Summary: This sermon focuses on the actual journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem by Mary and Joseph before the birth of Christ
The Journey to Bethlehem
Years ago one of our daughters had a school assignment to write about her family’s Christmas traditions. She didn’t know what to write … because our family never had two Christmases alike. We have never lived near family. So at least half the time when we had vacation days … we loaded up in the car and took a long trip … either to Dalhart TX or to Scottsdale AZ.
Nowadays we end up traveling to our new “Mecca” of Lincoln IL … where two of our grandkids and assorted other relatives live. But this year, we got to stay home … and Kaysha, Chris, David, and Lydia made the 18-hour drive to TEXAS!
The first Christmas required a long journey. In fact, the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem was about 90 miles, which would take about 8 to 10 days … maybe even longer when one of the travelers was nine-months pregnant.
1. Reason for the journey
Luke 2 tells the Reason for the Journey: In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. Luke 2:1-3
It’s sounds very matter-of-fact … but that’s NOT how it would have felt to Mary and Joseph. In Mary’s ninth month of pregnancy, Roman soldiers arrived in Nazareth … to announce that the emperor had commanded a census. Everyone had to travel to the town where their family owned property so Rome could levy property taxes. Joseph’s family property was located in Bethlehem, so that is where he and Mary had to go.
To Mary and Joseph, this was just one more example of Roman oppression … and it messed up all their plans. Mary probably had a mid-wife she was familiar with there in Nazareth. She surely hoped to give birth surrounded by family and friends. Now, in the very last month, she was forced to make a trip that would be
dangerous, costly, and uncomfortable at best.
We aren’t told how Mary felt, but it would be normal for Mary to think something like this: “What is going on here? The Angel appeared to me months ago, and I know this baby will be nothing less than the Messiah! But now everything is going wrong. At the worst possible time I have to head off on this dangerous trip! What is God doing?”
Have you ever felt that way toward God? Have you ever been so disappointed or afraid that all you could do was cry out, “What is God doing?” You were hoping for a promotion, but instead you get laid off. You prayed for healing, but the sickness got worse. You thought you had found a great relationship, but now you’ve been left all alone.
When we look at the circumstances of life, we often wonder, “What is God doing?” The problem is that we are looking at circumstances. We are looking at what we can SEE with our physical eyes. The truth is that reality is so much more than what is visible to the human eye. What we CAN’T see is actually the most important reality of all.
I believe that is the way Mary and Joseph walked that road to Bethlehem. They walked by FAITH, not by SIGHT. They saw far beyond the dusty road because they looked with the eyes of faith. Mary and Joseph knew that God was at work behind the scenes, bringing the fulfillment of prophecy: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Micah 5:2
2. Route for the journey
Nothing is said about the long journey, but the most direct route Mary and Joseph might have taken went through Samaria … on a route that is called “The Way of the Patriarchs.” It has that name because so much of the history of the Old Testament took place along that route.
For example, this was route Abraham took when God promised to give the land to Abraham and his descendants forever. Along this route was the place where Jacob dreamed of Angels ascending and descending a ladder to Heaven. Mary and Joseph would have stopped to drink from a well Jacob dug over a thousand years before. They would have passed the place where Joseph was buried and the place where Joshua fought the battle of Jericho.
This was also the road that Daniel traveled when he was led away into Babylonian captivity. This was the route God’s people traveled when they returned to their homeland to rebuild the Temple.