Luke 2:1-5 (MSG)
The Birth of Jesus
‘About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant.’
Had to - Mary and Joseph had to travel. We could spend time arguing about the validity of the translation but none of the translations suggest that the couple had run out of things to do locally. They didn’t want a little distraction from daily life. As far as I’m aware it wasn’t a ‘get rich quick’ scam. You wouldn’t choose to travel such a journey with a pregnant fiancée. They were compelled there wasn’t any other option.
The direct distance is around 70 miles. The shortest route was scenic, hilly arduous, across lands dominated by hostile people. Bandits would have been a constant threat, as would have been wild animals. Overnight accommodation would have been difficult to find. Scholars think that the safer and more comfortable route would have taken the travellers anywhere between 4 and 10 days and would have been around 90 miles.
There is no mention of a donkey. Richer families may have owned horses or chariots. Poorer families would have travelled by foot. As a tradesman, Joseph may have had use of a donkey to transport tools and materials around. (Did it have a sticker saying no tools left on this vehicle overnight?) There are two varieties of donkeys: those that can be ridden, and those that are used as pack animals. I’m not sure which would be worse - walking alongside, or bumping along on perhaps an unpredictable and unreliable vehicle.
Many people have left their place of belonging because they had to. They didn’t want to. It wasn’t a choice. Coming here was a perilous journey. It was physically and mentally uncomfortable. Making the decision to leave loved ones was difficult. But for many there is no choice.
- When was the last time you had to do something?
- What is the most difficult journey you have had to undertake?
- What is more difficult- saying goodbye to loved ones and leaving, or saying goodbye to loved ones who are leaving?