What I Saw on the Road to Bethlehem
Through the Eyes of One Who was There
The only reason I'm going to Bethlehem is to be counted for the census that Caesar demanded. I certainly wouldn't be going for any other reason. Why else would I travel over sixty miles of hills, swales and plains to a little town a few miles south of Jerusalem? The trip is, to say the least, inconvenient. But because I am from the House and Family of David, to Bethlehem I must go, far away from my warm home and friendly inn at Nazareth.
Clearly I am not the only one going to be counted. If Caesar says everyone must go then everyone must go. He rules us, and he knows it. And his armed guards, with their itchy aggressiveness and constant smirks, know it too. So it's a mixed crowd that surrounds me on the road: Roman and Jew, rich and poor, blind and lame, wise and stupid, honest and crooked, common folks and quasi-royalty.
Worse yet, there are Pharisees, all-knowing, ever-critical of everyone and everything; Sadducees, who deny any thought of the afterlife; Scribes and Priests, riding high on their fancy mules with obvious disdain for those traveling afoot. About the only enjoyable aspect of this trek is the huge variety of people that I can observe.
You can tell a lot by watching how people interact with one another in stressful situations such as this. Many families have brought their kids, who enjoy the opportunity to see new places and maybe make new friends, while mom and dad stare grimly straight ahead, unspeaking, wondering when they will get there, where they will stay, and how they will pay for it all.
Those are the same questions I'm asking myself as I spot an interesting young couple wending their way through the crowd. The wife sits atop a decrepit mule as her husband slowly guides the animal along. He stares straight ahead, but, unlike other husbands in the crowd, there is no sadness or anger in his gaze. Rather, he seems happy almost, content, peaceful with himself and this journey. I like him. I wish I could be more like him.
He has the look of a tradesman, hardworking, with big callused hands holding the reins. Maybe a carpenter; certainly not a lawyer or tax collector, thank goodness. We have enough of them!
Then I notice that his wife appears to be with child. That's probably why he seems so contented. It's an exciting time in a newlywed couple's life. But what an inconvenient time to be on the road! Where are they going to find a place to stay? The town is going to be full, with prices jacked up, people rude and uncaring, and dangerous strangers and strange places.
I am intrigued by the look on the young wife's face. It's blissful, almost angelic, as if she harbors some deep, rich, earth-shaking secret. She is obviously filled with love for her husband and for her unborn child. She smiles readily as some of the other travelers' children bring her flowers. She thanks them and nudges her husband to do the same. He offers a smile and a gentle pat on the head to the little ones.
I like this couple and I think I'm going to try to keep an eye on them to see how they manage this journey and what accommodations they can arrange for themselves. I'm sure the innkeepers will be understanding when they see a pregnant woman on the road. Maybe even give them a discount. If I were an innkeeper I wouldn't charge them at all.
Suddenly the thought crosses my mind that she could possibly even give birth to her child here in Bethlehem!
(Note: This is the first in a series of on-the-scene vignettes leading up to the miracle of Christmas. It is adapted from the book The Jesus Diary, by Dave Mishur, which is available on Amazon and other on-line retailers as well as directly from the publisher at xulonpress.com)