The Road to Bethlehem

“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.” [Luke 2:4&5]

The Sunday School stories and pictures and the Bible story movies probably do a disservice to tourists and pilgrims visiting the “Holy Land” because they don’t show the gas stations with stop and go coffee and snack shops, and there are no Mc Donald’s or Mc David’s along the way. Visiting the “Holy Land” it is very difficult to get beneath all the religious tourist/pilgrim hype, with layers upon layers upon layers of churches and tradition, some of which may have some authenticity and others of which are pure tourist hype.

Nazareth to Bethlehem is something like 90 miles or 145 km through Samaria, certainly not an easy trip for a pregnant gal riding on a donkey.

If you close your eyes as the tour bus rolls along the highway, you can almost imagine a film crew finding a vacant hill on which to film Mary and Joseph making their way from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

And since once you are out away from the cities, you still sometimes see shepherds out on the hills with flocks of sheep or goats.

Why Bethlehem?

First, it was the law.

“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 his own town to register.” [Luke 2:1-3]

Second, it was the prophets. Joseph of course was “of the house and line of David”, so he and his engaged wife went to the City of David, Bethlehem. So you will notice in the Gospels that there is a lot of emphasis on the lineage of both Joseph, the step father of Jesus, and Mary, the mother of Jesus. Although those passages are rather boring and tongue -twisting to read, it is important to establish that Jesus is of the line of King David because of the words of the Old Testament prophets. For Christians Jesus IS the Messiah promised in the Old Testament book of Micah.

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient times . . . He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God, and they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace.” [Micah 5:2 & 4,5]

I personally think it is tough for a Christian to visit the Holy Land with all of its crass commercialism. But if you look through all the clutter and kitsch, I believe you can still find what it is you are looking for. Over the past several months as we’ve taken cruise passengers to visit Israel and I’ve attempted to prepare them for the experience, I have found this poem by a Dutchman named Hank Bouma to be helpful:

Everything here
Makes you think

Sometimes makes you hope
Sometimes makes you sing
Sometimes makes you despair
Sometimes makes you stop talking
And be very quiet

What do I look for here
God knows

In some way
I need to come
To terms with myself
And get it together

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