Saturday, December 20, 2014
Mary’s Journey: On the Road to Bethlehem
On Mary’s arduous trip to Bethlehem, she was ready to deliver at any moment, fearing that her water might break with each bump in the road, with each plodding step of the donkey (Luke 2:4-6). Yet her journey began long before, and ended long after, with God leading her every step of the way (Psalm 37:23).
With God there are no accidents and no surprises (Romans 8:28-30). From the beginning of time, He had chosen Mary for the awesome privilege, yet tremendous challenge, of carrying, delivering, and raising His Son. He knew that even though she was a young virgin (Luke 1:27,34), she would humbly and willingly accept this mission (Luke 1:38,48), giving glory only to Him (Luke 1:46-55).
Her family would be from the line of David (Luke 3:23-38) in keeping with the prophecy that the Messiah would rule eternally over the throne of David (Isaiah 9:7; 2 Samuel 7:12-13). But she was also related to Elisabeth, who hailed from the priestly line of Aaron (Luke 1:5) – a fitting ancestry for One Who would be our great High Priest (Hebrews 5:5-6).
Mary would be born into a devout family so that she would have knowledge of Scripture even without formal education, as evidenced by her song of praise (Luke 1:46-55) mirroring that of Hannah when God answered her prayer to have a son (1 Samuel 2:1-9).
Her social circle would include Joseph, so that the young couple could fall in love and become engaged (Luke 1:27). Joseph was also handpicked by God to raise and protect Jesus and his mother, and he too was of the line and house of David (Matthew 1:1-16). Like Mary, David was of humble means and yet had great faith in God and willingness to serve and obey Him.
Once the angel Gabriel appeared to the virgin Mary with the astounding news that the Holy Spirit would conceive the Son of God within her womb, Mary did not falter (Luke 1:26-38). Her faith far exceeded that of Zacharias, who, despite his maturity and status as high priest, doubted the news that his elderly, barren wife Elizabeth would give birth to John the Baptist (Luke 1:13-18).
Unlike Zacharias, Mary did not demand proof that what Gabriel said was true. Instead, she offered herself willingly as the handmaiden of the Lord (Luke 1:38,48). No doubt menacing shadows darkened the path before her, as she wondered if she should run away.
Would Joseph reject her (Matthew 1:29), her family despise her, her village ridicule her, and would she even be stoned to death? (John 8:4-5) But the light of God’s Word (Psalm 119:105), delivered through the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah and personally by Gabriel (Luke 1:26-38), illuminated her dangerous, difficult journey.
First, alone and pregnant, she would travel “with haste” to a city of Juda in the hill country, to visit her cousin Elisabeth (Luke 1:39-40). That would be a long trip under the best of circumstances, and particularly for a young woman dealing with morning sickness. But God rewarded her perseverance with the joy she shared with Elizabeth and John the Baptist, as all were filled with the Holy Spirit. John leaped for joy in Elizabeth’s womb; Elizabeth knew through the Spirit that Mary was carrying the Son of God; and Mary sang a hymn of praise (Luke 1:41-56).
Mary needed that confirmation from God as she set out three months later (Luke 1: 56).on her long journey home. By now she would be starting to show – how would Joseph, her family, and her village react to what they would naturally assume was proof of her infidelity? But God would pave the way, sending His angel to Joseph in a dream, telling him that Mary was carrying His Son and that he should marry her as planned (Matthew 1:18-24).
God even used pagans to work out the details of Mary’s journey. When Caesar commanded everyone to return to the city of their lineage to be taxed, Joseph and Mary would have to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the city of the lineage of David (Luke 2:1-6). Mary would deliver there, fulfilling the prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2; John 7:40-42).
Caesar’s decree meant that Mary would journey by donkey, for that is a reasonable assumption given the limited transportation options in that day for an 85-mile trip along a rocky, hilly road. She would not have been able to walk that distance, and riding side saddle while at full term (Luke 2:5) was probably not much better.
But thanks to God, Mary had a devoted and loving protector in Joseph, and without him, that journey would have been impossible. He put her needs and those of the unborn Child ahead of his own, refraining from marital relations until after Jesus was born (Matthew 1:25).
No doubt Joseph eased Mary along the painful path to Bethlehem and fought off wild animals or bandits who may have threatened them. He encouraged her to hang on just a little longer, and searched tirelessly for shelter once they arrived in the crowded city, where there was no room for them at the inn (Luke 2:7). A stable was probably the last place either of them envisioned that Mary would deliver the Son of God.
Or did Mary know that the stable was God’s predetermined, perfect destination (Isaiah 55:9) for this miraculous, paradigm-shifting event? Or did she trust Joseph’s decision to accept this poor accommodation, or was it just desperation as her labor pains demanded she give birth right away?
Thankfully, that phase of Mary’s journey finally ended with the precious, long-awaited sound of her Newborn’s cry, with her cuddling, nursing and gazing with adoration at the Son of God, her Saviour (Luke 1:46-47). She wrapped Him in swaddling clothes (Luke 2:7), symbolizing His future burial as He came to die as the perfect sacrifice to reconcile sinful man to Holy God (Romans 5:10; Ephesians 2:16). She laid Him in a manger (Luke 2:7) among the animals, this lowly beginning representing His first coming as a humble Servant (Philippians 2:5-8).
As always, God was faithful to lavish blessings and confirmation on His handmaiden, as the shepherds told Mary of the angel’s Good News that her Infant was the Saviour, Christ the Lord (Luke 2:8-18). They told her of the glory of the Lord that shone around them, and the angelic multitude praising and glorifying God for the peace and goodwill He had brought to the world. And Mary thought long and hard on these things, wondering at the new direction of her own life and perhaps even at the changed destiny of the whole world (Luke 2:18).
But God had made a Way (John 14:6) between His holiness and man’s sin where there was no way (Isaiah 40:3). And Mary’s journey had only just begun, as we shall see next week! May we have the humility and faith of Mary, trusting God each step of the way!
© 2014 Laurie Collett