Advent 13: The Journey to Bethlehem

Most of us can’t even begin to imagine how hard it was for Mary to travel the 70 miles to Bethlehem whilst she was heavily pregnant.

I’ve always been aware that the Bible doesn’t mention a donkey and a number of years ago I heard someone talking about the journey to Bethlehem saying that there probably wasn’t a donkey. Their reasoning was that riding a donkey so far would have set off Mary’s contractions.

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Fritz von Uhde: Journey to Bethlehem 1890 (This work is in the public  domain).

I recently came across this painting by Fritz von Uhde which had the original title of ‘Journey to Bethlehem’.

I must confess that I hate a lot of nativity imagery that I have seen. I can’t stand the way that this amazing and powerful story has been sanitized by removing the harsh realities from it.

For me, Uhde has really captured the true essence of Joseph and Mary’s journey.

Mary is exhausted and Joseph is trying to support her in the best way that he can.

Amongst other things, the picture reinforces the sense of powerlessness that Joseph must have felt. How he must have longed to carry Mary or to provide a comfortable trip for her and yet all he could do was to help to hold her.

God could have miraculously transported Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem but instead he walked with them on their journey.

How does your life feel at the moment? Do you feel like you are on the road to Bethlehem, like you are taking one exhausted step after another just to get through the day? Perhaps it’s that you are walking with a loved one who is in pain, you long to bear their burden for them but all you can do is to help to hold them. Or perhaps it’s that this particular phase of the journey through life that you are on feels like it is dull and never ending?

At the end of the service at Orchard Baptist last Sunday we were having some quiet to think about what it means that ‘God is with us‘. I don’t often pray with my eyes closed (especially when I am driving!) and as we were being still I noticed a lady come out of a Sunday school room. As she opened a cupboard door I heard her son start to cry out for his mum and I watched as she was trying to get a vacuum cleaner out of the cupboard while speaking to her son through the door saying ‘It’s okay I’m here’. Rather than being a distraction, I felt like this was the perfect illustration of what we had been learning during the morning, that God is with us!

You may feel like you are on the road to Bethlehem, and if you are I want to remind you that God is with you and that he wants to say to you ‘It’s okay I’m here’.

This is a part of a series of short thoughts for advent to help us to consider the events surrounding the birth of Jesus as we prepare ourselves for Christmas. You can look at the other advent reflections by clicking here.

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About honestaboutmyfaith

Hi, my name is Graeme and I’m married to a very patient wife. We have 4 children, 2 rabbits, a terrapin (and not a lot of peace and quiet!). I’m a Baptist Minister who is especially interested in making Church accessible to people who have no church background and also in how we disciple people in order to equip them to live out their faith in the 21st Century. I am also a member of the Eastern Baptist Association's Council with responsibility for Mission Strategy.
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