‘But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.’
This fall I decided to build a better path in my side yard. The old one had disappeared under weeds and years of neglect and what could still be seen was only visible by dogs’ paws digging it up.
I had to tear out what remained of the original termite-ridden wooden planks, spray Round Up liberally on all the weeds then wait to pull them up. I had to dig over the soil to remove stones, and then start again.
I needed to find the right materials to make a path that would last, and in sufficient amounts that rain, puppies and kids would not be able to wash or dig or kick it away. And I needed to find its edges, and lay down its new boundaries. Then soak it with water and stamp it down to make it firm.
Such an obvious parable for my own life I had to laugh.
Now, in the days leading up to Christmas, I think of Mary and Joseph and the new path they had to make. Their life together was not to be a continuation of the path they had known. Theirs was to be an entirely new way and they were walking blind.
‘I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.‘
Mary committed to Joseph on the old path and Joseph had asked a girl he thought he knew. But they had to pull all that up, find the right materials and start again on a path they knew almost nothing about. The only thing they had to hold onto was the nature of the One who had made the path and chosen them for it.
It doesn’t take much imagination to think they both might have wished for something easier, less publicly testing, less vulnerable to misconstrual.
I should think there were lots of things Mary might have liked to add to their path. Her mum, for example. Giving birth alone with only her new husband on hand? Exhausted, dirty and in a stable?
And Joseph. Some kind of public covering might have been nice. A small cabale of male friends who got it, who knew the truth and who understood at least as much as Joseph did. (Maybe there were, but we don’t hear about them. At least Mary got Elizabeth.)
They had the right materials though, and they had them in sufficient supply. They knew who had spoken to them and what He had said. They knew He wouldn’t let them down: ‘These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.’
We get the Magnificat from Mary, not the agony of doubt. And Joseph held his own. No nipping down the tavern to mope with some mates.
They knew their path had boundaries and what those boundaries were. They knew those boundaries delineated their intended course and so they knew to stay within them.
It didn’t mean they were ‘safe’ in the way we would like it to mean. That new path led to some unimaginably terrible places. Places they could not possibly have foreseen when they set out. But every step they took was leading them to a better place, a better destination than the journey itself could ever provide.
That’s the thing about a path. Its purpose is to get you somewhere, it’s not a place to stop.
My new path is similarly unknown. God-built, it’s taking me through some stark and intimidating landscapes. However it’s not leaving me in them. I’m just passing through and I’m not alone. The One who made my path is determining my steps. So I’m keeping going.
And I am on a better path now. On my way to a better place.
I wish you too a Happy Christmas wherever you are. Wherever you’ve got to on the path laid before you, arise and shine.
Our Light has come.