Joseph is in shock when he hears the news. Disbelieving, he asks a
friend if it is true. Yes, his friend says, a census is being taken.
Joseph thinks to himself, surely not now, with Mary expecting a baby in
only a matter of days. However, as members of the tribe of Judah, Joseph
and his wife Mary must register for the census in Bethlehem. The Romans
are strict. Anyone not appearing at the appointed time could be fined or
executed. Joseph closes the carpenter shop and rushes home to tell Mary
the news. "Mary" he says, "Something dreadful has
happened. The Romans have called a census of all the Jews. We must go to
Bethlehem and we must leave tomorrow morning." Mary turns pale and
begins to tremble in fear. "But Joseph", she says, "How
can I go like this. It is near time for this child to be born. How can I
ride all that way?" "Mary," says Joseph, "Our Lord
will look out for us. He will not desert us. Remember what we have seen
and heard." Mary smiles and draws strength and comfort from his
words. "I will collect our clothing and other things for our
journey." says Mary. Joseph tells Mary he must leave for a while to
find a burrow for her to ride. Secretly Joseph is afraid for Mary.
Although he trusts the Lord, Joseph cannot help but worry.
The shortest way south toward Jerusalem must be chosen, not the
easier route through the plains of the Mediterranean, but the 3000 year
old trading route that winds for 70 miles through the rocky highlands.
To protect Mary, Joseph purchases a place in a caravan passing through
from Mesopotamia. It will provide protection from bandits, bears, and
mountain lions. Mary has collected a small bundle of clothing for the
journey ahead. Joseph found a burrow from a customer for whom he had
done work. The next morning they set off. The long, cumbersome caravan
leaves Nazareth in a welter of dust and yapping dogs. The rich are in
their chariots and wagons; the poor are on donkeys and on foot. Mary
smiles and reassures Joseph but he knows she is frightened when she sees
the assembled caravan. They begin the trip by descending from the high
hills of Galilee. Mary observes Mount Tabor in the east. She cannot know
it now, but one day that mountain will be the site of the
transfiguration of the child she carries...the child who will be called
Jesus. The day is long. Dust and dirt fill the air. Mary's back is
aching terribly by day's end and she is exhausted. At night, she falls
asleep in Joseph's arms as they lay on the ground.
They come to the lovely plain of Jezreel, the place the call
Palestine's granary. The land is rich with green forests and there is
fresh water to drink. Carpets of wildflowers dot the landscape. However,
Mary does not seem to notice much. She does not feel well and she misses
home. Sleeping on the ground beside the trail is not easy for her.
Joseph is also tired. He stands on his feet all day but is not used to
walking. Mary and Joseph talk little while on the road because of the
noise of the caravan. At the end of the day, it begins to rain and they
have no tent for a shelter. Joseph feels both angry and sad that he
could not provide better for Mary. Both Joseph and Mary are caught in
the rain without proper garments or any protection. Mercifully, the rain
lasts only for a couple of hours but Mary and Joseph huddle together on
the wet ground, their clothing and blankets soaked from the rain and
they are both shivering from the cold air.
The next day in the caravan, they travel mile after weary mile,
plodding along and the days seem never to end. In the caravan they talk
about Megiddo, located 10 miles west, where Solomon kept his stables for
900 chariots and horses. Here, it is said, the last battle for human
salvation will be waged...a battle they call Armageddon. The weather
today is cloudy. It is unusual at this time of the year to have a whole
day of no sunshine. Joseph worries about being caught in the rain again.
He also worries about Mary. The journey is taking its toll on her
already and there are many miles of travel left. As he walks, he prays
for her and tries to draw courage from the dream he had.
Joseph worries because every morning Mary gets ill. Joseph must wait
for her to be well enough to travel and they lose their place in the
line of humanity heading out. Shortly Mary recovers and they catch up to
the caravan as it climbs into the mountains. Within a few hours Mary and
Joseph enter the village of Nain, famed for its flowers and climate,
Jesus will restore a widow's son to life in this place.
During the journey, the Sabbath is observed. Mercifully for Mary,
there is no traveling this day. Mary and Joseph are both exhausted and
need this day to rest. Joseph buys some extra food and they enjoy eating
together and spending time being with one another. Mary begins to look
more rested at the end of the day.
They are climbing still. The trip is now getting increasingly
difficult. It is slow going, yet Joseph and Mary are excited to be in
the places they have learned about in synagogue. There is Mount Gilboa,
where Saul and Jonathan were slain by the Philistines and where David
lamented the loss of his beloved friend. The words of the scripture of 2
Samuel 1:21 fill Joseph's mind as he worries about Mary and he fights
off the fatigue of the arduous journey.
Next, Mary and Joseph move through the town of Dothan. It is in the
central market of Dothan, according to the Torah, that Jacob's son
Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. Here, in this very place,
Mary and Joseph pause to recite a psalm, a special prayer to ward off
such trials as Joseph underwent. As the caravan keeps moving Mary grows
ill and her backache intensifies. She feels very low in spirit today.
Joseph notices that she is not smiling and seems far off in her
thoughts. At the days end Mary begins crying and Joseph picks her up off
the burrow and comforts her. "Mary," Joseph says, "You
know our Lord would not let anything bad happen to us. We must have
faith that He will protect us." Mary sighs and says, "Yes, I
know he will, Joseph. It is just that sometimes the pain and weariness
get to me." "I know", says Joseph, "Me too. Come on,
let us eat, before we fall asleep for the evening.
The beginning of the day is always difficult. Neither Mary nor Joseph
can sleep well on the ground. Thankfully, this day results in their
being at the halfway point of their journey. They come to the Samarian
city of Shomrom-Sebaste; an ancient walled capital, yet to Joseph it is
a desecrated city. Its buildings are now more Greek than Jewish and the
streets are filled with foreigners who do not believe in the god of the
Jews. The crude behavior and sin of these people is repulsive to Joseph.
Thankfully, the caravan is resting here for three days so merchants in
the caravan can transact trade and other business. Joseph is anxious to
push on but this is a trading center and the caravan merchants are too
busy to leave. Ten miles to the southwest is Shechem, noted for the
wealth and arrogance of its citizens who are not Jews, but who are
Samaritans. Mary yearns, as do all Jews, for a cup of curative water
from Jacob's well, but it is forbidden territory and leaving the caravan
now might mean being killed by the Samaritans. It is at Jacob's well,
that Jesus will meet a Samaritan woman and promise her eternal life.
The next day the Sabbath is observed. Fortunately for Mary, there is
no traveling on the Sabbath. Mary desperately needs her rest. Joseph
grows more worried for her. She is growing noticeably weaker each day.
She is losing her appetite, and she eats little. Normally the journey
would take only three or four days to complete, but with so many stops
for the trader's to transact business, this journey could take eleven or
The caravan is moving again. Joseph and Mary travel around the new
city of Shiloh, and mourn for the old Shiloh. The old Shiloh is a sad
and lonely place of broken-down buildings and shattered altars. Once it
possessed the now lost Ark of the Covenant, the revered sign of God's
presence. Mary trembles at the thought that she is carrying the Savior
of her people, a living Ark!
As the caravan moves ahead, they come to Bethel. As devout Jews,
Joseph and Mary pause for special prayers at this place. It is here that
Abraham offered sacrifices to God, and Jacob dreamed of angels climbing
up and down a ladder to heaven. Mary does not know it now, but the child
she carries will also be offered as a sacrifice for all of humanity.
As the journey progresses, both Mary and Joseph grow wearier from
being on the road hour after weary hour. The caravan next comes upon the
small wayside station of Ramallah. Here, at last, they get the first
glimpse of the holy city of Jerusalem. Mary and Joseph can see
Jerusalem's golden pinnacles glittering in the sun, 10 miles distant.
With a full view of the land below, the holy couple prays together,
reciting David's Psalm 137. After Mary and Joseph say this prayer
together they are greatly strengthened and a joy and peace comes over
As the caravan arrives at Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph see that the
streets are crowded. It seems the whole city is filled with Roman
soldiers. Mary and Joseph arrive at the home of Mary's first cousin,
Elisabeth, and her husband Zacharias. Elisabeth is holding their son
John who waves his little arms and legs in glee when Mary and Joseph
appear. This six-month-old baby will be known as John the Baptist. The
two couples meet in awe. Eyes filling with tears, hearts overflowing
with joy, they are the only people in the world who know the world's
most tremendous news, and yet they are speechless. They embrace each
other. As they are finally able to speak, even in the exhaustion from
the journey, the hours pass quickly as they talk excitedly about what
the Lord God is doing. Of course, no one among them knows the price that
John and Jesus will pay for doing God's will. The night comes too
quickly. Mary and Joseph praise God that they can sleep in a place other
than on the hard ground.
There are only ten more miles left before they reach Bethlehem. The
next morning, as dawn breaks, Joseph busies himself in Jerusalem
securing exit visas. He gawks at the paved streets, the covered shops,
the Roman barracks, the five great palaces and the huge Roman fortress
named for Mark Antony...and especially at the great temple, its eaves
and pinnacles sheathed in pure gold. Mary is puzzled...and not for the
first time...by the ways of God. Her time is near. Would it not be
fitting that her holy baby to be born in that holy temple? However, at
dawn they must leave...
On the trail, by midday, Mary is now beginning to have labor pains as
they move closer to Bethlehem five miles ahead. As darkness settles in,
the weary couple finally pass through the walls of Bethlehem, a center
for sheep and cattle farming, known for the sweet water of its wells,
its synagogue, and for King David's house and land.
Joseph is alarmed. Mary's birthing pains have increased and she tells
Joseph the time is only within a matter of hours. Frantically, Joseph
seeks lodging. However, the town is swarming with other members of
David's tribe and Joseph fears no lodging will be available. Joseph runs
to an inn reported to have an opening for travelers. The innkeeper opens
the door and says, "I'm sorry. I'm full up tonight. We are full up
because of the census you know. I just couldn't ask anyone to
leave." Joseph says, "But my wife is near her time to bear a
child, don't you have something?" The innkeeper looks at Mary, and
realizes her time of birth is near. "All I have is a stable out
back. It isn't clean, and there are sheep and cattle in it, but at least
you'll be out of the weather. Sorry I couldn't help," says the
innkeeper. The door is abruptly shut. Mary and Joseph leave the front of
the inn and find shelter in a cave where shepherds keep their sheep.
There are hayracks and mangers there. There are sheep and cattle toward
the back of the cave. Joseph thinks to himself, surely this cannot be
where the baby will be born. Mary is trembling and is deep in pain now.
Joseph helps her down from the burrow and carries her into the cave. He
makes a bed of hay for her to lie down upon. "Mary, what do I do?
Let me go find help for you." "No Joseph," said Mary,
"Go outside and build a fire. I will be fine. Even if I cry out, do
not come to me until I call you." Joseph went outside to collect
wood. His heart was breaking. Oh, how he wished things could be
different. How he wished he were a rich man, so Mary would not have to
go through this night alone. As Joseph built a fire, amidst the lowing
of the cattle and bleating of the sheep, he heard Mary crying out in
pain. Joseph began to weep and he prayed to God to keep Mary safe and
watch over her.
Suddenly, everything got quiet. The sheep and cattle were silent.
Even the fire did not make any noise. Then a light shone down from the
sky. Joseph looked up. It was a star so bright its light illuminated the
place where they were. In the stillness of that moment, Mary said,
"Joseph, come here." As Joseph turned to walk to Mary, he saw
that the cave was also illumined by a wonderful light. Mary said,
"Look", "See the child." On this night, Mary's
child, the Son of God is born.
Later that night, shepherds who were tending sheep nearby appeared at
the opening of the cave, telling a story about how an angel from heaven
had appeared to them. The shepherds were searching for the child. Later
still there would be a massive caravan from far away lands, carrying
rich wise men… men who followed the shining star, and the wise brought
the child gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
As Joseph and Mary huddle together in the cave with the baby Jesus,
there is a stir in the world. The world has changed. The angels of God
are singing. There is love, peace, and joy in the world this day.