One can only imagine the unexpected nature of the journey Mary and Joseph made that first Christmas. Mary was settled in to bring her child into the world in the cozy confines of Nazareth, her home town. Joseph was there, far away from the pressures and turned-up eyebrows of his hometown, Bethlehem. They, like most young couples, probably had some of the first years of their lives planned out. They sat and talked and dreamed of the days to come. But then ... just when they had things under control ... enter, the government. Yep ... a tax decree is what gets them, right there in the midst of their plans. Augustus demands that a census, for the purpose of taxation, be taken. All must go to their hometown (i.e., in the case of Mary and Joseph, they go to Joseph's hometown, Bethlehem).
So Mary, in her 8th month, and Joseph pack it all up and head south. They could have gone at least two ways to get to Bethlehem. There was the normal route, a twelve-day journey that crossed the Jordan to their west, avoiding the hated Samaritans. Many would have been traveling this route since people were scrambling to get to their town of origin. Then, there was the ten-day trip straight down Israel in a southward direction. This path went through Samaria and followed a road known as the Path of the Patriarchs. This is the road I believe Mary and Joseph took (I will tell you more on Sunday). This road passes historic places like Shechem where Abraham built an altar to God, Bethel where Jacob sees a ladder reaching to heaven, olive orchards that were part of the "milk and honey" of God's covenant promise, Jerusalem, where Jesus would return as an accused adult and then Bethlehem, the City of David.
I wonder if Mary remembered her song of thankfulness and blessing as she leaves the care of her family to travel a long, cold road to the stable of Bethlehem. Maybe she asked what we often ask ... "Why is this happening to me? I have been obedient. I did what God asked. I have tried to do the right thing. And then I get taken out of my comfort, out of my associations, and I get tossed into turmoil!" It would have been a natural reaction, especially remembering her age of 13 or so. Now she will bring her child into the world in what was probably a cave used for housing livestock, in a town where she is considered a country girl from hick town. And the little town of Bethlehem is very close to an unknown danger named Herod. I bet she experienced the haunting loneliness we sometimes feel as we are caught up in God's plan but don't know the next step or next event in the plan. But maybe ... just maybe ... she reflected on the journey and remembered the words of her song as she and Elizabeth shared the news of their coming children. The end of that song reminded her, and all of us, that this plan and this event was to fulfill a journey that began long before Mary was born and long before the patriarchs made their way along the path through the promised land. This journey began when Adam and Eve took their first steps east of Eden. Those steps were the first toward God's ultimate plan of bringing all of us home to Himself. And the way to that place? His name is Jesus. Randy