to settle for this state of perfection and then walk away from it – and nothing changes in our lives, just an affirmation of how life ought to be.

But Mary. The real Mary, shows how Jesus accompanies us in the true grit of our daily lives and our incessant journeying.

This is the truth of it all for me… wherever I go and whatever I do, He is no star in the sky sort of God, a face in the clouds somewhere, or a still image on a Christmas card. He is right down alongside of me, and deeply within me.

Be near me Lord Jesus I ask thee to stay close by me forever and love me I pray – yes that is my faith in that same dearly loved carol.

“With the poor and mean and lowly, lived on earth our saviour holy” there it is again. Alleluia.

The truth of all this is found in Mary’s travelling gospel – you see the reality of it in her weather beaten face, her torn and muddied clothes, he badly blistered feet and her weary, tired eyes.

For the love of God and for the good of all of us she walked a thousand miles or more and each of her journey’s reflect something of the way Jesus might meet us and accompany us now.

Journey 1 – Aged 4 or 5 – Jerusalem to Bethlehem – 90 miles

Tradition has it that Mary was born in Jerusalem – some of us have been to the church there dedicated to her mother Anne and sung in the beautiful acoustic of that place.

If this is to be believed – she then migrated for some reason all the way to Galilee – whether this was with her family or alone, we can only speculate. Was she orphaned? Was she bereaved?

This was a mysterious journey that’s for sure!

Some things happen and we never understand why they do. We never quite work it out.

But Jesus is Emmanuel, God with Us – there is a purpose, even though the only place it can be found is in his very heart.

Journey 2 – aged 13 or 14 – From Nazareth to John’s Mum’s – pregnant with the Son of God. Distance 200 miles return.

When Mary knew she had been chosen, the most wonderful thing was that her kinswoman Elizabeth was also going to have a baby.

Her elderly cousin was part of God’s miraculous plan! With the Christ child leaping around inside her, she made a long and dangerous journey, to Ein Karim, just beyond Jerusalem, to dance with joy with Elizabeth. To marvel at the twin miracles unfolding inside them both.

Joy to the World – the Lord has come – yes in bucketloads!

A happy journey – and Jesus was Emmanuel God with them both and their wondering families.

There are wondrous moments in the lives of each of us, but they are easily forgotten in the anxieties of the day. The leap inside of new birth and fresh hope. There for us every single day if we will, just for a second be still enough to feel it.

Journey 3 – Still just a teenager and now very heavily pregnant – Nazareth to Bethlehem – 110 miles – one way.

In the company of Joseph to fulfil the legal obligations of the census, and at the same time, only now coming to terms with the consequences of being chosen and stepping intrepidly into an unknown future.

There is no little donkey in the bible! But there would have been other inns and other innkeepers, slamming the door in her face in this week long journey – because her pregnancy was her uncleanness in the eyes of the law.

This was a trusting journey. Vulnerable and rejected. She nevertheless was kept safe and secure – because the child in her womb was Emmanuel, God with her.

There are times when we surprise ourselves with our capacity to plod along faithfully. To limp our way forward in this rushing world. He stays with us when, like Mary doors are slammed in our face and nobody wants us to get too close.

Journey 4 – Bethlehem to Egypt – recovering from child birth. On the run. Frightened and afraid. 400 miles at least, one way.

The holy family running for their lives. Not able to remain in the picturesque stable a moment longer. Herod is on the prowl – crazily threatened by this infant king.

A journey which took her ancestors 40 years to complete in the opposite direction!

The Son of God old enough to nuzzle in her arms – bringing through the wilderness to a Mother’s refuge in an unknown place. Not what she thought God was promising Her. This was no way to treat one who was told she was blessed amongst women.

To feel the Christ child in our arms as we find ourselves pitched headlong into what we never bargained for.

Journey 5 – some years later – it’s true – Herod had died – safe to return to Nazareth. Single journey of 600 miles.

Who knows what the Egypt years did to them all – but here’s where the Christmas story runs slap bang into the world of Foodbanks and night shelters, refugees, asylum seekers and in need of financial support – and the complete identification of this Holy Family with the lot of them.

And now a journey of homecoming – but wondering how familiar – the familiar place might now be. Would it still feel the same.

For us too the expectation of a good journey and a welcome arrival is all we long for – but a hopeful journey is often tinged with suspicion. How will it be? How will it be… after all these years.

Jesus the toddler, the schoolboy, running on ahead and Mary torn, battered and bruised by now, hobbling along on Joseph’s arm, but still trusting.

1600 miles of holy pilgrimage and the only way she survived was because of what Christmas does. Makes him Emmanuel. God with us.

Journeys of mystery and joy or faith and fear and homecoming.

This Christmas Story is an innocuous sort of thing when we divest it of its power.

But if we let the people within the story truly lives, suddenly so many fresh possibilities as to how we might find him blessing us in our everyday lives.

This Emmanuel. This God with us. This child in a manger.