Four Christmas Journeys.
A trip to the mall is not the same as a journey across the country. A journey takes more time, costs substantially more, and holds more challenges, risks, and prospects. In the Christmas season, its traditional to retell the Christmas story of the journey of Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem and the birth of the Messiah, baby Jesus. However, there’s more to the story than that one journey. Actually, there are altogether four journeys which speak to our own spiritual journey with challenges, risks, and yet prospects of God’s acquainting grace.
Journey 1 – Mary visits Elizabeth. Mary was about 14 years old when first “with child.” She set out on a journey from Nazareth to the hills of Judea to visit her older cousin, Elizabeth. There’s no mention of Joseph accompanying her. Scripture suggests she made the trip of about 20 or more miles alone. She stayed with Elizabeth and Zechariah through the first trimester of her pregnancy for three months before returning home. Since the Christmas story starts with her miracle conception, this was the first Christmas journey. It is significant in connecting the Christmas narrative to Elizabeth’s anticipated birth of John the Baptist. John was to play a major, prophetic role in the eventual start of Christ’s ministry.
Journey 2 – The traditional Christmas story begins with Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. In the third trimester of her pregnancy, the couple journeyed sixty-nine miles to Bethlehem. The likely route was directly south through Samaria. Mary rode on a donkey with Joseph walking the whole way. Only the mega-wealthy would have made the journey by means other than walking or by donkey. Imagine such a journey for Mary’s in her third trimester. The journey could not have been pleasant. It ended with no place to recover but in a stable. Upon arrival, Mary went through the physical rigors of labor and giving birth to baby Jesus and then hosting visitors that smelled like sheep. Nevertheless, the journey ended in an amazing, celestial celebration like no other. Then, it wasn’t for several months, possibly as much as two years, before the next segment of their Christmas journey.
Journey 3 – The flight to Egypt. Contrary to the traditional narrative, the Magi mentioned in Matthew 2:1 did not visit Jesus in the manger on the night of his birth along with the shepherds. They arrived several months and possibly a much as two years later. By then Mary, Joseph, and Jesus had moved out of the stable. Luke’s narrative (v. 2:11) states that the Magi, on coming to the house, saw the child and Mary and worshiped the child king. The blood thirsty king, Herod, was out to murder the Christ child when the Magi returned to Jerusalem on their way home. Sensing Herod’s malevolent intentions, they returned another way. If so, they were right. An angel then appeared to Joseph in a dream saying, “Get up. Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” That night they fled as political refugees to Egypt, a trip of 430 miles.
Journey 4 – Return to Nazareth. After a good while in Egypt, Herod died. An angel appeared again in a dream to Joseph again and said, “Get up. Take the child and his mother and go to the Land of Israel for those trying to take the child’s life are dead.” They then returned to Israel and settled again in the little town of Nazareth where it all started. The journey likely took more than twenty days covering nearly five hundred miles. By this time Mary was nineteen or twenty years old and Jesus was four or five years old. Rome’s oppressive occupation of Israel was in full swing controlling the lives of the people by intimidation and fear. Likely, for the child Jesus, crucifixions along the journey to Nazareth previewed the cross to the young Jesus and what was yet to come later in his continuing life’s journey. To be continued . . .