If we stick with Luke's version of the birth of Jesus today, I can hardly imagine the journey to Bethlehem.
Today is a good day to contemplate the reality of Jesus' coming to enter our world and be with us. He knew our poverty and the hardship that comes with it. Within his mother's womb he had experienced the anxiety of rejection that his mother must have experienced in Nazareth. Joseph had taken her as his wife, and spared her from being stoned, but at best there must have been people who thought less of Mary for having a child before she was married. And now, in the last days before he is born, there is the journey that will be an everlasting sign of his birth into our reality.
We can imagine the days of discussions that went on about whether they should leave to go to Bethlehem to be enrolled in the census Caesar Augustus ordered. Did one of Mary's close relatives argue with Joseph about going? Did the women of the town warn Mary about the danger of losing her baby on such a long journey, so late in her pregnancy? Was she having Braxston Hicks contractions while she cleaned up their simple home? Did she and Joseph - alone knowing what had already happened to bless them - simply pray together as they lay in bed together some starry morning, and place their trust in God?
There can be fruit for us today in contemplating the journey. What was that journey like? How did they go? Did a midwife accompany them? Can we imagine that they had a donkey upon which the few things they had were piled? I imagine that Joseph made walking staffs for Mary and a midwife. Mary walked a first. The journey was slow. Those false contractions. The midwife was so comforting and wise. She'd been through this before so many times, with so many young girls, but never on a journey. So she would stop them and prescribe a rest for Mary. Joseph loved to see and then feel the child move and kick. How they must have laughed and cried together with such joy! At times, for the hilly parts of the road, Joseph and the midwife lifted Mary up on the donkey, side saddle, the bouncing soften by the blankets and clothes they brought along. It really had to give relief to Mary's swelling ankles, aching back and those quick pulls inside her.
I wonder if Joseph slept much on the journey. He must have been on guard, lest someone pass by and attempt to do them harm. And, when he slept, we can only imagine what he dreamed about the next few days. I picture Mary liking to cook for Joseph, but surrendering to the midwife who urged her to rest and receive her watchful care. They had been close before, but this journey brought them very close, as only women who support each other in difficult journeys can be close.
Just imagine how their hearts pounded with excitement as they saw Bethlehem on the horizon! I can just hear Joseph and Mary quoting the scriptures about Bethlehem to each other as they made their way into the town. But then came the blow. The slow journey had meant everyone got there before them. They had lived simply before, but now Joseph had to find some kind of place for this son of David to be born.
Whose idea was the stable? Perhaps someone felt compassion on
their situation and said, "I don't have room in my house, because
of all the guests, but there is room in my barn." I picture the
midwife finding a clean place for Mary to lie down. As Mary falls
asleep, Joseph and the midwife prepare for the night ahead. The animals
do provide warmth for these special travelers, once their noses get
over the smell. Now few words pass between them. The waiting becomes
intense as Mary and Joseph simply smile at each other - trust embracing
trust. As Mary's contractions begin, the midwife props Mary up on
some bales of hay. Joseph's heart is pounding. He was speechless,
but remembered the words Zachary spoke so prophetically: " In
the tender compassion of our God
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