Trip to Bethlehem



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 as 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. The trip would require four days minimum if they covered nearly eighteen miles each day, but it seems likely given Mary’s pregnancy that the trip would have been longer.


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.


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.


The least expensive mode of travel was walking and most people would likely have walked, but perhaps a donkey was made available for Mary given her pregnancy.


Can you imagine the challenge Mary faced?


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.


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 about 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.



nt-11Imagine 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. nativity-trail5


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.





















15 thoughts on “Trip to Bethlehem

  1. It is very interesting to think about these details as we think about Advent and the Nativity. It’s hard to imagine Mary being only 14! I have a daughter older than that and another one close. Thank you for linking up with Literacy Musings Monday.

    1. Thanks, Leah, indeed it is interesting indeed and I have too often been guilty of reading through the story without considering the details that add so much rich meaning to the story!

  2. Pam, I love thinking about Mary and enjoyed your insights. I guess in heaven we’ll have the gaps filled in. In writing Little Women, Big God I learned that the final stage of the marriage ceremony took place when the groom brought the bride to the bridal chamber and consummated their union. That was followed by feasting and celebrating. Since Mary remained a virgin until after Jesus’ birth, it seems they were not married until later. Thus the scandal that surrounded Jesus His whole life. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas, my friend!

    1. Thanks, Debbie! You’re right about the customs of the time. So many questions in the gaps of the story I look forward to finding out. May your Christmas be richly blessed as well, sweet sister!

  3. Thank you for making us think about the realities of life back then and the sacrifices they must have endured. One thing is to read about it, the other is to try to place ourselves in the same situation!

    1. Thanks, Teresa! I think it is too easy to oftentimes read the story and miss these were real people choosing to follow the Lord and putting ourselves in the situation allows us to often greater appreciate the story and the Lord’s provision.

  4. I haven’t really thought before about Mary and Joseph traveling with others. But it makes sense. Nonetheless, traveling by foot or by donkey while pregnant sounds so uncomfortable. So grateful that Mary obeyed her call for the whole world to benefit! Merry Christmas to you, Pam.

    1. As I read the familiar passages and linger an extra few minutes and consider what might have been happening and fit with the culture, the passage seems to challenge me a bit more. Merry Christmas to you as well, Lisa!

  5. What a timely post since I’ve been reading and writing about Mary all morning. Thanks for additional enlightenment … and the needed focus on what this all must have been like for this brave young mother-to-be.

    God knew …

  6. Hi Pam! It is something to really think about during the Advent Season. No matter how crazy my own life is, I have to remember that Mary and Joseph’s Advent was inconvenient, hectic and confusing. I liked the reminder that Mary was about 14 years old, I keep forgetting that. It really must have been challenging to say the least.
    God’s will often is drawn in crazy squiggles instead of straight lines, and he certainly didn’t spare his son, or his parents in that. What a great witness to me!
    Hope you’re having a blessed Advent season (from your reflections, sounds like you are),

    1. Thanks, Ceil! Just reread the post and realized several paragraphs were inadvertently repeated somehow…thankful you could muddle through that!! It is a blessed time as we also prepare for the busy time of family coming in as well later next week.

      1. I did notice that and was going to send you an email. Of course, I promptly forgot when I left your site. I’m glad you noticed it!

  7. As I have been reading this Advent season, I am coming to realize that we truly cannot imagine all that this young couple experienced. We have the advantage of the written Word to make sense of it all and yet, they obeyed and followed. Eye opening and humbling indeed this year. May you and yours have a blessed Christmas!

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