Mary travelled 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 resulted in Mary foing into labour before arriving in Bethlehem.
I recently came across this painting by Fritz von Uhde which had the original title of ‘Journey to Bethlehem’.
I must confess that I struggle with a lot of nativity imagery. I can’t stand the way that this shocking, real 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 with an exhausted Mary and Joseph struggling down the road to Bethlehem. The picture is bleak and it speaks to me of what their journey must have felt like and it also is a reminder of how our journey through life can feel.
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, that 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 never ending?
A few years ago, at the end of a service, we had paused 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 someone come out of a Sunday school room. As she opened a cupboard door I heard her son start to cry out for her 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.