21st December 2022

The Road to Bethlehem

The Road to Bethlehem was well travelled the first Christmas: Roman law required people to return to their town of origin to register so that accurate records could facilitate the collecting of taxes. Amongst them were Joseph and his pregnant partner who had to travel the 90 miles, or four-day journey, from Nazareth in Galilee, a region held in low regard by the Pharisees because of non-Jewish settlements in the region, whilst even Nathanael, a future disciple sceptically asked, ‘Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?’ – all very hypocritical given the daily compromises made by the Jerusalem elite with the Roman authorities. Mary and Joseph as late arrivals could not find any accommodation, no complaints here from the hospitality industry. So Mary and Joseph settled for the night in a friendly stable which was where the Son of God was born.

Soon there were more feet on the Bethlehem road – first the shepherds from the immediate locality, often poor and of rough appearance, and not well regarded by Israel’s religious leaders because their livelihood made them irregular attenders at the synagogue, sent to Bethlehem by an angel. By contrast the road to Bethlehem also witnessed the coming of wise men from the East. For them there had been no prophetic preparation; far distant from Hebrew culture, God had set his star in their pagan heavens and given them the insight that following the star would bring them to the birth of a king. Things only went wrong when using human intelligence they made enquiries of the authorities in Jerusalem. The king asked them to share with him the fruits of their pilgrimage so he too could become a worshipper, but his feet were not to be found on the Bethlehem road. Rather, in due time, the rhythm of Herod’s soldiers were marching there, intent by his instructions on a mission of unholy destruction.

Another piece could be written on the road from Bethlehem – first were the shepherds returning to their sheep praising and glorifying God, then the wise men who were wise enough not to return to Jerusalem, whilst Joseph, to protect his family took the road south into Egypt, but there were other parents who were lamenting the loss of sons whose only journey was to an untimely grave.

John Briggs