The Christmas Journey to Bethlehem

The distance “as the crow flies” from Nazareth to Bethlehem is about 70 miles. Under normal circumstances, without too many winding roads or rough spots to traverse, people might well have been able to travel (on foot or by donkey) about 20 miles a day, for a total one-way trip of perhaps four days. However, keep in mind several factors that might have made this particular journey last longer.

First, the land of Samaria lay along the most direct route between Nazareth and Bethlehem, and in Jesus’ day, there was considerable hostility between Jews and Samaritans. Even if, as we can assume, Mary and Joseph bore no animosity toward Samaritans, it would have been difficult and even dangerous for them to travel through that country. They might have been harassed and would almost certainly have been refused lodging, just as Jesus and His disciples were treated some years later (see Luke 9:51-56).

Surely Joseph would have sought to protect his wife, and the Child she carried, from such a threat. So, as was common among the Jews of the day, the holy couple would probably have journeyed far off the “direct” route to avoid Samaria, taking a detour from Galilee across the Jordan River and then back again into Judea farther south. That would have added many miles, and several days, to the journey.

Second, remember that Mary was close to the end of her pregnancy. No doubt they had to travel much more slowly than normal to avoid excessive discomfort for her and risks to the health of both mother and Child.

The most direct way would be over the mountains, that would be rough and stony; up one mountain, down another, and around the next mountain, nearly all the way the line of travel from Nazareth would be to go over the steep hill on the south of their village and follow a well-trodden way down to the river Jordan. There would be a very good road built by the Romans, straight down the Jordan valley, with mountains on either side.

This would follow about 60 miles until they came to Jericho. There they might have rested for a few days and then climb the steep path up the mountains to Jerusalem. The Jericho road was a hiding place for robbers, and it was never safe for anyone to travel it alone. But in a large company, with many men, and often a guard of soldiers for the travelers they did not need to fear. They would easily reach Jerusalem in a week or ten days after leaving Nazareth, and might make the journey in five days if they were in haste

Mary knew that she was to have a son, and the time for his coming with near at hand. She knew, too, that her child should be the son of David and the king of Israel, that he was to sit on David’s throne. She wished him to be born not in the village of Nazareth in Galilee, but in David’s own town of Bethlehem. He was to spring from the royal line, and she was willing to endure a hard, trying journey, and even to suffer, that her son might come from the Royal city would David lived. Mary had read the books of the Old Testament, and she knew that in those books it had been written by the prophets, to whom God had spoken, that this king, whom they called Messiah or Christ, should be born in Bethlehem.

So, Joseph locked up his carpenter shop and set his wife upon an ass, and with his staff walked beside her, over the mountain and down the valley to the river Jordan, and following the river, over the Roman road, the same long road that Mary had taken in the caravan of pilgrims some months before to visit her relative Elizabeth.  Joseph had been over that road many times, going up every year to the feast of Jerusalem, so that he knew all the places which they pass, and could tell Mary stories of their people and the great events which had taken place on the mountains or in the cities as they came into view on their journey.

They stopped at Jericho, near the head of the Dead Sea, and there turned westward, climbing the mountain over the robber- haunted road, and reaching Jerusalem. Perhaps rested day or two in this city and then went over to the Mount of Olives, past the village of Bethany; and 6 miles south of Jerusalem they entered the gate of Bethlehem.

At last Joseph learned of a place where they might stay through the night and for a few days in Bethlehem. It was only a cave, hollowed out in the hillside, used as a stable for cattle; but miserable as it was, Mary was glad to lie down upon the straw to rest. And in that cave stable Mary’s child was born. She wrapped her little baby in such clothes as she could find at hand, and laid him for his first sleep in the manger where the oxen had fed. This was a lowly cradle of the son of David, the king who was to rule over all the earth!

Given these factors, the one-way trip may have taken a week or ten days, and perhaps much longer.

It is beyond understanding by any human mind that God, creator of all that we know and have, invested himself in human flesh that night. That night he entered into the history of mankind to change it forever so that all who would ask could have their sins forgiven by his death on the cross. Will you this Christmas asked Jesus to come into your heart, forgive you of your sins, and help you to live a godly life and honor to him?

                                                                                         Text added to other writings

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