On the Road to Bethlehem

This week as I read Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus, I was reminded of my first hour in Dubai. It was July of 2010 at Dubai International Airport. I had come to meet my husband so we could find a place to live. The fourteen hour flight had been sleepless. My back hurt and I was confused and disoriented. My brain struggled to make sense of my surroundings. Masses of people crowded around me on all sides as my daughter and I tried to stay together. I felt invisible. In the immigration line, I tried hard not to stare. The Emirate who stamped my passport, the throngs of people in the visa line, they were of every nation, tribe and tongue. Their skin color and dress, their language, it was all so new and unfamiliar. One particular group caught my attention, the laborers, streaming into Dubai in search of a better life. Their haunted expressions revealed their fear as they struggled to communicate. Like me, they felt invisible. They had no one, they were… no one. We were all alone in a crowded city, separated from our family and friends, ignored, tired, uncomfortable, and looking for a place to stay. Sound familiar?

When Caesar Augustus calls for a census, Mary and Joseph must travel to their traditional family town to be counted. Because they are descendants of King David, they make a 100 mile (160k) journey to Bethlehem. Scripture doesn’t tell us their mode of travel, but most likely it was on foot or by donkey and it probably took five or six days.  For a pregnant Mary, this would have been extremely difficult. Think about it, you and I travel in fast cars and, even more incredible, in a chair…in the sky, with people serving us drinks! And we complain about the traffic and the service. Can you imagine Mary’s discomfort?

When they arrive in Bethlehem, it’s full of people and there is nowhere to stay. I think of Mary and Joseph, exhausted and being turned away time and again. Who turns away a woman who is 9 months pregnant? Who turns away the woman carrying the savior of the world? The world does of course. They were surrounded by crowds of people who were oblivious to their true identity. Mary and Joseph were invisible. The mother of God delivers her first born child, our savior and king, in the lowliest of conditions without the support of family or friends. Except for those privileged shepherds, Jesus’ birth was invisible to most, at the fringes of society. He came into the world He came to save, with little notice.

The faithfulness and obedience of Mary and Joseph is a hallmark of this story. Even though they knew they were giving birth to the Messiah, they received no special treatment or attention. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Despite their circumstances, they trusted God to sustain them through the most trying of times and He did.

Do you ever feel invisible? Are others invisible to you? The story of Jesus’ birth is a reminder of just how easy it is not to see some of His most significant works He has placed right in front of us. We live at a crossroads of the world’s society. As Andrew Doust stated last week, we have over 65 countries represented in our church alone. Every day we are surrounded by thousands of souls from every nation, tribe and tongue. They come and go…nameless faces, all in need of a savior. We are all travelers. Are we taking the time to point the way?

Dear Ones, For the first time in 24 years I am away from my Texas home for Christmas. Thank you for the privilege of sharing my thoughts with you. With each other we are not alone, we are not invisible. Love, Shirley Ralston

About texpatfaith

I'm a returned Christian expat living in Texas after several years residing in the Middle East and the South Pacific. I have the great privilege of writing about my experiences through the eyes of my faith, and to know and love my brothers and sisters serving in Christ's name all over the world. I have a special heart for the missionary community whom I now serve through the Missionary Care Team at my church. I am a writer, researcher, teacher, and archaeology enthusiast who also loves peering into the heavens any chance I get - but most importantly I am a wife, mother and grandmother who loves the Lord. "The fact that I am a woman does not make me a different kind of Christian, but the fact that I am a Christian makes me a different kind of woman." Elisabeth Elliott Shirley Ralston (MA Christian Education, Dallas Theological Seminary)
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3 Responses to On the Road to Bethlehem

  1. Terry says:

    Thanks for the wonderful reflections to ponder this season. I pray your Christmas away from home will be very special. Love you!

  2. Francine says:

    What a special message for us at this time. Even though we often feel invisible, we do need to remember that we always have God beside us. I hope you have a very Merry Christmas.

  3. Hi Shirley,
    Beautifully put! I’ll never forget the night I arrived in Dubai. It was certainly an out-of-body experience. I can’t imagine arriving, with child, with no where to go and no one to care. I know this Christmas will be difficult for you so far away from home but we can celebrate the birth of Christ from anywhere, right?
    Much love,

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