‘Only six (or are we down to 5,4,3…?) weeks until Christmas,’ the shopping centres scream at us as we begin to realize that we should be getting ready for the big December event… You know, the big food shop and don’t forget mixed fruit for the pudding, buy presents, decorate the house, and remember the star (or do you have an angel?) for the top of your yet-to-be-acquired Christmas tree? Agh, sometimes I feel so tired from all of these (mostly) commercial possibilities that I wonder if remembering, let alone celebrating the season is worth the stress?
On the weekend just past, for a whole 60 seconds (yes, one whole minute!), I felt transported back to a Bethlehem Christmas Eve; not that the people would have yet known the significance of that date… My husband and I had made a fairly late decision to drive from Melbourne to Sydney for the weekend – as you do! A long-time friend of ours turned 70, and miraculously my Sunday morning church roster had not assigned my name to any segment of worship, thus enabling us to go.
We left Melbourne on Friday afternoon, after I had conducted a funeral service in the morning. All went well, we shared the driving and stopped for occasional coffees, the old leg stretches and rest stops. Not quite knowing how far we might travel on that day, we had not booked any accommodation ahead. We remained confident of getting a room somewhere in one of the many motels along that busy national route – Highway 31, otherwise known as the Hume Freeway. Imagine our surprise when we drove into the little town of Holbrook, which is almost half way through our journey, only to discover every motel’s ‘No Vacancy’ signs glaring down upon us. Just to be sure, my husband enquired at one motel only to be rather curtly informed that due to three weddings happening over this weekend, there was no accommodation available anywhere between Gundagai and Albury!
Back at the car, my husband immediately began looking up booking sites on his phone, while I experienced that ‘Bethlehem’ moment. Panic was just beginning to bite as I realized there wasn’t even a caravan park with a simple cabin available for kilometers around. Dusk was just beginning to fall as I tried to imagine Mary and Joseph jostling and pressing their way through the crowded streets of Bethlehem. With night descending, and the young Mary about to give birth, Joseph must have been beside himself with fear and panic as he struggled to find a roof, let alone any sort of shelter, in which Mary could deliver the world’s Saviour. And if we are to believe the Christmas carol ‘In the Deep Midwinter’, cold weather might have been closing in too. I think I almost shuddered at the thought.
Back in the moment at Holbrook, my husband’s technical ability impressed me mightily once again as he saved the day. One of those booking apps showed us that accommodation was available in Wagga Wagga, a mere 90km drive north-west of Route 31. Within the hour, we were safely and securely checked into a beautiful room in that lovely city, while enjoying dinner in the hotel’s restaurant. What a wonderful outcome for us, but what a different one from first-century Bethlehem. Finally Mary and Joseph found refuge in the animal’s shelter of a Bethlehem house and the Saviour of the world entered the world to take His first rest in an animal’s feedbox.
In our land of plenty, and in every Sunday morning’s worship service, we pray for a persecuted or refugee people group that is stranded somewhere across the world. From the terrible plight of the Rohingya people in Bangladesh, the African and Middle Eastern refugees flooding across Europe to the forgotten starving people of Yemen and many others, we pray for all of these people. But in my Bethlehem moment and not that I doubting God, I just can’t help finding myself wondering, ‘Isn’t there any more we can do?’
I continue to be so disappointed with national governments, past and present who seem to have just deserted refugees and asylum seekers in our own neighbours’ places of Manus Island and PNG where these people are feeling particularly unsafe, let alone ill-provided for. Again, I ask from the perspective of our land of plenty is there not something more, something better we could do? At the very least, through the busyness and dreaded commercial rush through the coming Christmas season, can I ask you to reach out and hold onto any ‘Bethlehem’ moments you encounter please? And to let that moment strengthen your compassion for people stranded anywhere in the world, for their families and their most basic needs of safety as well as any provision of food, shelter, clothing and education. Whether we work towards the provision of such needs by ourselves, or support organizations that do, let us be united through our prayers that these things may come about. May the coming Christmas season be for you one of simple blessing and peace.
Glynis Dickins is the Pastoral Care Pastor at Rosanna Baptist Church, in the North-Eastern suburbs of Melbourne. She is passionate for writing about the wonderful people she has connected with throughout many years of ministry. She also writes short stories and published her first novel in 2014 through Ark House, who have just published her next novel.