Images: Rijksmuseum or wiki creative commons
Mary and Joseph
One day Mary was cleaning the house and looking forward to her wedding with Joseph and thinking about the life they would share together.
That's when God's special messenger, Gabriel the angel arrived with some rather startling news.
"God wants you to do something very important for him. He wants you to be the mother of a very special baby. God's own son and you are to call him Jesus. I know this seems hard to believe but God can do amazing things," said the angel.
Mary closed her eyes. Took a deep breath and thought for a minute. "I will do it," she said "I will be the mother of God's son." But what will Joseph think, she wondered.
As you can imagine when Mary told Joseph of the Angel's visit he got pretty up tight. How can any of this be true, he worried. I'm not sure if I want to go through with this wedding. It's all a bit much really.
But God's angel messenger Gabriel wasn't finished delivering messages.
That night Joseph lay down to sleep. Over and over in his mind was the fact that the girl he planned to marry was going to have a baby. Mary had tried hard to explain but the story sounded so amazing she could hardly believe it herself, lest of all explain it in a way Joseph could understand. He thought I can't marry her now. Finally he dozed off. Gabriel was still busy delivering messages from God. Next on his list was Joseph. In a dream the Angel Gabriel came to Joseph. There was no need to be worried or afraid. Everything Mary said was true. The baby she is carrying is God's own son. When he is born God wants you to call him Jesus which means God saves. When he grows up that is exactly what he will do. He will be God among people on earth.
When Joseph woke up his fears and worries were gone. He went straight to Mary's house. He hugged her, told her about his dream and that he was sorry for not believing her. They got married as soon as they could.
Mary counted the months. One, two, three. As she counted the months she got things ready for baby Jesus. Four, five, six. She sewed and made clothes, blankets and towels.
As she counted up the things she had made she wondered, have I made enough of everything? Am I there yet?
The Roman Emperor wanted some counting done too. He sent out messengers to everyone saying he wanted to count everyone in the whole country. To do this he insisted that everyone must travel to the place where they were born and sign in.
This meant that Joseph had to travel to his home town of Bethlehem. It would take a whole week to get there. Mary gasped in dismay. The baby was almost due. "I can't," cried Mary.
"You must," replied Joseph "its the law. Remember the Angel said God would be with us. If God is with us we can make this journey. It's His promise so we can count on it."
They packed up food and clothes, loaded their donkey and headed off.
Mary tried to count the miles but that seemed too hard. To keep her mind busy she tried to count the donkeys footsteps but she lost count. As the first day wore on Mary was desperate to stop for the night. "Are we there yet?" she asked Joseph.
It was hard to find somewhere safe and comfortable to stop for the night. Day two began and Mary wished she was anywhere else but trying to ride a donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Joseph had in his mind how far they needed to travel each day. Yet he knew for Mary and the baby's sake they had to travel with real care. By mid afternoon, after a long time without speaking to each other Mary asked, "are we there yet?" Again they stopped for the night.
Day three dawned. Poor Mary was so tired and stiff and sore. She just did not want to get back on that donkey. She tried walking slowly and carefully alongside. Poor Joseph. He could see that it was a real struggle for her. All he could do was to keep remembering that God had promised to be with them. By lunchtime Mary asked, "are we there yet?" Joseph stopped, to let Mary rest and kept telling her how well she was doing. "I think we are half way there" he said. Mary just wanted to cry.
Day four began a little cooler. This will help us thought Joseph. It seemed that they had to travel slower and slower. Mary tried so hard not to ask. But are we there yet seemed all she could think about.
Day five and six just seemed like a blur to Mary. She was just so desperate for this long journey to be over. Everyone passing them on the road seemed to be bright and cheerful and actually enjoying the trip. When she asked again "are we there yet?" her voice was down to a whisper. Finally as they stopped for the night Joseph said, "we will be there tomorrow?" This was like music to Mary's ears.
On day seven they could see the town of Bethlehem in the distance.
As they trudged into the town it was clear how really busy the place was. Now to find somewhere to stay. From place to place they went asking but everyone had the same reply. Sorry we are full. Finally a kind innkeeper said that his inn was full but he had a cave out the back that the animals used. It was warm and dry and they were welcome to stay there.
Mary was too exhausted to worry anymore, she just needed this journey to be over.
Joseph made Mary as comfortable as he could. She closed her eyes thinking that she could sleep for days.
The wise men
Once upon a time, long ago there was so much to see and so many questions to ask, Even now there is still lots of why and what questions. What a great way to learn. Back then just like now people wanted to know why?
That's the very question that began a very long journey forwise men and their camels. They were astrologers, which means they studied the skies. Long ago they were simply called star watchers.
Why was there so many lights in the night sky? Why were they different sizes? Why did some look close up and large and others far away and small? They made notes and drew diagrams to learn all they could. In fact they looked at the night sky so much they fell asleep in the daytime.
One night they saw it for the very first time. A brand new star. Bigger and brighter than all the others. They all agreed. It definitely was new and bigger and brighter than anything they had ever seen. What do you suppose it means they wondered? They searched through their special star watching books. "Its not an earthquake," said one, "we can be thankful for that." "It's not a big flood either," said the second star watcher. "Aha, I've found it," said the third. "Listen, it says here. When a big bright new star appears in the sky it means a new king is born somewhere." "But where?" asked the others "There is no way to tell," said the third star watcher, "unless we follow the star and see where it stops."
Then let's go on a journey and they all agreed.
The next day was frantic. There was clothes and food to pack and of course the camels to be fed, groomed and their feet checked. As night time came so did their excitement. Had they packed for nothing? Would that big, bright star show up tonight or had they imagined it?
As night time arrived and the stars began to twinkle in the night sky they almost held their breaths waiting. There it was. Just as big and bright as last night. It was almost calling them on saying - come on follow me.
"Gifts" shouted one of them. We can't go in search of a King without gifts. Gifts suitable for a king. "I have some gold" said one that will be my gift. "I have some frankincense it is a perfume fit for a king" that will be my gift. The third one thought for a moment and then remembered - "I have some myrrh ointment, it will be my gift," said the third.
Can you imagine what it would be like? Riding a camel in the dark of night. This was no daytime sight-seeing road trip - it was a night time nightmare. They had to trust the camels to watch where they walked. This really did not please the camels who would have much rather been travelling in the daytime so they could see where they were putting their very large feet.
Trying to find somewhere quiet and safe to sleep by day then getting up and travelling by night wasn't easy. The youngest of the star watchers got quieter and quieter until he finally said what was on his mind. "Are we there yet?"
The others stopped and stared at him. "No we are not there yet," they said. That big bright star in the sky seemed to be just as far away as ever and beckoning them on. They climbed hills, crossed deserts, waded through rivers and climbed mountain peaks. It was taking a long time to follow that star. They had to stop, rest the camels, find more food and then carry on.
Every now and then out would come that question - Are we there yet? The others would reply together. "No, and we are not giving up." Finally the star seemed to stop. They were in Judea on the edge of the great sea. "That's the land of the Jews," said the oldest star-watcher, "it must be their new king." "Are we there yet?" asked the youngest.
Let's find the palace so we can give our gifts to the new king. So they headed to Jerusalem where King Herod lived in his palace. "New king," he said, "there's no new king here. If you find him come back and tell me so I can go and worship him too."
Outside the palace the youngest star-watcher said wearily "we're not there yet."
That night they looked very carefully. The star was bigger and brighter than ever and had stopped quite still over the town of Bethlehem. They hurried there and found Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. They gave their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. They had finally arrived.
There was great excitement amongst the angels. They too were going on a journey. The son of God would soon be born on earth in the little town of Bethlehem. It was going to be their job to announce the birth.
The angels had been wondering for a while what special gift they could give. What would be good enough? Finally it was decided. The best gift the angels could give this baby king was a song. For days they got together in their angel chorus and practised. It was easy for all the grown up angels, but not quite that simple for the younger ones.
They struggled to get the tune right. They struggled to remember all the words and they struggled to remember how many verses and what order they were sung in. And all that standing and breathing and concentrating and singing. This was no easy task.
The older angels would stop and say. "This is our gift to the baby king. It must be perfect. Let's start from the beginning again."
For one whole week they fitted in so many practises that everyone was getting a bit tired and grumpy. then in a quiet moment the littlest angel spoke up and asked. "Are we there yet?"
"NO" - came back a chorus of the older angels. "We are not there yet. It's just not perfect enough for the son of God."
The conductor angel took charge. "Get a good nights sleep. Learn the words. Learn the order of the verses and report back here tomorrow."
"But I'm tired" said the littlest angel. "My feet are sore from standing, my neck is stiff from looking up, my throat hurts, my voice is tired, the notes are too high and (shaking an empty water bottle) I ran out of water hours ago."
"Don't worry" said the choir leader, "we'll get there. Good hard work, a bit more time, team work and we will be perfect."
Each day the littlest angel asked "are we there yet?" "Not quite " would be the reply.
And so the night Jesus was born they headed off to sing their song as their special gift to the Christ Child - the heavenly king. And it was perfect. In fact the Angel song was so beautiful nothing like it had ever been heard before.
On the hills outside the town of Bethlehem were shepherds minding their sheep. Because there were no fences to keep sheep safe and together it was the job of the shepherds. Day and night someone had to be keeping an eye on the sheep. It was a clear night but a little chilly so they lit a fire to keep warm. It was late. They took turns to sleep and be on sheep watch duty.
The skies above Bethlehem seemed unusually bright tonight with one star in particular sending so much light to earth they could see round about them quite clearly. Suddenly the hills of Bethlehem came alive. An angel choir burst into their quiet night making it extraordinary. Whatever was happening in their little corner of the world? Any sleepiness vanished. They were wide awake and frightened. Who wouldn't be?
The angel Gabriel was still giving out messages. "Don't be afraid," said Gabriel to the shepherds - who were trembling and shaking like frightened sheep. "I have great news to tell you. God has tonight sent someone special into this world. They have been born not far from here. Go and find him and see for yourselves. A special baby has been born in Bethlehem. His mum and dad will be pleased to see you."
They left their sheep and ran. This must really be something special. They had to see if the angel's message was true. One of the older shepherds hadn't stretched his legs like this for ages. It was dark and hard to see where you were going. He sensed the others footsteps getting softer and away from him. "Are we there yet?" he called out into the dark night.
Back came the voice of one of the others. "No, not yet, but keep going, you'll make it." The very large bright star seemed to be hovering as though it was trying to catch their attention. They slowed to a walk and then stopped to catch their breath, get their bearing and wait for everyone to catch up. Would you believe it. Out of the darkness but still a wee way off came a familiar voice. "Are we there yet?"
"We think so" they shouted back. After a little searching they found Mary, Joseph and the baby just as the angel had said.
What a night. They didn't even notice the distance as they returned to their sheep on the hills above Bethlehem. There was so much to talk about. They counted the sheep and although no-one had been minded them they were all present. There was not much sleep for the rest of the night because they kept looking skywards just in case another angel choir came to visit.
What do you think?
The whole of our life is a journey. From start to finish. And yes there are many times when we too may want to ask are we there yet? We are so lucky because we have the same promise to remember that Mary and Joseph had. It is a simple promise one that is very easy to remember. God promises to be with us.