A few weeks ago I was visiting with one of our senior saints. I was talking about Christmas and she said, “I don’t know how they had babies back then.” I said something like, “yes and to be traveling during the ninth month of pregnancy!” We continued our conversation, I then parted ways, but I have to imagine the travel that happened in order for the first Christmas was very difficult.
But think about Christmas today. Our difficulty and even our busyness is of our own doing.
What do you have to get done for Christmas?
Shout some things out:
These are all great things, but they are nothing compared to what Mary and Joseph went through. I am not meaning to criticize anyone here either.
Now, switch gears, think with me about a difficult time that ended okay… Maybe you did not know that God was going to use it for good until sometime later. Maybe you were laid off for a while but then God gave you a better job. Maybe you were laid off but then you realized you didn’t even need the job. Maybe something else was taken from you…
I also believe that God can use our hard times.
We are going to look at Luke 2:1-7 and mainly focus on the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
A few years ago, I had Elvis playing on the CD player while Meagan, myself and our two girls were driving around looking for a fishing spot. I thought it was great fun. But Meagan said something like, “Great, my idea of fun, driving around getting car sick while listening to Elvis.”
But when we think about Mary and Joseph traveling it was not in a car, they had no CD player, and, unfortunately, no Elvis music.
Think about it, they are traveling, Mary is in her ninth month of pregnancy. Mary could not have been enjoying this as a sight-seeing journey. But God used this difficult journey to bring the Savior into the world.
Let me say right now, I greatly benefited in ideas as well as cultural, geographical information from Adam Hamilton’s book, The Journey.
Mary and Joseph had a difficult journey heading into Jesus’ birth. God was going to use this for the good.
Let God use difficult things you go through for His glory and purposes.
Let’s read the passage:
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
- Let’s start by talking about what led up to the journey.
- It is likely that while Mary was visiting her relative, Elizabeth, she went to see Joseph and tell him that she was pregnant. During that time She would have been in Ein Karem which is close to Bethlehem, which is where Joseph is from. Of course, Joseph was likely upset but then God spoke to him in a dream (Matthew 1:20-23) and he decided to stay by her.
- Following that, it is likely that they talked to her parents and planned a wedding. We could call it eloping if we want. It is likely that they got married when she was about five months pregnant with our Lord.
- There could have been people questioning things, likely there were.
- It is likely that they traveled the 70 some miles back to Nazareth for the wedding.
- It was common in that day that there would be a formal engagement. Following the formal engagement a husband would build a room onto his father’s house. About a year later he would marry the bride to be and they would live at the father of the groom’s house until they could afford their own house and land.
- In this case things are different. Maybe, they planned to live at Joseph’s parent’s house after baby Jesus was born. However, they were in Nazareth prior to the census. It seems that they were planning to give birth in Nazareth. Nazareth would allow Mary to be close to her parents and maybe a midwife that she would know.
- But then the census comes. The census meant that they would have to travel to Bethlehem. Bethlehem was Joseph’s hometown and since Mary was married to him she would have to register with him in Bethlehem. It is likely that Joseph’s parents had a home in Bethlehem.
- So, now they have to travel.
- Mary is likely nine months pregnant, do you think she was excited to travel? What do you think?
- I think she might have been thinking, “This is not how it was supposed to be. Why am I going through this?” She likely was having a hard time.
- Sometimes we, also, are in difficult situations and we may be asking questions of the Lord as well. We may be going through cancer, loss of a loved one, out of work, dealing with difficult children. We can be sure that God is with us. We can be sure that God can also use what we are going through for His glory and will.
- The route: There are two likely routes: and the following information about the route comes from the book The Journey by Adam Hamilton
- (There is a third route but not mentioned that often by scholars)
- The first route would have taken Mary and Joseph to the east, crossing the Jordan, then south sixty miles, and finally recrossing the Jordan near Jericho and west to Bethlehem. This route would have been followed by the Jews wishing to avoid the Samaritans who were a people of mixed race whose faith was largely influenced by Judaism but that had its own distinctive elements. The land of the Samaritans, Samaria— separated the Northern region of Galilee from the southern region of Judea. Many Jews considered the Samaritans unclean, or heretics, or worse. Because of the conflict with Samaritans, some Jews felt it might be dangerous to travel through Samaria; hence, for purity or safety many Jews went out of their way to avoid passing through it. But taking this route around Samaria would have added twenty or thirty miles to Mary and Joseph’s journey— perhaps two days.
- This first route is believed by many pastors, teachers, and Biblical scholars to be the route that Joseph and Mary would have taken. Some argue that this route along the Jordan would also have been easier to travel because the Jordan River valley is a plain, and there is some truth to this.
- The second route and the one Adam Hamilton thinks likely, was more direct. It took them nearly due south from Nazareth through the Jezreel Valley and along the road known as the Way of the Patriarchs. This route was easier through the first half of the journey, though the second half included some hills and mountains, with well known places to stop for water along the way. This route would have meant two fewer days of travel than the first route described.
- In following the route through Samaria, the holy family would have been retracing sixteen hundred years of Biblical history.
- The first century Jewish Historian, Josephus, is said to have noted that during the Passover, when large numbers of Jews were making their way to Jerusalem, it was not uncommon for Jews to go through Samaria.
- Hundreds of thousands of others would be traveling south from Galilee just like Mary and Joseph.
- It was in this area, in the center of this country that God appeared to Abraham and promised to give this land to his descendants.
- Here Jacob saw angels ascending and descending to and from Heaven.
- [If they went this way] Mary and Joseph’s Caravan made camp near springs and wells each night that had been used since the time of the Patriarchs, including “Jacob’s Well” near the town of Sychar.
- They passed the place where Joseph, the son of Jacob, whose story we recall from the Old Testament, was buried after his bones were brought back from Egypt.
- They came to Shiloh, where Joshua had set up the tent of meeting and the Ark of the Covenant.
- They walked where the great early prophets Samuel, Elijah, and Elisha ministered.
- They followed the path of the Assyrian army when it came to destroy the northern kingdom of Israel and where the armies of Babylon marched as they invaded Judea and Jerusalem itself and carried away its people.
- They also retraced the steps of the exiles who returned singing “unto Zion” after the Exile was over.
- God walked with His people through all of these journeys.
- If they took this route it would have been a recounting geographically of God’s salvation history. Also, the Baby in her womb was and is the Apex of this history.
- Later in John 4:10 and 14 we see that Jesus stopped in Samaria at Jacob’s well in Sychar and offered a woman “living water.”
- Luke 10 and Jesus’ scandalous parable of the good Samaritan in which He made a Samaritan man the example of what it means to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” showing the Samaritan to be more righteous than either a Jewish priest or a Levite.
- Did Jesus learn this attitude from His mother and father?
- Who are our Samaritans and where is our Samaria?
- Which groups do we feel an aversion for?
- Where are the places in our own city, country or world that we would avoid because we are uncomfortable with “those people”?
- Let’s think about the travel
- There is no mention of a donkey though Joseph likely would have procured an animal for her to ride on. The apocryphal Gospel of James does mention a donkey.
- They would have a descent from the hills into the Jezreel Valley. This would have been the easiest part of the journey and may have taken the first two days.
- The Jezreel Valley was the location of so many of the ancient battles that it became synonymous with war and bloodshed. The writer of Revelation saw the final, apocalyptic battle between good and evil—the battle of Armageddon— taking place here. (Armageddon means “hill of Megiddo,” with Megiddo being a city built upon a hill along the Jezreel Valley— see Revelation 16:16.)
- The child in Mary’s womb would be called the Prince of Peace yet someday will return on a white horse, to wage war against evil and ultimately to triumph over it (Rev. 19:11-16).
- The journey would get more difficult after several days. Following the ancient road that curved back and forth as it ascended and descended the hills and mountains of central Israel.
- Mary and Joseph would have traveled up higher and higher hills.
- From Jerusalem it would only be a few hours walk to Bethlehem across several miles of arid desert and some hills.
- Then they arrive at Bethlehem.
- But think about Jesus’ birth. If Joseph is from Bethlehem, why no place to stay.
- Think about a first century home:
- central room that served as a kitchen and living area
- sleeping quarters where parents slept
- Think about a first century home:
- guest room where children slept and they yielded to guests when there was company
- when there were guests the children slept with their parents or in the living area
- there was also a stable or small barn either behind the home or, in the case of homes built around caves, beneath the home. The stable protected the animals from predators or animals at night.
- Assuming that Joseph’s family was of modest income, they would have had one guest room. The guest room might hold bed mats for 6 people sleeping side by side. The main living room and kitchen could hold several more.
- How many of Joseph’s extended family were in Bethlehem because of the census?
- If Joseph had four or five siblings and each of them had family, it is easy to see why there would have been no room in the guest room.
- Imagine her sitting on the birthing stole, between contractions choking back the tears, thinking this is not how it was supposed to be. She was not supposed to be giving birth in her in-laws barn.
- Some final applications:
- This was not a silent night
- All was not calm and bright
- It was a disappointing and depressing night. It was hard.
- He was born not in a hospital, or in a guest room but in a stable.
- We all have journeys that are difficult:
- Jacob’s son, Joseph, was sold into slavery. (Gen. 37)
- David fled Saul and fled to the Philistines for a few years (1 Samuel 19ff and chapter 27) and he wrote Psalms asking, “Why do You allow my enemies to prosper?” “When are You going to save me?” That was not the end of the story.
- Shadrach, Meshech and Abednego were told to bow down and worship the king’s image, but they didn’t. (Daniel 3) That was not the end of the story.
- The people of Israel were exiled for 50 years but that was not the end.
- Now, the child born in a stable would walk to Calvary, but that was not the end of the story.
All of us take difficult journeys but God walks with us on the journeys. God redeems the journeys and that is not the end of the story.
Mary could not see that the angels would be rejoicing. She could not see that we would be reading the story two thousand years later. However, we are.
God created us to be with him. (Genesis 1-2)
Our sin separated us from God. (Genesis 3)
Sins cannot be removed by good deeds (Gen 4-Mal 4)
Paying the price for sin, Jesus died and rose again. (Matthew – Luke)
Everyone who trusts in him alone has eternal life. (John – Jude)
Life that’s eternal means we will be with Jesus forever. (Revelation 22:5)
 Rev 2:20-23
Hamilton, Adam (2011-09-01). The Journey: Walking the Road to Bethlehem. Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition.