On a dusty road a young couple makes their way towards their destination. A long road for anyone, an estimate four days for those who hold a quick and steady pace.
For this couple it was closer to eight to 10 days. This woman was pregnant; nine months pregnant. Her husband trudged alongside her with their donkey carrying the precious cargo of wife and soon-to-be born son.
This is the scene you would have seen if you were on the road to Bethlehem at the same time as Mary and Joseph around 4 BC.
Not the best of situations by any means. Can you imagine yourself in their place?
You’re alone, walking beside your very pregnant wife as every bump in the very uneven road causes her pain. You’re trying to steady the donkey so she can have a smooth ride, making sure she stays hydrated while the hot sun beats down upon her.
You’re needing to search for water when your waterskin is emptied and trying to find cover from the sun when the heat becomes unbearable.
If you have ever been pregnant can you imagine being in Mary’s position?
You must keep going regardless of how much you just want to rest your weary body. All the regular pregnancy pains are times ten because you are forced to ride along this dusty road upon a donkey. There is no way to rest your feet and hardly a chance to lay down. The baby is kicking because you are not in the position he prefers. The bumps agitate your already small bladder and you have to stop every ten minutes to relieve yourself.
All these inconveniences and difficult variables are small in comparison to the rest of the circumstances and situations that surrounded the birth of Jesus Christ.
He was foretold by the prophets. He would be born to a virgin!
Did they envision how that would work out?
Mary was in very real danger of being stoned to death. She was unmarried and pregnant and her fiancé had no involvement with the conception of the baby.
If God had not intervened and let Joseph in on the secret she may very well have been put to death.
And after she was safe from death, Mary and Joseph would have been scorned by their community, by their families, by their friends. Mary would have been viewed as unfaithful, impure and labeled a sinner.
A woman blessed among all woman. The mother of the saviour of all mankind would have been called all kinds of foul names. She would have had her feet spit upon. Would have seen her father rip his clothes in dismay.
Mary and Joseph persevered. They had been visited by angles and knew they were protected by God almighty.
Mary broke into song when she received the news that she had become pregnant by the Holy Spirit. She did not fret about what people would think or what “this looks like.”
Why? Because she knew her present afflictions did not compare with the glory that was to come.
Mary and Joseph made their way to Bethlehem knowing there would never be anyone else who could understand the situation they found themselves in. They clung to one another during the cold windy nights knowing they shared something special. They would raise the Son of God, “God among us,” “Emmanuel,” the Messiah, the Saviour of all mankind.
They had the greatest mission of all—to carry, to hold and to care for the greatest person who would ever live, Jesus Christ the Lord.
It was this knowledge and the hope it brought that gave them strength to continue on.
But this was not the end of their struggles. When they arrived there was no place for them to stay.
Both Mary and Joseph could trace back their ancestral home to Bethlehem as both were from the house of David.
Why wouldn’t their families, who would have also been compelled to return to Bethlehem take them in?
Had they been so rejected that their own family’s refused to help them?
The scriptures do not say.
What the Gospels do say is that they found no room at the inn and had to stay in a stable.
Typically babies are born in the most sanitary of conditions. In our day and age, in hospitals. In Jesus’ day they would have boiled large amounts of water to sanitize the area of the birth.
Mary and Joseph did not have this luxury and had to have their baby in a dark and dirty stable. The ground would have been full of the manure of animals. Dirt, dust and animal dandruff particles would have been floating in the air.
The danger of contamination and sickness to both baby and mother would have been great.
This is where the saviour of all mankind was born. The King of Kings was not born in a palace but in a barn.
The nation in which Jesus was born into was occupied by Romans. They were brutal rulers. They taxed the people of their conquered nations heavily. The reason Mary and Joseph had to go to Bethlehem in the first place was so Cesar Augustine would know who exactly was in Israel to tax. While citizens of Rome had very little taxes to pay. The lands in which Rome conquered were heavily taxed (they had to give a large amount of their grain in taxes as well as taxes on produce, sales taxes, temple taxes, occupational taxes, custom taxes, transit taxes etc.).
To keep the people in line, the military would have been very much present in the community’s where Jesus grew up.
The land of Israel was under a weight of taxes they could not afford and if they did not pay they were subject to violence that they could not resist.
On top of this, Cesar Augustine had appointed local leaders in every territory he conquered. King Herod was the Jewish king over the land at the time of Jesus’ birth and he was brutal. He murdered anyone who was a threat to his kingship including his own family.
Upon Jesus’ birth the magi in the east had seen the star and visited Herod looking for “the one having been born king of the Jews.” This angered Herod and upon hearing about a new king his jealousy would not allow him to sit idly by and wait for this messiah to grow up and usurp him.
Upon conferring with the chief priests and scribes, he found out that the messiah was foretold to be born in Bethlehem.
At this time Jospeh was warned in a dream to flee with Jesus and Mary to Egypt. Again, the young family had to make a difficult journey.
Herod went on to massacre every boy two years old and younger in Bethlehem and the surrounding area.
“Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” – Matthew 2:16-18
I have been mediating upon the circumstances around Jesus birth. Here was this precious little baby. The Prince of Peace.
He came to this earth innocent and perfect. His world was particularly brutal. His mother had hardships with bearing him. Both his mother and father would have been ostracized by their community. They had to go on not one but two dangerous journeys while He was at His most vulnerable. He was born in a filthy stable and finally violent rulers oppressed Him and tried to snuff Him out.
But God’s glorious plan would not be put to death. He supernaturally took care of Mary and Joseph, He kept the Christ child safe.
He showed glory through it all as angles sang about the majesty of who Jesus is!
The Lord set a star to shine the way for magi to come bearing gifts who recognized and christened Him King.
Satan could not stop His birth through stoning, heat, disease or massacre.
Gods plan unfolded as it was designed.
Light came to this earth so all men and women can see the truth through Jesus Christ.
The world has not changed. It is still dark and evil. Persecutions will come. People will lie and cheat and steal. They will be against you!
Satan will try to snuff out your light.
We, like Mary and Joseph carry a truth that brings hope.
We like Mary carry Jesus.
We have the Holy Spirit in our hearts!
We too are on the greatest mission of all humanity.
Can we sing when we are spit on, accused and called names.
Our identity comes from God and we journey on a hard road. But we have hope.
Jesus came into this earth as a baby and He will come again in glory as King.
I think of the dark night, two large shadows and a bundle of joy. A child of peace who would bring peace to all mankind, along with his parents. They slowly make their way out of Bethlehem, knowing they are escaping death. They venture into the unknown, into a strange land which is not their own.
But they have the same hope they did along the dusty road to Bethlehem.
The hope that is found in Christ.
This Christmas I am hanging on to that hope. The difference is I know, along with many other, their hope realized. Mary and Jospeh knew this child was destined for great things. I know these great things.
I know the Christ that bled upon the cross and rose from the dead. I know the resurrected King who is coming again.
I have the Holy Spirit working within me, which empowers me to persevere through all trials and emboldens me to let all mankind know that Christ has come to free us from slavery and sin.
So, my desire is that you take hope in the Christmas story, in the child of peace who came to this earth.
And that you take hope in the Saviour who died for our sins and rose again.
Take hope that He is coming again and He knows your struggles and provides strength to continue upon this dusty road.