Heart Verse:  “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Luke 1:45).

There is joyous news in the Knowles household: Our 40-year-old son, T.O., and his wife, Lynn, are expecting their first child! This will be our second grandchild as Kati and Aaron, our daughter and son-in-law, blessed us with Uma Rose sixteen months ago…and what a joy machine she is! Currently in the third month of the pregnancy, I asked T.O. what he’s feeling.

“I waffle between surrealism and excitement and terror!” he proclaimed. I nodded a reassuring smile. That sounds about right. Any first-time parent experiences the gamut of emotions that begin with the positive pregnancy test and end with, well, I’m not sure it ever ends. In my own parenting journey the Lord has revealed that each new phase in a child’s life (no matter his/her age) ushers us into a new phase of parenthood, each more exhilarating–and sometimes challenging–than the last.

As the entire Knowles family looks across the coming months anticipating the birth of a certain child, I find myself looking back across the centuries anticipating the birth of another. Surely, Mary and Joseph would’ve felt some of the same parental emotions as the rest of us. And yet, nothing was the same for them. Being the earthly parents of the coming Messiah required an unearthly level of, well, everything. They were chosen by God for one of the highest callings (Christ’s crucifixion for the sins of the world being the highest). What did they think and feel and fear, I wonder, during that week-long, ninety-mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem as they awaited the birth of Jesus?

For women, especially, reading the birth narrative in Luke sets imaginations to flight with a cascade of questions honed through the filter of our own lives:

Imagine two humble figures leaning in to the dusty wind. Did Mary shiver at the evening chill? In his devotion, Joseph surely would’ve seen her wrapped tightly in her cloak before lifting her on to the donkey’s back. Would each clop of the animal’s hooves send an ache up her spine or through her heavy-laden abdomen? They may have been too distracted by their thoughts to notice such things. Surely they had weightier things to ponder. Deep and prophetic things. I envision Joseph firmly holding the donkey’s reins, eyes fixed between the road ahead and the terrain beneath his feet. Would he be acutely aware of the woman riding beside him–his young betrothed, chosen by God? Had he decided in his heart to be a fierce protector and provider, a godly husband to his wife? I imagine him sending a thoughtful glance her way, catching her hand caressing the Babe in her womb. Would his brow furrow with worry? Her time was so near. Would he know what to do if her labor began on this journey—on this highway? Would she know? Certainly the months spent with her elder cousin Elizabeth would’ve prepared her for what was to come. No matter. Jehovah was with them. Did Joseph’s mind shift to loftier things: The Babe? The Lord had set him as steward over the life of a child who was not his. He was a simple man. Did he pray that the Lord would show him how to be a good and worthy father to this future King?

And what of Mary? Did a barrage of imposing thoughts match the rhythm of the donkey’s gait or was her mind still, finding comfort in the steady rocking of the beast? Traveling so far to register for Quirinius’ census must have seemed an inconvenient obligation so late in her pregnancy, but it’s doubtful that Mary complained at all. Did she search the night sky for a second glimpse of the angel Gabriel bringing reassurance from the Most High? Did she consider the man walking beside her a worthy companion for this God-given assignment? He’d already proven his faithfulness, having chosen to remain her husband when the law permitted him to cast her off. Yes, God had blessed her with a righteous man. I hope that in his gaze she found warmth, strength and the likeness of her Lord. Each of us wonder at her reflections on the Child she was about to bear: Simultaneously being mother and daughter of the King, Him being her Child as she would soon be His. Mark Lowry beautifully captured this sacred dichotomy in his song Mary, Did You Know? And yet, no matter what her mental, emotional or physical state may have been in the days leading up to that birth in that stable that would split time and change the world, Mary’s spiritual state was immovable. She had the Holy Spirit’s assurance that God Almighty was with her. And so she, with Joseph by her side and the Christ-Child in her womb, set her face to Bethlehem and leaned in to the journey onward.

As intriguing as it may be to imagine what feelings Mary and Joseph experienced being called as they were, we’ll only ever need to know the facts as recorded in scripture: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). On a sacred night in a drafty Bethlehem stable, Mary’s birth pains peaked. With Joseph near and the Holy Spirit nearer, this passage was brought into fruition: God’s perfect plan of Salvation. When we accept this Ultimate Gift, our journey begins. Not unlike Mary and Joseph’s, the road will sometimes seem long and arduous, but we’ve been given a high and holy calling to build God’s Kingdom here on earth. And so, if in our human frailty we may waffle between surrealism and excitement and terror at what the assignment may require of us, like Mary, we will lean in to the journey onward.