Imagine with me. Imagine a journey, a long journey that might wind over a hundred miles. Imagine traveling paths smoothed not by heavy equipment, but by generations of hooves and sandaled feet. Imagine fording rivers, struggling up steep hills and winding down their far side. Imagine rock and dust. Lots of dust. No shelter from blazing sun or hot wind. No 7-11 with cool drinks and bathroom facilities. Just rocks and trees for privacy, a skin bag or perhaps a stream or a well for refreshment. Imagine camping beside the path, reclining on hard ground. A meal taken from a pack or cooked over a fire. No shelter from dew or errant weather. No protection from thieves or wild beasts except the company of others in your caravan.
Now imagine doing it all nine months pregnant.
Perhaps a ride on a donkey; hours of rocking, trying to draw a breath around an impossibly huge baby, exhaustion, an aching back, relentless Braxton Hicks contractions. Imagine the slow pace, the frequent, awkward potty breaks, the inability to keep up with a caravan intent on their destination. And at journey’s end, imagine no familiar face, no hot bath, no soft hotel bed, only a cow barn with a bit of hay to rest in.
Imagine having to tell a fiance about this pregnancy. Imagine his hurt and anger. Imagine the disappointment of grandparents, the doubful glance of friends, the ridiculous sound of the truth.
Imagine now a night of hard labor. No air conditioning, no medicine, perhaps not even a door to keep out the curious glances of passersby. No doctor, no mother or wise aunt for comfort. Only an inexperienced young man and the nauseating smell of animal dung. Perhaps some help and supplies from the innkeeper’s wife. Perhaps a midwife. Perhaps not.
Imagine the noisy lot of stinking shepherds interrupting an exhausted slumber. Imagine the painful journey to Jerusalem eight days later to present the baby boy to the priests. Imagine the crowds and congestion. Logic and some compelling circumstancial evidence could easily place the Roman census of Luke’s gospel within the 8-day autumn holy festival of Sukkot. Imagine all the pilgrims in the holy city. Imagine the harried priests. Imagine the elation and the apprehension at the words of old Simeon and the prophetess Anna, then a difficult journey home caring for a newborn.
Now imagine a God who could foresee all of this. A God who created the hills and the rock and the dust, the cows and the donkey, the young couple, the priests, even the pilgrims filling the streets of Jerusalem. Imagine this God choosing these circumstances. Imagine him making himself tiny and vunerable, placing himself within a womb he created, like a mighty genie turning itself into a butterfly. Imagine this God growing up in a small village, enduring the scorn and fists that accompany questionable paternity. Imagine the disbelief, the betrayal, the cruel death he would endure. Now imagine the incredible love this God must have for humanity.