In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born…
Luke 2:1-6 (NIV)
“Oh,” Mary moaned softly.
Joseph anxiously turned to his wife, trailing along behind him on the back of their donkey. Her face was drawn, her eyes weary from four long days of travel.
“Do you want to walk for a while?” he asked her.
“Yes, thank you.”
Joseph held the donkey with one hand while he helped Mary to the ground with the other. Other members of their caravan of extended family plodded steadily past, anxious to make it through the gates of Bethlehem before nightfall.
“We are almost there,” he said reassuringly.
Mary nodded, smiling weakly.
Within the hour, the walls of Bethlehem appeared as a long line severing the horizon. The promise of a meal and sleeping mat in the comfort of a relative’s home cheered them and they quickened their pace.
Mary and Joseph fell into the silent rhythm of the trail, measuring the last mile of the journey one weary step at a time. At last, as the setting sun bathed Bethlehem in soft golden light, the journey was completed. In the fulfillment of thousands of years of prophecy, the long-awaited Messiah was carried through the gates of Bethlehem, sheltered in the womb of a virgin.
Steadily, Joseph led Mary through the familiar streets to the place called home to his aunts, uncles, and cousins. When he and Mary stepped into the courtyard of the family compound, relatives rushed to meet them, excitedly wrapping Joseph in their arms. One of the children took the donkey’s rope and led it to a trough of water. Mary momentarily forgot her fatigue as Joseph’s aunts joyfully caressed her burgeoning abdomen, each making their own predictions of how much longer it would be until the baby arrived.
Then, the wizened old matriarch of the family stepped forward. She placed one gentle hand on each side of Mary’s face and searched her eyes.
“Ah, daughter,” she said, sighing. “You are weary. Come, you need rest.” Then she placed an arthritic hand on Mary’s stomach and nodded solemnly. “It won’t be long now, my child.”
Mary glanced back over her shoulder to Joseph as she was led to the comfort of a good meal and a soft sleeping mat. She found him smiling at her, the relief evident on his face. She was in good hands.
That night after the evening meal, Mary and Joseph’s sleeping mats were joined with the others that lined the main living room of a relative’s home since the kataluma*, the guest room of the home, was full. Immediately, Mary fell into an exhausted sleep. Joseph, though weary, lay awake lost in dark thoughts of the census report. It represented so much to Israel, little of it comforting. What kind of world would Jesus grow up in? How would the brutal rule of Rome mark His life?
Joseph sighed in resignation. There was so little within his control. But for tonight, Mary and the baby were safe. His wife would not give birth on the side of the road but in the care of his family. Kind and experienced women would help the baby into the world.
And with that comforting assurance, Joseph finally surrendered to sleep.
*Kataluma has been inaccurately translated as “inn” in some translations of the Bible. A kataluma was the traditional guest room of a home in first-century Palestine. Since everyone was returning to their ancestral homes, this room was understandably full when Mary and Joseph arrived at his family’s home in Bethlehem. More recent translations of the Bible (see the 2011 New International Version) have corrected this error.
As written by Sherri Gragg in Advent: The Story of Christmas. Connect with Sherri on Instagram and her website.
Advent: The Story of Christmas traces God’s ribbon of redemption – from Eden to Jerusalem – through thirty-one biblical stories. Sherri Gragg’s unique storytelling, infused with cultural accuracy and color, has been described as “Bible stories for adults.”
Her narrative style offers a fresh perspective on the lives of God’s people, both ancient and modern. Advent: The Story of Christmas will enrich personal devotional time during the seasons of Advent and Christmas.
Today marks the third Sunday in the season of Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas Day. Join us here at (in)courage each Sunday during these weeks as we share excerpts from this beautiful book, learn more about Jesus, and count down to Christmas, together.
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