LOVE is the theme for this second week of Advent.
For God so loved the world,
that he gave his only begotten Son,
that whosoever believeth in him should not perish,
but have everlasting life.
Nine months pregnant and discovering that she had to walk almost 100 miles: this was Mary when Caesar Augustus sent out a decree that the entire Roman world should be taxed. What went through her head just then? Did she worry that she might have the baby on the road to Bethlehem? Did she wonder if she had enough strength to make the journey?
The bible doesn’t reveal much about the walk to Bethlehem, but I found this interesting suggestion from D. Kelly Ogden, emeritus professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University:
“They would probably have made the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem by one of two routes. One would have taken them south across the Jezreel Valley, then through the hills of Samaria into Judaea. This is the more direct route in straight-line distance — but there are two reasons it probably was not the way Joseph and Mary went: It is physically demanding, with constant ups and downs through the hills — and it took the traveler directly through Samaritan country, and “the Jews [had] no dealings with the Samaritans” (John 4:9).
The other possible route is the one Joseph and Mary more likely traveled. It would have taken them southeast across the Jezreel Valley, connecting with the Jordan Valley, then level or slightly down in elevation all the way to Jericho, then up through the Judaean Desert to Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
To discover for myself what each of the routes would have been like, I have walked both of them. Both routes are about ninety-two miles long. Normal walking pace, even with a camel or donkey, is three miles per hour. So a traveler can usually walk between seventeen and twenty-four miles each day. Each route took me about thirty hours to walk—seventeen to twenty miles a day for five days.
At that rate, the journey would have taken Joseph and Mary at least four to five days. We wonder where they stayed each night, where and with whom they camped along the way. It would have been a wearying journey for anyone, but especially for a pregnant woman soon to give birth. . . . .
The last leg of the eastern route would have been the hardest of all. Jericho is the lowest city on the globe, and Jerusalem and Bethlehem are situated right in the top of the hills. From Jericho’s desert to Bethlehem is an uphill hike of 3,500 feet. How exhausted Mary must have been! How anxious Joseph must have been to find a comfortable room at the inn! Desperate to find adequate shelter, they may have resorted at last to a limestone cave used for a stable.” [D. Kelly Ogden “The Road to Bethlehem,” Ensign, Dec 1995]
Imagine that. Mary walked, or perhaps rode on a donkey, for 92 miles, part of it through a desert, camped at night in God knows what kind of weather, and then ended her journey with a 3500-foot uphill hike; all of it when she was nine-months pregnant. This only adds to the miracle of Christ’s birth.
This week, take time to think of Mary and Joseph’s journey. Contemplate the trip and the difficulties they might have encountered. Then remember that God loved them and was with them every step of the way— just like He is with us now,
guiding us through this journey
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