Skip to comments.A Journey To Bethlehem (A Christmas Story)
Posted on 12/24/2022 3:28:47 PM PST by OneVike
I shared this about a Month ago, but decided to share it again on Christmas Eve. This story comes from chapter 22 of my recently published book, "Sleuthing The Scripture," It's an embellished story, so do not take it as inspired by GOD. I wrote this for pure entertainment, and thus it's but a figment of my active imagination mixed with some facts surrounding the times, the places and the characters. I pray it blesses your heart this Christmas Eve.
When you think of the first story of Christmas, it’s usually about Mary and Joseph looking down at their new born son in a manger, surrounded by barn animals and maybe a shepherd or two looking on. Angels singing praises of joy to the Lord Most High, and maybe even the star that is guiding the wise men from Babylon to the destination of the Jews Messiah.
We live at a time when children are born in sanitized hospital rooms with the best of care, before and after the mother gives birth. When we hear of stories of women giving birth at home, or alongside the road where the car had to pull over because the child would not wait, we are captivated and amazed of such a thing happening in today’s world.
Yet, for the vast majority of man’s history, women have given birth in conditions we would not expect our pet animals to give birth in. So when you consider what Mary had to endure in her last week leading up to the birth of her first child, I want you to consider the following. Then maybe, just maybe, you will look at the story of Christmas a bit differently than you have in the past.
When you consider that Luke was a Doctor, it kind of makes sense that his version of the Gospel is the only one that tells the story of the birth of Christ. It makes even more sense when you consider that Luke was not just a good friend and traveling companion, but he was also the Apostle Paul’s Doctor. Another point of consideration is that, in Paul’s letter to the Galatians he wrote that he did not receive the Gospel from man, but from Christ Himself. So who better to know the events leading up to the birth of Jesus, than the man He shared it with.
“But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
I ask that you allow yourself to truly see what it must have been like for a 16 year old pregnant wife and her husband in the week leading up to the birth of their first child. They were two humans with thoughts, feelings, and faith in their God who promised them their child would be special. Here are some of the particulars involved that they had to face.
“And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the Inn.”
“Mary and Joseph’s Journey To Bethlehem”
Joseph was in disbelief when he heard, so he asked a friend who was well informed of such matters of Roman affairs. Yes, his friend said, the news just recently arrived. The Roman Senate had ruled that the Jews would not be exempt from Emperor Caesar Augustus's decree on the census. Joseph thinks to himself, surely not now, not with Mary expecting a child. However, along with all the members of those from David’s lineage, Joseph and his wife Mary, must register for the census in Bethlehem to pay their taxes. Many Jews spoke openly in those days of how, one day soon the Lord’s anointed will free them from their bondage under the accursed Gentiles.
While they didn’t like paying taxes to Rome, it was not the biggest problem they had with Rome. Their problem was being forced to be counted, because GOD had warned them in the Law they should not be counted. With King Herod’s blessing, the Jewish leaders had argued all the way to the Roman Senate when they heard of the decree a few years earlier, but alas they failed to convince the Roman Senate. Most knew the Jewish leaders would fail. After all, the Senate had become nothing more than a rubber stamp for anything the Emperor desired to do. Now, unless they comply, the Romans would come down hard and make everyone’s life miserable. Anyone not appearing at the appointed time could be fined or executed, and this is why Joseph closed his carpenter shop and rushed home to tell Mary the news.
“Mary, something dreadful has happened. The Jewish leaders have lost their argument before the Emperor. All Jews must also obey his census decree. We must go to Bethlehem and we must leave tomorrow morning.”
Mary turns pale and begins to tremble in fear.
“But Joseph? How can I possibly go in my condition? It is near time for this Child to be born. I’m already feeling the urges and the pains get more and more powerful as the days go on. How can I ride all that way?”
Joseph pulls Mary to him, and holds her with a comforting embrace and tells her,
“Our Lord will look out for us. He will not desert us. Remember what we have seen and heard. That which our Lord has told us, will happen. I am convinced we will be fine. Why, I bet the Lord has a nice comfortable bed awaiting us in the Inn. All three of us will be OK.”
Mary looks up to her husband and smiles as she draws strength and comfort from his words, and tells her husband.
“I will collect some food for our journey.”
Joseph conveys strength for Mary so she will not be worried, but inside he cannot help but worry for his young bride who is with Child. Yet, he trusts the Lord, even if his heart is heavy.
As they eat their evening meal, Joseph tells his wife they must take the shortest way to Jerusalem, not the longer one through the plains. It will be more difficult, though. The 3000 year old trading route winds for 70 miles through the rocky highlands, so it will be hard on Mary. For protection, Joseph purchased a place in a caravan that is passing through. It will provide protection from bandits, bears, and mountain lions.
In the morning, Joseph prepares the donkey with enough blankets to make Mary as comfortable as possible. She won’t be able to ride the whole way, since the donkey must also carry the items they need for the long journey. While he prepares the donkey, Mary collects the food and clothes she put together and heads out the door to join Joseph. She stops momentarily as she feels the baby kicking. She knows it will be soon, and prays the Child doesn’t arrive during the long journey.
Joseph helps Mary onto the donkey, and they meet up with the caravan. It’s a good group of people who are friendly. The conversation moves to Mary being pregnant, and how the Romans should be ashamed of themselves. What with them forcing pregnant women and children to travel so far from their home to be counted. The caravan leaves Nazareth in a cloud of dust and yapping dogs. The rich are in their chariots and wagons; the poor on donkeys and on foot. Mary smiles and reassures Joseph that she's very comfortable, but he knows she worries about the Child.
They begin the trip by descending from the high hills of Galilee, and they pass through the village of Nain. They have no idea that one day their unborn son, Jesus, will restore a widow’s son to life in this village. As they leave Nain Mary observes Mount Tabor way off to the East, where her Son will one day be transfigured during a meeting with Moses and Elijah. The day is long, and the dust fills the air with dirt as the head towards Jerusalem some 65 miles to the South. Mary’s back is already aching terribly by day’s end as she is exhausted. At night, she falls asleep in Joseph’s arms as they lay on the ground.
The next day they reach the plain of Jezreel, carpeted with wildflowers that dot the landscape. However, Mary does not seem to notice much. She does not feel well and misses the comfort of her bed, because sleeping on the ground beside the trail is not easy for her. Joseph is also tired from walking the many miles guiding the donkey and its precious cargo. As they move along they talk about the miracles and God's plans for their future, while passing the many hours away as they follow the caravan to their destination.
As they travel down the road they are caught in some light rain, with a wind blowing that makes it difficult to keep dry. Joseph wraps a blanket around Mary, praying that it is enough to keep her from getting too wet. The Lord is gracious however as the rain only lasts a short time, keeping them from getting soaked or too cold. Another day goes by on the road as they continue making their way mile by excruciating mile plodding along as the days seem never to end. The caravan passes by the valley of Megiddo where Solomon kept his stables for his 900 chariots and horses. Joseph and Mary are unaware of it, but this is the place where the last battle of mankind will one day take place. A battle we now know will be called Armageddon. The place where the Child in her womb will come and put an end to Satan’s reign.
The weather is cloudy again which is normal for this time of the year, and Joseph worries about being caught in the rain again. It seems that Mary is getting weaker as the miles go on. There are many miles yet to travel, so as he walks beside her, he prays and tries to draw courage from the dream he had. To give the donkey some rest Mary must walk every once in a while for a few miles. Joseph doesn’t let her walk too much, but if they expect the donkey to be strong enough to traverse the mountain road to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, then Mary must walk at times to rest the Donkey.
As they continue climbing in elevation the trip now becomes increasingly difficult. It is a slow trodding journey, yet Joseph and Mary are excited to be in the places they have learned about in the synagogue. Joseph looks to the East and sees Mount Gilboa, as he is reminded of the battle that took King Saul and his son Jonathan’s life, and how David lamented the loss of his beloved friend.
"O mountains of Gilboa, Let there be no dew nor rain upon you, Nor fields of offerings. For the shield of the mighty is cast away there! The shield of Saul, not anointed with oil. From the blood of the slain, From the fat of the mighty, The bow of Jonathan did not turn back, And the sword of Saul did not return empty.”
(2 Samuel 1:21-22)
Mary and Joseph pass time by talking of the history of the area they are passing through. Like the area near the town of Dothan they are approaching, which long before it existed was the spot according to the Torah, where Jacob’s sons sold their brother into slavery. In remembrance of that bitter time, they recite a psalm, as a special prayer to protect themselves from such trials as Joseph experienced.
“They hurt his feet with fetters, He was laid in irons. Until the time that his word came to pass, The word of the LORD tested him. The king sent and released him, The ruler of the people let him go free.He made him lord of his house, And ruler of all his possessions,To bind his princes at his pleasure, And teach his elders wisdom. Israel also came into Egypt, And Jacob dwelt in the land of Ham.He increased His people greatly, And made them stronger than their enemies. He turned their heart to hate His people, To deal craftily with His servants.”
As the caravan keeps moving Mary feels the Child kick and move around as her back begins to ache with every step the donkey takes on the uneven road. The day drags on with mile after painful mile as Joseph notices that his young bride isn’t smiling as much, and seems far off in her thoughts. They stop for the night, and Joseph gently lifts her up off the burrow and comforts her with a loving hug and tells her,
“You know our Lord would not let anything bad happen to us. We must have faith that He will protect us.”
Mary sighs as she looks into the eyes of the man who has been so good to her and smiles as she replies,
“Yes, I know he will, Joseph. It’s just that sometimes the pain and weariness get to me.”
Joseph looks down at her and smiles back as tells her,
“Yes, me too. Come, let us eat. Then we can lie down and sleep for the evening. Tomorrow will be another day.”
The morning sun breaks over the horizon, as the caravan gets an early start. They now face the most difficult part of the day. Neither slept well on the ground, but today makes them especially thankful, because this day will mark the halfway point of their journey. They pass within ten miles of the Samaritan town of Shechem, as Mary yearns, as all Jews do, for a cool cup of water from Jacob’s well. One day Mary's Child will visit the well, and a Samaritan woman will draw water for Him and receive salvation.
The journey is long, and one of the days will be on the Sabbath, which means a day of much needed rest for the weary and exhausted travelers of the caravan. Joseph will purchase some extra food and some hay for the donkey at a local village and they will eat with other travelers on the caravan. They sing Psalms and enjoy the Sabbath dinner together. At the end of the Sabbath day, Mary begins to look more rested as they both end the day with prayers and psalms to thank God for the much needed time of rest. Tonight will be the first night they get good sleep since before they began their journey. This is good, because the second half of the journey will make the first half seem like a picnic.
The next morning the caravan continues upon its journey traveling around Shiloh. There’s not much left to give anyone an idea that it was one an important thriving community that was home to the now lost Ark of the Covenant. The now abandoned town sheltered in the tent of the Tabernacle, until the Philistines took it in a battle. Mary is reminded of the angel telling her the Child will be a Savior of her people. Makes one wonder if she ever thought of herself as a Traveling Living Ark!
Soon the caravan would reach Bethel. The place Abraham offered sacrifices to God, and Jacob dreamed of angels climbing up and down a ladder to heaven. As devout Jews, Joseph and Mary would pause for special prayers at this place. Mary does not know it now, but the Child she carries will also be offered as a sacrifice, but for the salvation of all of humanity.
As the journey progresses 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 dome glittering in the sun, 10 miles in the distance. With a full view of the land below, the couple join others in a psalm that has a wonderful mixture of soft melancholy and fiery patriotism to it. The hand that wrote it must have known how to kill with the sword as well as tune the harp. The words are burning with a poeticness from one’s heart that is breathing undying love and hatred at the same time. Love for a home destroyed, and hate for the enemy who took their ancestors away into captivity. The words of the psalm echo throughout the caravan, as everyone’s thoughts go back to a time long ago when their homeland was destroyed by the Babylonian invaders 600 years earlier.
By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down, yea, we wept
When we remembered Zion.
We hung our harps
Upon the willows in the midst of it.
For there those who carried us away captive asked of us a song,
And those who plundered us requested mirth,
Saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How shall we sing the Lord’s song
In a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
Let my right hand forget its skill!
If I do not remember you,
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth—
If I do not exalt Jerusalem
Above my chief joy.
Remember, O Lord, against the sons of Edom
The day of Jerusalem,
Who said, “Raze it, raze it,
To its very foundation!”
O daughter of Babylon, who are to be destroyed,
Happy the one who repays you as you have served us!
When they finally arrive at Jerusalem, the streets are crowded with people from all over the kingdom, and it seems the whole city is filled with Roman soldiers. Joseph leads the donkey and his wife through the streets as they arrive at the home of Mary’s first cousin, Elizabeth , and her husband Zacharias. They have a chance to finally see Elizabeth ’s son, John. He is in his mothers arms, waving his hands around as he kicks his legs in glee when Mary and Joseph appear. This six-month-old baby will one day be known as the prophet who baptizes people in the Jordan river. As they greet each other, their eyes are filled with tears and their hearts are overwhelmed with joy. They are the only people in the world who truly know about the tremendous news they all received from Gabriel.
After a while, as they sit around eating a dinner prepared by Elizabeth, they talk about the exploits of the journey the young couple had to endure. It seems like the exhaustion they felt from the journey has abated as they pass the hours away talking about the things the Lord God is doing. None of these 4 adults truly understood the price their Children would one day pay for doing the LORD’s will, as a few moments in time will overshadow all other moments in human history.
It’s estimated that during the Passover in Jesus’ day, as many as four million people would pass through the city. One can only guess how many were there during the census in 6 A.D. As the couples sat for dinner, just outside the walls of Zacharias’ home, maybe as many as 2 million people were gathering for the census, with no clue as to the importance of the baby boy and the unborn Child inside a home just off the streets of Jerusalem.
That night Mary and Joseph would sleep in each other's arms as they enjoyed their first night of comfort since they left Nazareth. Their prayers are filled with thanksgiving and praise for the comfort of Zacharias’ home, the meal Elizabeth fed them, and the cot to sleep on. They fall asleep fast, and Mary is comforted as Joseph holds her tight.
There are only ten more miles to travel before they reach Bethlehem. The next morning, while Mary visits with her cousin, Joseph busies himself in Jerusalem securing exit visas so he will not be hassled by the soldiers and tax collectors on the last leg of their journey. He finds himself stunned at the coldness of the city and its citizens as he passes the many people who never acknowledge each other, everyone just walks by without so much as a smile on their face. He sees the Roman barracks, the five great palaces and the huge Roman fortress named for Mark Antony. Then he sees the Temple with its eaves and pinnacles sheathed in pure gold.
When he returns to get Mary, they say their goodbyes to Zacharias, Elizabeth, and their newborn son John. Mary’s time is very near and they wonder between them why God does not want the Child to be born in the city that is home to His Holy Temple? But it is not for them to question God’s ways. It has already been a long day, and now they are getting a late start on the last leg of their journey. They are both looking forward to getting to Bethlehem where they can rent a room so they can all be warm and comfortable as they were with Zacharias and Elizabeth.
Back on the road Mary is beginning to have labor pains. The closer they get to Bethlehem the closer the pains she experiences. As the donkey trods along, she closes her eyes and prays to Jehovah that His plans are not for her to have the Child on the side of the road. The sun has already begun to set, as they have less than five miles to go. It seems forever as they trod uphill listening to the sheep bleating in the distance. They see shepherds in the pastures tending their flock that will be sold in the marketplace for Temple sacrifices.
As Joseph walks alongside Mary, he sees the sheep. He is reminded of a conversation he had with a Rabbi once. The Rabbi told Joseph that the sheep raised outside of Bethlehem were the most perfect sheep in all of Judea. He wondered if he could ever afford such a great sacrifice for God. How could he ever know that long after he went home to be with the Lord, his wife would watch their Son become a replacement for the sheep in the field.
Finally in the darkness of the night the weary couple pass through the walls of Bethlehem. Into the home where King David himself was born and raised. Joseph is alarmed, because Mary’s birthing pains have increased, as she tells him it feels like the time of their Child’s birth is but hours away. Frantically, he seeks lodging. However, the town is swarming with other members of David’s tribe and Joseph fears no lodging will be available. They come to an Inn reported to have an opening for travelers. Joseph helps Mary off the donkey, and brings her in with him. He prays they will see that she is with Child and have pity, and thus give them a room. They enter the busy Inn and ask the innkeeper,
“Excuse me sir, but do you have any rooms for rent?”
The answer is not what Joseph wanted to hear,
“I’m sorry. I’m full up tonight. The census has brought so many people into the area that we are full up. We even have strangers sharing rooms with each other. I just haven’t anything left.”
Joseph begs the innkeeper for any room,
“Please sir, you can see my wife is with Child and her time is near. She needs a room to birth our Child. Please sir, I will pay double what you charge. Triple even. Don’t you have something?”
Mary is visibly in pain as the Child kicks and the birth pains become closer and closer with more pain each time they come. She can barely stand, as one hand rests on her belly, and the other holds Joseph's hand. The innkeeper looks at Mary, and realizes her time of birth is near. He looks at Joseph and tells him,
“All I have is a stable out back. It isn’t clean, there are sheep and cattle in it, but at least you’ll be out of the weather. I feel terrible for you, but that’s the best I can do. Sorry.”
The innkeeper points to the stable and returns to his customers inside as Joseph leads the donkey with his wife towards a cave where shepherds keep their sheep. There are hay racks and mangers for the straw that fed the sheep and cattle toward the back of the cave, with the strong smell of manure lingering in the air. 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 helps her walk into the cave. He makes a bed of hay for her, and places the blanket from the donkey onto the straw. He helps her lie down and does his best to clean things up around her. He wants to help her, but not sure what to as he asks,
“Mary, what do I do? Let me go find help for you.”
Mary sees how frantic her husband is and tries to calm him down, and then it is time,
“Joseph no. There is no time. The Child is coming now.”
What happens next is what has happened billions of times before. A Child is born to a woman, as her husband offers all the help he can. Amidst the mooing of the cattle and bleating of the sheep, Mary cries out in pain. Joseph holds the Child's head as he guides it into the world. Soon there is a silence as he lays the Child upon Mary’s bosom. Joseph goes out to start a fire for warmth and looks up into the night sky and sees a star so bright it seems to illuminate the whole town.
He then turns to look at his wife and Child and notices that the cave was also illuminated by a wonderful light. He looks to the heavens and says a prayer of thanks to God. Then a couple of shepherds came by and tell a story about an angel who appeared from heaven while they were tending their sheep in the field. The angel told them a Child was born in the city of David, who is Christ the Lord, and they would find him wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger.
With Joseph on his knees next to his wife, and the shepherds standing around looking down on Mary with the Baby Jesus in her arms, all seems perfect in the world. It seems like the world has changed, as the angels of God were singing. Today there is love, peace, and joy, but one day this little Lamb will cry out, “It is finished”, and the price for our Salvation will have been paid in full.
& Merry Christmas.
And to all a good night
Beautiful. Thank you.
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