It’s not an easy journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Especially when you’re pregnant.
1. Do what God asks you to do even if it’s hard.
I walked that road once, a long time ago, and we didn’t have cars, planes, motor bikes, or any other kind of powered vehicle to help like you have today. We didn’t even have a horse or a camel. I hate to break it to you, but we didn’t have a donkey, either. Oh, rats. Now you’ll have to find new picture for your Christmas cards!
I was incredulous when Joseph said we had to travel south, all the way to the town of Bethlehem. He said it was for a stupid census so the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, could tax us. Like he needed more money!? He was sitting fat and happy in his palace in Rome or Capri or wherever he lived, and here we were, struggling to live. Go figure.
I shook my head in disbelief when he told me.
“Joseph, you know I only have a week or so before this baby comes. Have you forgotten how important this child is? I can’t leave. Who will help with the birthing? Amma and the women are going to be here. Who’s going to do it? You?” I smothered my laughter with my hand because I really didn’t want to offend him. He’s such a gentle soul that I hate going against his wishes in anything.
His face turned a little red and he looked over the treetops as if searching for inspiration. “Of course I know who the Babe is that you are carrying, Mary. How could I forget? But I don’t see a way out of it. Both of our families were from Bethlehem and the order says to go to your home city.”
He paused and wiped sweat from his forehead. It was hot, and he’d been pounding nails into the new house we were going to live in. “God will help us. I know He will.”
Well, that was fine for him to say, but he’s not a woman.
How could he understand? I had it all planned how I would have the most important child that was ever born on the earth. It should be done with some style, I figured. So even though we were poor and had nothing that a royal child might wear, I’d been saving a few coins and figured I could get a bolt of fine silk I’d seen in the marketplace. It would take every cent I owned, and then some, but I had my heart set on it for His first clothes when I took Him to the temple.
I figured we could fix up the little extra room we had beside the house where we put guests real fancy-like with quilts on the walls and maybe Joseph would cut some grass and bring it in so we’d had something nice underfoot instead of dirt. And I wanted lots of light. Maybe Amma would loan me her set of silver candle holders that she used for Hanukah.
Needless to say, I couldn’t argue myself out of going with Joseph to Bethlehem.
2. Do what you can with what you have.
The journey took all the money he had managed to put aside, plus all the money I’d saved. We had to buy food and pay for rooms along the way. If we were lucky, we might find a place in someone’s home, but even then, we’d give them something for food because everyone was struggling in those days. I didn’t buy that bolt of blue silk, or anything else for that matter, not even a pair of good sandals to replace my old, worn ones that were patched a hundred times.
Amma was in tears the morning we left. She’d stored some swaddling cloths in the packs. As Nazareth disappeared behind the hill, and we started south, I stumbled more than once because I couldn’t see. Tears blinded my eyes, too.
We did have a donkey, sort of. (Now you can add the donkey back into your nativity scene.) We traveled with a group of people, and one of the men came that morning with a donkey. The men loaded all the packs on the back of the patient beast and off we went. One donkey for six people. Fat chance that anyone could ride! I was glad I didn’t have to carry anything on my back, but I wondered how I was going to make the journey because I knew I was closer to having the baby than anyone guessed.
I patted my tummy where He rested and sang softly to Him as we came down off the hill and entered the long valley that stretched south. I still hadn’t figured out what I was going to do if He came while we were on our journey. Could I find some women who would help? Would there be an inn where we could stay?
How I longed for my precious Child to have a grand entrance into the world!
3. Don’t aim for greatness when you have a big task to do.
I wanted a herald outside the door to proclaim His birth like they do for royalty. I wanted regal clothes for Him, too. I wanted everyone to know this Child was special, that He was, in fact, the Son of God. But as the days wore on, and I wilted in the heat like a primrose on a hot day, I knew it would not happen like that. I knew all my dreams and plans were ruined.
Just because of a stupid Emperor who wanted more money.
4. When things get tough, don’t get bitter. Check your attitude and plod on, one step at a time.
I started to get angry and bitter about it. I mean, the Child I carried deserved better than this! Why, the Son of God should be born in the best palace in the world, attended by the most prestigious physicians, and welcomed with great glory, pomp and splendor.
I can’t say how I did it. Step by step, each step becoming more difficult than the last, I walked that hard road.
My right sandal broke. Joseph mended it as well as he could, and a man in our group gave me another pair. But they were too big for me. Joseph had to tie them on with leather thongs. They bit into my feet and made big sores. I would often fall far behind the others, and Joseph would come back for me and give me a lift on his back. I hated that because I knew he was a tired as I was.
Finally we got to Bethel. It’s just north of Jerusalem and would be our last night before we got to Bethlehem. The others got an inn, but Joseph said our money was running short, so we camped with a group of other travelers around the well outside of town. The ground was hard and lumpy. Joseph brought out our meager supper — cheese, hard bread and water.
I settled down on my sleeping pad beside Joseph and tried to get comfortable. My feet hurt, my back hurt, my head hurt. As soon as I grew quiet, the baby woke up and started kicking his little feet. As much as I loved Him already, I wanted to sleep. Yet I couldn’t. I tossed and turned. Finally I sat up.
Joseph was awake, too. He rolled over and sat beside me. “Are you well, my love?”
“No. I’m tired, discouraged and I hurt everywhere. The Baby is restless, and so am I.”
He waited a bit. “Can I do anything for you?”
Do anything? What could he do?
Whisk me home? Give me new feet? Wave a magic wand over me and make all my pains go away? Take me out of this nightmare?
5. Believe God’s Word even when you can’t see it or feel it.
I shook my head, fighting tears. “It isn’t fair,” I said, my voice rising with my indignation. “Joseph, this baby deserves the best. And what is He going to get? I hate that Emperor and his soldiers! I hate Rome!” I pounded my fist on the ground.
Joseph laid his big hand on mine, unclenching my fingers one by one. Then he tipped up my chin. In the light of the moon, I saw the love in his eyes as he gazed at me. I will never forget what he said.
“Mary, let it go. God is in control. I know how you feel. I’m tired and angry and confused, too. But God is in this! Can’t you feel Him? Do you think He will dishonor His Son at His birth? Don’t be hateful of Rome, dear one. Forgive them and pray for them. That’s what I have been taught from the Scriptures. It is the only way to live, for hatred and bitterness will sour your soul.”
He paused to take a deep breath. He was older than I – by ten years – yet he was a good man, a devout Jew, one who loved the Torah and worshiped Jehovah sincerely. At first I hadn’t wanted to marry him, but now I knew he was perfect for me. And for the Baby Jesus.
“Live in love and joy,” he continued softly as the breezes played among the branches of the palm tree.
“You have been chosen for one of the greatest and noblest of tasks, my love. And so have I. We must be careful to guard our hearts against … against evil.” A smile tugged at his lips. “Can you do that? Can you make this journey?”
I nodded and tried not to let him see the tears that wet my cheeks. I wanted to say do I have a choice? Yet I didn’t want to bring shame to my beloved Joseph.
“Yes, Joseph. If you help me, I can do it. I’m … sorry for what I said. I will try to forgive them and pray for them.” I sighed and closed my eyes, grasping his hand.
“Dear God our Father Jehovah,” I prayed quietly. “Please see us and hear us. I thank Thee for the great gift You have given me.” I laid my hand on my tummy. Jesus was kicking again. “Please help me get to Bethlehem. I know You can, for You helped Your people through the Red Sea. Be with Joseph and give him strength, too. We love You and worship You. Thank You.”
He leaned over and lightly kissed my forehead as I said the last words.
Then he lay down again, turned on his side, and in a short time, he was snoring.
I lay back and gazed at the sky. It spread out above me like a canopy, sparkling with a million, trillion lights. I’d never seen it this way. It was like a lake, dazzling with light. I thought I could see every star in God’s sky, and it felt like I could touch them, too. I raised my arms as tears of joy slid down the side of my face.
Suddenly deep peace filled my soul. It was like God Himself wrapped His great arms around me and whispered in my ear.
“Be comforted, my child. You will arrive in Bethlehem and this Child will be safely born. He will be great and will bring salvation to all peoples of the world. You have a small part to play, Mary, but I will help you. I will be with you and strengthen you. I will not let you fall. Rest now. Rest in My love.”
And I did.
6. Rest in God’s love, live in joy, and share how God answered your prayers.
I guess you know the rest of the story.
How we arrived late in Bethlehem the next night, only to find the city crowded, noisy and confusing. All the inns were full. Finally we found an innkeeper who allowed us to sleep in the cattle shed. Actually it was a cave.
And it was there that Jesus was born. Joseph helped me, too, and did a good job. The cows and sheep watched as the Son of God came into the world. It was so unlike what I’d pictured and planned, yet it was peaceful there in the stable. I thought I heard angels singing, and awhile later, some shepherds came and told us that a choir of them filled the night sky and told them where to find the Baby.
Yes, all these things are duly recorded, even the arrival later of the Magi from the east who brought us rich treasures, fit for a king. They were God’s provision for our longer journey to Egypt later to save Jesus’ life. And that time we did have a donkey!
You’ve read these events, heard them preached in sermons, sung them, acted them out, made poems of them, sent Christmas cards about them, and taught them to your children. I am humbled to have been the instrument God used to bring His Son into the world. Later in life, I acknowledged Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah. I saw Him die on the cross, and I saw Him after He rose from the grave. I asked Him to forgive my sin and come into my life by His Holy Spirit. There’s been a lot that’s happened since those days.
But I will never forget the night I wrestled with the demons of hatred and bitterness, nor will I forget Joseph’s wise words. I can hear them, even now, in my head.
Refuse hatred and bitterness. Forgive those who wrong you. Walk in love.