Written as an Advent Daily Devotional for the UCC in Wallace, Idaho
I wonder when they struck out and just how long they took to make the trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Ninety miles is what I hear, and grueling at best. They had to travel along the flatlands of the Jordan River and then turn west and up over the hills surrounding Jerusalem before they headed into Bethlehem. I realize all the pictures show Mary riding on a donkey, but the gospel writers didn’t mention that detail. Who knows if they walked on foot (bare or with sandals?), shared an animal or caught a ride in the back of a pickup. I honestly don’t know which of those scenarios sounds more jostling and less bearable. Did they camp beside the river? Stay with family along the way? How much could she tolerate in her condition? And was she as near her delivery date as we would think, or did the journey speed things up by a week or month?
An even larger mystery to me is the inner journey that both Mary and Joseph were on. Did they even know each other, or had this been an arranged marriage? Quite the backdrop for getting acquainted, don’t you think? Was she meek and mild the whole way, he ever patient and quietly protective, or might there have been a frayed nerve or two thrown in just to keep them human? I can’t imagine the trip without some grumbling and annoyance, but I hope there was also some gratitude, growing anticipation, a sense of wonderment at what was taking place in and through them – and maybe even a spectacular sunset thrown in to trigger a smile at the end of the day. Luke tells us that Mary treasured all the happenings at the stable and pondered them in her heart; what was she pondering before they arrived in Bethlehem?
Are you on a journey this Advent? Some of the most important ones we take don’t ever lead us away from home, but do cause us to think new thoughts, see new sights, ponder new truths, welcome new love. I know there’s no shortage of frayed nerves and broken hearts around; if not in your house, just step outside and you’re likely to run into a few before you go far. But I pray we’re also on the look out for beauty and signs of wonder, new possibilities surfacing in the vacuum of all that is absent. What surprise has stopped you in your tracks and asked you to stare? What is God trying to bring to life in and through you this season? What new love is knocking on your heart?