Over the years I have had occasion to take many trips. Some of them were short weekend trips and others stretched blissfully for two weeks. But regardless of where I was going, I had to pack. If the trip was to camp or on a retreat, I have a certain bag that I use. It is just the right size for everything I need for the weekend. If I was going to F.R.O.G. Camp I had a different bag. LOTS more things went to that camp. Things like one set of clothes specifically for messy games. And we always needed something specific for the skits the last night. If we go to Wisconsin to visit family in the winter it is a totally different packing experience than if we go in the summer. And depending where our adventures take us, we pack accordingly. There is a sense of excitement when the suitcases come out because it means the time has come to start the adventure, whatever that might be. It might mean going places we have never been before, eating food we have only heard about, and meeting people from all over the world.
Travel is a bit dicey right now and many have put plans on hold for the time being. The suitcase has gone back in the closet and the dreams will have to wait. But sometimes we have no choice but to go. Work beckons or there is a family emergency.
There are 90 miles between Nazareth and Bethlehem. Depending on the route Mary and Joseph took, the trip may have taken up to seven days. Their life together had already faced stiff challenges. They were betrothed to be married...engaged we would say. But betrothal was just as binding as marriage and if the groom died before they married, the woman was considered a widow. Both Mary and Joseph had been visited by the angel Gabriel. He announced to Mary that God had chosen her to bear His Son. And Gabriel had come to let Joseph know that Mary was in fact telling him the truth about how she became pregnant. No doubt they had endured the gossip, finger pointing and even shunning that had occurred since those events nearly nine months prior. And now it was time to pack for a journey. They didn't have fancy suitcases and they had few things to pack. But they were pretty sure Mary would give birth before that could get back to Nazareth. We read in Luke's gospel, ”And while they were the time came for her to be delivered and she gave birth to her firstborn son, wrapped Him in Swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger.” Travel was more than a bit dicey for them.Rome had called for a census so they knew how much tax they could collect.
The trip would have been fairly grueling, the terrain going uphill and down. Sometimes people would travel up to 20 miles in a day but with Mary's pregnancy they may have only covered ten. They were poor and probably couldn't afford to stay in Bethlehem long. One scholar wrote “the trip through the Judean desert would have taken place during the winter, when it is in the 30’s during the day and its often rains like crazy. It is nasty, and miserable and at night it would have been freezing.” And to make the journey even more of an adventure the forested valley of the Jordan River found lions and bears living there. No tigers though. Often there were also wild boars that had to be fended off. Bandits and pirates of the desert were also major hazards. They would have traveled with their own provisions, which would have been far from gourmet food. And if they could have found a group that was going their speed, they would have joined it just for safety's sake.
In addition to packing food, they would have had to pack things for the baby soon to be born. No doubt there was a fair amount of worry that this child would be born while they were on the road. It was bad enough they had to travel at all. And it was even worse that there would be no family to help or to celebrate. It isn't like the baby would have had much. Babies were wrapped in bands or strips of cloth...swaddled in fact. And He would have needed a warm blanket.
As I think about Jesus birth there was not much ordinary there. The traveling and the census, having no room but a stable for His birth, his first visitors unclean shepherds and later Wise Men from the East. And yet, it was very ordinary. Like so many others in Judaea at that time, Mary and Joseph were poor. Jesus was swaddled just like every other child. In Judaea at that time musicians from the town or village would gather at the house of a family who was having a baby. If the child was a boy, they would play, and dance and a street party would ensue. Mary and Joseph missed out on that as well, but the shepherds didn't. Little did Mary and Joseph know a time was coming when they would be packing up to travel farther South...all the way to Egypt. But that is a different story!
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W