In this week before Christmas, as I continue to recover from surgery (talk about a LONG journey!), I am pondering Mary's trip to Bethlehem. Some of you, like me, are on a difficult journey right now. You're stumbling along, heavy and weary. Take heart! Mary traveled a long way too, and sometimes the trip to Bethlehem, for her and for us, is a long one. Sometimes it's not easy ride to come to the place where Jesus is born anew in our lives.
So, for those on a journey, here are some words of encouragement from Wrestling with Wonder:
Excerpt from Chapter 3:
Too often, I think, when we approach the Christmas story, we are caught up in the star, the angels, the babe in the manger. We forget that it took a nearly-one-hundred-mile journey, while pregnant, to get there. That could not have been an easy trip.
If Mary and Joseph traveled through Samaria, it would have been eighty miles. But Jews traveling through Samaria weren’t safe and were unlikely to get lodging, so Mary and Joseph may have taken the longer route in the Jordan Valley. They may have traveled with others, or alone. They may have walked or, as tradition asserts, Joseph could have led his donkey while Mary rode. It could have taken four days, if they went through Samaria and Joseph walked fast. It could have taken over a week if they went the long way and went slowly for Mary.
The Bible doesn’t tell us. It doesn’t say how they traveled or how long it took. It doesn’t tell us if they had to stop every couple hours for Mary to rest. It doesn’t say how Mary felt or what Joseph did or that this was a hard, painful, difficult journey for a pregnant girl.
It only tells us that they traveled to Bethlehem while Mary was pregnant. In stark, simple language, Luke 2:5 says, “He [Joseph] went there [to Bethlehem] to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.” That’s it. Mary went. By foot, by donkey, alone with Joseph, or in caravan? We don’t know. But we do know that they didn’t travel by automobile on a paved road. We know it wasn’t a couple-hour jaunt on a pleasant day. It could not have been a simple journey.
And yet, despite the difficulty, there’s also nothing mentioned about how God intervened to smooth their travels. There’s nothing about being carried on angel’s wings or being magically transported. Only that she went. The rest is up to us to discern, to consider, to ponder how God’s declaration of Mary’s blessedness starts with a difficult journey, perhaps on donkey-back, while very pregnant.
Highly favored. Blessed. On the back of a donkey on a dusty journey away from home. I hold those two images in tension and realize that I must rethink the meaning of God’s blessing in my life. Clearly, “blessing” does not mean “easy.” It does not mean comfort and luxury and prosperity and ease. It means a difficult journey. It means challenge and pain and discomfort and sometimes danger.
That’s the beginning of blessedness, of being highly favored by the Most High God.