How did Mary get to Bethlehem? If you get your history from Christmas cards, you might think she rode a donkey. But it is unlikely that Joseph owned a donkey. How do we know? Because he was poor – he brought a poor man’s offering of two doves when they presented baby Jesus in the temple (see Lu 2:24 and Lev 5:7). In those days, a donkey was such a treasured possession, that the coveting of one was expressly forbidden in the 10 Commandments:
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey… (Exo 20:17)
Joseph could not afford either a decent place to stay or a lamb for the sacrifice, so the odds are that he didn’t own a donkey. So how did Mary travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a distance of about 80 miles? She probably walked.
Right there all the mothers reading this just winced. She walked 80 miles pregnant? Seriously? Trust a man to leave an important detail like that out of his account. To be fair to Luke and the other gospel writers, we don’t know exactly how Mary got to Bethlehem. But I have a theory – a Christmas tale if you like. It begins with some good news…
The Gospel of Gabriel
Mary’s life was radically changed when an angel uttered the following words to her:
Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you. (Lu 1:28)
At first Mary was troubled. I wouldn’t say it was disbelief so much as sheer incomprehension. “How can this be?” The favor of God is mind-boggling. Our minds cannot explain it. Happily, you don’t need to explain it to receive it. You just have to believe and Mary did. “May it be to me as you have said.” Boom – right there is faith. The grace-faith circuit complete, favor now begins to flow from heaven to Mary. Then the angel left.
Did you know that only two people in the Bible were regarded as highly favored? One of them is Mary, the other one is you. “He made us accepted (literally, highly favored) in the Beloved” (Eph 1:6). To the degree that Mary was favored, so are you. It’s perfectly fine to put Mary on a favor pedestal, as long as you put yourself right up there too. In Christ, we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing (Eph 1:3).
It is significant that the angel did not leave right after he made his announcement. He waited until Mary had responded in faith. God’s favor was on her but she needed to believe it to receive it. So do you and I. We need to cultivate the habit of seeing ourselves as God sees us – highly favored and deeply loved.
Mary’s mystery marathon
So how did Mary get to Bethlehem? I can’t prove it, but I suspect a miracle took place. Perhaps it was something like what God did when He brought the Israelites out of slavery:
You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. (Exo 19:4)
No, I don’t think Mary and Joseph hitched a ride on real eagles – this isn’t The Lord of the Rings. When God says He carried them on eagle’s wings He’s saying I brought you to myself swiftly and easily. My hunch is that Mary and Joseph walked effortlessly and without trouble. They journeyed under a Middle Eastern sun without fainting or growing weary because God “gives power to the weak” (Is 40:29). When it came time to deliver history’s most famous baby, Mary wasn’t worn out from completing back-to-back marathons. She was full of abundant life and the picture of health. At least that’s how she looks on the Christmas cards.
Bethlehem means “the house of bread.” At the house of bread Mary and Joseph came face-to-face with the Bread of Life. So in a sense, God had brought them to Himself for it was in Bethlehem that they first laid eyes on their Savior Jesus.
What relevance does Mary’s journey have for us today? Mary’s journey is the same journey you made when you got saved. When you got born again, you walked on Mary’s Trail. Think about it. Some “angel” told you the good news of God’s favor, you wondered “how can this be?” and then after a period of time you came face to face with the Bread of Life. You met Jesus and got born again. Like Mary, you may have travelled a long road, but the journey itself was miraculous. Egypt is in your past because God brought you to Himself on eagle’s wings.
Christmas is not just the time when we celebrate Jesus’ arrival into the world. It’s also the time when we celebrate His arrival into our private world. Grace came 2000 years ago but it meant nothing until the day we believed it and got born again. So in a way, it’s not just His birthday we’re celebrating, it’s our birthday too.
This Christmas, as much of the world gathers around the manger in adoration, take a moment to reflect on your own journey to the House of Bread. Jesus is the reason for the season but ask yourself this: Why did He come? He came to save you. In His eyes you are the pearl of great price and the treasure in the field. As far as Jesus is concerned, you are the reason for the season.
You are highly favored and deeply loved! Oh Happy Day! Oh Happy Christmas!