As I reread the passages of scripture about the birth of Christ and try to imagine living in that time, I am reminded of how many gaps in the story leave me wondering what was happening.
I know about Gabriel’s visit to Mary as well as the angel’s visit to Joseph. I know that soon after Gabriel’s visit Mary made her way to her cousin, Elizabeth, and that she spent three months there. If my imagining were accurate, Mary would have been about three months pregnant when she returned home.
Joseph’s dream and the angel means they are going forward to be husband and wife, but exactly when that happened scripture is silent. To be betrothed in that time and culture was as sacred and binding as the marriage which is why Joseph could have asked for a divorce when he heard Mary was pregnant. Sources tell us that betrothal could be from six months to a year in length. Did Mary and Joseph go on to be married right after she returned from seeing Elizabeth?
Scripture does not tell me that. The next thing I see clearly is that Caesar Augustus demands the entire world is to be taxed or some translations say, “registered”. This requires a trip to your hometown to be registered.
For Mary and Joseph, it means they need to make preparations to travel from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem, the city of David, in Judea. The trip of about seventy miles or so would certainly not be easy given Mary’s pregnancy. How many miles could Mary manage to travel on foot in a day? How long did the trip really take the couple since Mary may likely have been eight months pregnant?
Pictures in books and Christmas plays portray Mary riding a donkey with Joseph leading the donkey. Usually they are seen alone and yet scripture does not say she rode on a donkey. The least expensive mode of travel in those days was walking and most people would likely have walked, but perhaps a donkey was made available for Mary given her pregnancy. We do not know.
Her pregnancy seemed to be advanced by then which would make traveling uncomfortable no matter how she made the trip. Walking would be exhausting even if she were used to walking great distances. Riding a donkey (if that occurred) would not be easy either even though donkeys were considered to be strong and sure-footed.
If I consider the time and culture, it is likely a group of people traveled together to Bethlehem since the entire world was to be taxed or registered. Neighbors, friends, or family would possibly travel together. This would have provided safety and companionship for the long journey.
Can you imagine the challenge Mary faced?
I read about their search of a place to stay in Bethlehem, but what about the nights when they were traveling on the trip to Bethlehem?
I see often in the Old Testament the importance of hospitality to the Jewish people. A prime example was Abraham. During feast times when the people often traveled to Jerusalem, Jews were expected to take into their homes as many guests as possible to provide shelter, safety and food. Despite all the potential travelers to register, who provided for Mary and Joseph on their long journey?
Scripture does not tell us the route they took. A check of resources suggests there could be two possible routes. The shortest was the trade route through the center of the region, but it was also more demanding. The flatter route was through the Jordan River Valley, but it was longer.
Imagine Mary, perhaps only 14 years old, making this trip during her first pregnancy. It would be reasonable to think it might feel scary.
So many unknowns would have faced her about the trip itself and then there were all those nagging questions about what labor and delivery would really be like. No matter who tells you about it, nothing can quite prepare you for such an experience.
We don’t know how many weeks it was until she was to be delivered. Would she feel concern that she might go into labor and delivery on the trip there?
Visitors to the area can still follow the trek between Nazareth and Bethlehem today and it is known as The Nativity Trail. I think that would be a fascinating walk. This is a photo of the area.
Scripture picks up the story as they reach Bethlehem. We do not know how long Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem before the time came for her to give birth to Jesus. We sometimes get the impression Mary delivered soon after their arrival, but in truth we do not know.
The trip would be a challenge for Joseph as well as he sought to care for Mary, provide as much comfort and assurance as he could. I wonder if Joseph reassured Mary with the stories they both knew well about God’s provision for His chosen people throughout all the generations to that point.
Undoubtedly, they traveled on this incredible journey with many questions, but there were certainties as well. God had chosen them and the Son of God was carried by them to be born in Bethlehem.
4 thoughts on “Trip to Bethlehem”
Pam, I was blessed by imagining the journey with Mary and Joseph as your words took me down the known and the unknown paths. A rich study, and rich reminders of the simple beginnings of our Savior, and the faithful response and journey of two ordinary people, Mary and Joseph. Blessings to you and yours this Christmas!
Thanks, Sandra! This series that began with Mary and Gabriel on Dec. 2 has added so much freshness and perspective of this familiar story for me. I felt like the Lord just was nudging me as I slowed the pace of my reading the passages and sensed Him asking me to imagine what was behind the words as well as the gaps not written there. I am so glad you were blessed. I discovered something especially powerful in the post I will share on Friday. Blessings right back at you for this Christmas season!
I love looking at the accounts in Scripture and thinking through the many implications as you have done for us, Pam. You’ve certainly stirred many thoughts for me–giving me glimpses into this brave and historic journey that Mary and Joseph took to Bethlehem. So interesting and inspiring. Nice to meet you too! Thanks for coming by my blog and linking up. I hope you keep coming around, my friend!
Thanks! I felt led by the Lord to start this series through the familiar scripture passages of the “Christmas” story to allow my own heart to be awakened to the story with fresh eyes for what it tells us and what it doesn’t. I started on Dec. 2 and plan to continue the story with each segment until Christmas. Yes, I will be visiting you again. I see we have some things in common as I was reading a bit about you. Thanks for visiting me! Christmas blessings!