Today I’m super excited to introduce you to Inga Emery, one of my oldest and dearest friends. We roomed together back in our Wheaton College days (I put up with her 4am ROTC alarms and she put up with my piles of clothing all over the floor) and have been laughing and learning together ever since.
She’s career military, having served two tours of duty in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. She’s probably the only person I’ve ever met who loves making homemade jam, enjoys nubby sweaters, and could kill me with her bare hands. I stay on her good side.
God of Discomfort
by Inga Emery
When I read Luke chapter two, the passage about Mary and Joseph heading to Bethlehem, I picture Mary riding uncomfortably on a donkey the 70 or so miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem. The passage goes by so quickly that I imagine sure she was in labor when she and Joseph were turned away from the inn; her water must have broken when she walked into the cave.
But I probably watch too many dramas on TV.
All Luke says is:
And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.
The whole process–the journey, the preparation–could have taken weeks! Weeks away from home, without furniture or friends or anything familiar.
My knowledge of the seasons of pregnancy is secondhand, so I can only imagine how that part of the journey went for Mary.
I have lived through many seasons of moving, though. The experience of being told to leave home and then live for weeks or months with what fits in the car or a few suitcases is all too familiar.
The timing of these moves has never lines up with my plans. I serve in the military, so when they say it’s time to go, I go. Those calls to move on usually come right about the time I’ve started feeling at home. There’s always one more project I want to finish, one more room I want to organize before the movers arrive, one more friend I want to visit before I leave. But we go anyway.
For Mary, living in the days of Caesar, when he said it was time to go, she went, even though she was at the end of her pregnancy with the Savior of the world. Surely she’d rather stay close to home, near what is familiar to her and safe. But she goes anyway.
This summer my husband Jonathan and I bade farewell to our furniture as the military packed it for an overseas move. We headed south for a few months of additional training, where we found a little apartment in Georgia that would let us rent furniture. We lived among things that were not our own in a home we would only inhabit for a dozen or so weeks.
There I was reminded, again, how long it takes to build community in a new place. How all the people seem unfamiliar for a time.
Yet I’ve moved enough to know that, especially when time in a place is limited, making invitations early and often is good, so Jonathan and I invited my classmates over for a Wednesday night dinner.
The smart move would have been to invite people after we’d rented enough chairs and perhaps even a dining room table, not to mention more than a few plates! Turns out it’s a challenge to serve nearly a dozen people chili when you forget you don’t currently own a ladle.
The good news is that our new soon-to-be friends were kind and creative. They pulled the dining chairs around the coffee table and sat on the couch and the end tables and the floor and we all ate from our laps—and something about the awkwardness of never quite having enough of anything (except food) put people at ease. Incomplete was ok.
But Mary and Joseph didn’t have even that. They would have rejoiced at a partially furnished home to call their own, or a kindly relative who would take them in for the census.
How long had it been since a relative of Joseph had lived in Bethlehem—or anywhere in Judea? It was his tribal home, but surely, he and Mary would have stayed with family if they could have, right?
Whatever the reason Joseph and Mary were turned away at the inn, they ended up staying in a place with a manger. Tradition holds that it was a stable, but modern scholars believe it may have been a cave, an open field, or even the home of a family so poor family they kept their animals indoors.
Again, Luke’s words are sparse:
7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
When this passage is read at Christmas, it’s so often in a cozy, candle-lit room, surrounded by friends and family. It’s easy to jump right to the “she gave birth to her firstborn son,” queue up the Christmas music, and miss the isolation of waiting in an unfamiliar town.
The Christmas story should give us moments of discomfort that remind us to look for the holy in our discomfort, too.
When I wander the halls of a new office building, unsure where to turn left or right, Christ meets me. When I come home and don’t know which cabinet the mugs are in without having to open every single one, Christ meets me. These small moments of disquiet are opportunities to reflect upon the God who left his heavenly comfort to live among his people, with all the unfamiliarity and ache it would bring.
One day we will be home at last.
But, friends, there is a lot of waiting in between. Waiting for the baby to come. Waiting for the census to end. Waiting to go home. Waiting to celebrate.
That’s the beauty of Advent though, isn’t it? That it helps us notice the waiting… and not forget to celebrate when the waiting is over.
There is good at the end of the waiting.
What are you waiting for this season?
Inga Emery is a military officer currently traveling with her husband in Europe. They are learning to live simply and embrace this season of wandering the world, exploring new places, and delighting in friends – old and new.