Scripture: Isaiah 7:14; Psalm 96:1-4; Luke 2:1-5
Everything was prepared for the birth of the baby at their home in Nazareth. Joseph had tenderly watched over the welfare of his wife Mary for these long months of waiting for this special birth. Both Mary and Joseph were well aware of the fact that she carried within her the baby promised by God so long ago, the baby who was the promised Messiah.
Even though they were both familiar with God’s promises, they did not expect the decree that came from Caesar Augustus just as she was about ready to deliver the baby. There was to be a census of the people. Everyone, no exceptions, must register as a citizen in the town of their family heritage.
The head of the household, the husband of course, must bring his family to the place of his birth and register his family there. There was a deadline, so the convenience of Joseph and Mary was not an issue. Joseph and Mary must travel to Bethlehem, for Joseph is of the family lineage of King David and Bethlehem is his hometown. It will be a most difficult journey for Mary.
There are three possible routes that they could travel, the safest and shortest being the 3000 year old trade route where caravans travel. Travelers typically traveled in groups for safety from robbers along the way. We can surmise that Joseph paid to join one of the trade caravans that were traveling south. The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem by the trade route would be about 70 miles. It would perhaps require somewhere between 17 to 20 days to make the journey.
Besides the merchants in the caravan, there would be ox- drawn carts of merchandize and rich people riding in passenger carriages. Perhaps Mary will be able to ride on the donkey or a mule with their belongings tied on behind, but walking would sometimes be more comfortable.
One can imagine that as they approached the hill country outside of Jerusalem they would have gone aside to stay briefly in the home of Elizabeth and Zacharias and baby John before continuing their journey to Bethlehem.
The city of Bethlehem would have been filled with people coming to register and there was no such thing as calling ahead to make room reservations at the hotel. Fortunately, one other possibility existed for the couple. Bethlehem was the city where Joseph’s family lived. No doubt that would have been where they went to find lodging. Other family members probably had also gone there for lodging, and the house was filled with people. But Joseph and Mary must have a place to stay because very soon she is going to deliver this baby.
Let me stop with the story for a moment and talk about the housing of that day. The family would typically have a section of their property for the residence, and underneath, or in back of the residence, would have been a place where the livestock would have been brought inside during the night for their protection from the elements and the prevention of their theft.
We can imagine Joseph’s family going to the area where animals spent the night, carefully cleaning out a stall in the back area of the stable, cleaning and preparing a feeding trough, filling it with soft hay, and covering it over with a cloth, to make a bed for the imminent birth of Jesus.
The couple is exhausted, and now they wait. They wait for the birth of this precious baby, the Messiah who
- was conceived by the Holy Spirit and will be born of a virgin,
- born of the tribe of Judah,
- born in Bethlehem of the lineage of King David.
His birth will fulfill all of the prophecies throughout the ages.
“A child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on his shoulders; and his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
There will be no end to the increase of his government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on, and forevermore. The dedication of the Lord of Hosts will accomplish this.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)
We too are on a journey, first to come to know this infant, not as the newborn child of Mary, but as the One who is the Son of God and fully human, the Son of God who would become the sacrifice for our sins and provide God’s grace of eternal life.
Second, each of us is on a journey with Jesus as his disciple; a journey that leads us to think and act and love and do justice so much like Him that when others look at us, they catch a glimpse of Jesus.
It is a journey that will last a lifetime. Just as Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem had its hills and its valleys, its difficult spots, and places where the walk is easy, so will our journey in our life now.
From our experience of joy in Bethlehem, where we discover the Prince of Peace, we find ourselves going to Jerusalem, and Judea, and to the other parts of the world with the Good News that a Savior, who is the Christ, is born.