The “Second Week”: Week Twelve/Session One.
Theme: The Birth of Jesus.
Our reading for today: Luke 2: 1-7.
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. While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel. (Luke 2: 1-7 MsgB)
Ignatius recommends that you and I spend this week using our imagination, asking the Holy Spirit to illuminate for us the holy events that surrounded the physical birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus of Nazareth. Using his words:
Recall how Our Lady, pregnant almost nine months and, as we may piously meditate, seated on an ass, together with Joseph and a servant girl leading an ox, set forth from Nazareth to go to Bethlehem and pay tribute which Caesar has imposed on all those lands. (SE111)
(Imagine) the place. Here it will be to see in imagination the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Consider its length and breadth, whether it is level or winds through valleys and hills. (SE112)
Behold and consider what they are doing; for example, journeying and toiling, in order that the Lord may be born in greatest poverty; and that after so many hardships of hunger, thirst, heat, cold, injuries, and insults, He may die on the cross! And all this for me! (SE116)
Author D. Kelly Ogden, in his December 1995 publication, The Road to Bethlehem, wrote this about Mary and Joseph’s nearly 100-mile journey from Nazareth in the north to Bethlehem in the south (see map above).
They (Joseph and Mary) would probably have made the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem by one of two routes. One would have taken them south across the Jezreel Valley, then through the hills of Samaria into Judaea. This is the more direct route in straight-line distance—but there are two reasons it probably was not the way Joseph and Mary went: It is physically demanding, with constant ups and downs through the hills—and it took the traveler directly through Samaritan country, and “the Jews [had] no dealings with the Samaritans” (John 4:9).
The other possible route is the one Joseph and Mary more likely traveled. It would have taken them southeast across the Jezreel Valley, connecting with the Jordan Valley, then level or slightly down in elevation all the way to Jericho, then up through the Judaean Desert to Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
To discover for myself what each of the routes would have been like, I have walked both of them. Both routes are about ninety-two miles long. Normal walking pace, even with a camel or donkey, is three miles per hour. So a traveler can usually walk between seventeen and twenty-four miles each day. Each route took me about thirty hours to walk—seventeen to twenty miles a day for five days.
At that rate, the journey would have taken Joseph and Mary at least four to five days. We wonder where they stayed each night, where and with whom they camped along the way. It would have been a wearying journey for anyone, but especially for a pregnant woman soon to give birth. It was early spring, which can still be very chilly at night in the hill country. However, in the Jordan Valley—which is below sea level—the temperatures would have been mild and pleasant. The last leg of the eastern route would have been the hardest of all. Jericho is the lowest city on the globe, and Jerusalem and Bethlehem are situated right in the top of the hills. From Jericho’s desert to Bethlehem is an uphill hike of 3,500 feet. How exhausted Mary must have been! How anxious Joseph must have been to find a comfortable room at the inn! Desperate to find adequate shelter, they may have resorted at last to a limestone cave used for a stable.
They say the longest journey begins with the very first step. I wonder what thoughts were on the minds of Mary and Joseph as they took that first step out of their hometown on their way toward Jerusalem, and then at last, Bethlehem, just south of the holy city.
Now, keep in mind, that this trip was one that every good Jew would joyfully make on a regular basis to celebrate the High Feast Days at the Temple. But this journey, for Mary and Joseph, could not have been one of happiness and celebration! This trip, you see, was an interruption that cost the Holy Couple greatly. This trip was imposed by a foreign tyrant (Caesar), who was demanding of his subjects a great amount of time, energies, and resources. For Joseph, it meant closing up his carpentry business for at least two weeks, plus endangering the life of his expectant wife and soon-to-be-born child.
No. This was no joy ride for this young couple, but a strenuous and laborious journey that interrupted everything and everyone involved. And all this, as Ignatius reminds us, for you and me. All this work, all this interruption, just so God’s Word would be fulfilled to the finest detail.
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 of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2 NIV)
Let me ponder this amazing work of God, thanking Mary and Joseph, for their strenuous contributions which eventually led to their first-born son dying on the cross, resulting in the salvation of my soul for all time.
My prayer: Thank You Father God, for showing me how much work went into the life of Your Son, Jesus of Nazareth. For Mary and Joseph, the cost was tremendous. For them, there was little joy in the birthing process of Your work of salvation. So, for their name’s sake, I stop and ponder their journey, gaining much from this moment of contemplation. For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: So what interruptions, inconveniences, and downright troubles have befallen me as I journey along the way with Jesus? Am I allowing those hard things to stop me, or to make me turn back? Or am I willing, like Mary and Joseph, to keep going forward, trekking my way to the place of Holy blessing, where God and me finally meet, face to face?
So what is God speaking to you today as we ponder together The Ignatian Adventure?
Over an eight month period, you and I will be working our way through the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. For more information on our journey and how to begin…click here!
To go onto the next journal entry…click here.
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