I’m sure it’s a long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem when you’re walking. It’s only a little over 100 km, but, back in the day, there’d only be a dusty dirt road made by the caravans and soldiers who travelled the route. It sure would have felt long. Even more so, if you’re pregnant. It would be nice to think riding a donkey would help, but you’d probably be more comfortable walking. Let the donkey carry the luggage over this bumpy, uneven terrain.
Even getting this far was quite the journey. When you’re expecting to begin married life quietly, in a relatively unknown corner of Judea, and suddenly there’s an angel and things change, well, Mary would have had a lot on her mind. Joseph, too. Carpentry was a good trade, but it didn’t make a lot of money and he wasn’t expecting an instant family or the Roman census that demanded they travel. It wasn’t good timing.
Then there was the whole child of God thing. That’s a lot of pressure, a lot of expectations, a lot of - well, who knows what? Who knows where that’s going? But let’s get to Bethlehem and find somewhere to have the baby. We just need to get to Bethlehem.
For shepherds, minding their flocks outside of town, the geographical distance to find the baby wasn’t that far to travel. But the social one was. Shepherds were the lowest of the low in society back then, but that night, they felt like royalty. Angels told them the best news and sent them to find Mary and Joseph and the child lying in the manger. No one would believe we were worthy, they might have thought, we just need to get to Bethlehem.
But if you’re looking for a long, complicated journey, the magi certainly fit the bill. From far to the east, magi followed a sign, a star, they believed would lead them to the Promised One, a new king that would change everything. Sure, as wise astronomers, they knew what they were doing, tracking the star and figuring out a route, and maybe they had camels and were reasonably well off. But they still had distance and Herod to contend with. I don’t imagine the current king was comfortable with their arrival looking for the new one. And I doubt a child of poor parents in a tiny town in the backend of the Roman empire was what they were expecting to find. I’m sure they were glad to reach their destination, to finally get to Bethlehem.
That’s just it, though. Bethlehem isn’t the destination. It’s not the end of the journey, it’s the beginning. Not just for Jesus, but for all of us.
It was the beginning of a new family. Perhaps Mary and Joseph were anxious about what might be ahead for their new son. But I hope they also knew the joy of a newborn and were filled with hope for the future.
For the shepherds, they might have felt the beginning of a new sense of wonder and well being. They were chosen to be the first to hear the news. At the very least, they would have been filled with hope for the future.
And the magi went home having found what they sought. They didn’t just escape Herod, they stepped boldly into the hope of a promise fulfilled.
Come to the manger this Christmas. Perhaps you’ll find not the end of a journey, but the beginning of one.