When Mary returned to Nazareth from helping Elizabeth, it was likely with a baby bump. The text doesn’t tell us exactly when she and Joseph left Nazareth for Bethlehem, but it was likely soon after she returned. The image of Madonna-great-with-child on a donkey actually comes from a second century romance novel. The real Mary walked to Bethlehem with Joseph by her side, and she probably did so in her middle trimester.
The direct route would take the family through Samaria, but that was unthinkable. Godly people did not travel there. Instead, they would have gone east, through Cana. In thirty years the child Mary carries will begin His ministry in Cana by saving a couple from the shame of running out of wine at their wedding feast. Joy and shame cannot reside together; one must banish the other. Jesus always brings joy.
The road heads south, along the Sea of Galilee. In thirty years the child inside Mary will summon fish and fishermen from this sea, calm its storms and walk on its waters. To those who make a living here, the sea is a place of fear and chaos. Joy and chaos cannot reside together. Jesus always brings joy.
The road heads west through rich fields. One day Jesus will tell the story of a man who learned of a treasure hidden in a field, so the man joyfully sold all he possessed in order to buy the field. As Joseph and Mary walk past the field, the great treasure passes hidden in her womb.
The couple passes barns full of produce. In their world, food is wealth. Jesus will tell a story about a man who tore down his barns to build bigger ones that advertise his success to the world. Spoiler alert: the story ends badly for the man. Joy and greed cannot reside together.
Closer to Bethlehem the road winds through hills full of sheep and shepherds. By now Mary would feel the baby move within her. Does He stir, knowing that His presence will cause the night sky to shred and countless angels to invade these hills? He waits, as He always does, on His Father’s will. But soon the night will erupt with glad tidings of great joy purely because He is here.
For now, He waits, and we wait with Him. We can wait knowing that all is in God’s hands. We can wait knowing all is well. In anticipation, there is joy.
Written by Dave Wahl