True confessions: I had not read this chapter before Sunday and in fact, missed the class entirely. So I can’t give you the benefit of any class discussions. But I figured I could touch on the highlights from the book at least. The first heading is, a Hastily Planned Wedding. It goes back to the beginning, reminding us that Mary was around 3 months along when she traveled back to her hometown of Nazareth. Joseph, having accepted the angel’s direction apparently traveled there as well and they completed the wedding ceremonies as soon as it could be arranged. No doubt the neighbors suspected there was a good reason to speed things up. According to the book, that was not unknown even in those days. I had been previously led to believe otherwise, because women were usually chaperoned. So perhaps, in addition to giving Joseph and Mary an undeserved reputation, her parents were talked about as well, for presumably failing to provide sufficient chaperones to prevent such an occurrence. The bible gives us no clue.
Normally they would then have traveled to Joseph’s home, but apparently they stayed in Nazareth, perhaps so Mary could have her mother’s support in the pregnancy. Of course, those plans went awry when the young couple were forced to return to Bethlehem at the worst time of all, the ninth month of the pregnancy. The author wonders whether Mary was at this point wondering why God was being to mean as to take her from her mother at this time. Of course this is pure conjecture, but it is how most of us respond when we are forced into difficult circumstances. The question, God why, is probably pretty universal where humans are concerned. Of course, any answer that can be found usually appears only after the fact, requiring us to practice the faith that says God can use even this, for His purposes.
Then the discussion runs to possible routes for the journey. One would cross the Jordan river and avoid Samaria, but add several days to the journey. The other is more direct, but goes through Samaria. The author thinks this was the route chosen, and that Mary and Joseph had a more charitable view of the Samaritans than many in Israel, which was formative later on for Jesus. He would later speak to the woman at the well in Samaria, and also teach about the good Samaritan. More compelling though, is that this route would touch on many of the important places in the history of the nation of Israel, which seems quite appropriate to a descendant of David and the King of kings.
Eventually the author gets to where they arrive in Bethlehem and can’t find a place to stay. He gets right into the difference in the middle eastern perspective on this. You see, they would not have gone to an inn, but to the relatives house. Now normally there was a room designated as the guest room, but apparently it was already full. In addition, the stable connected to the main house, so it wasn’t as if they were put out in some pasture, far from everyone. In fact, I have been told elsewhere that all the women of the house gathered around one giving birth, not only to assist, but also to be there if mourning was needed, since deaths in childbirth were common. It is a much more believable scenario, to me, to have Jesus born with family around, and women to assist with the birthing process, since men were ordinarily not involved at all. It’s hard to imagine how a young husband, or even an older one, would be able to deal with all of that.
The writer returns to the idea that this was a journey that Mary probably would have preferred not to make. Yet God was working in such a way that this birth fulfilled numerous old testament prophecies. He draws the parallel with our own lives. Many times we are forced into changes we don’t want or journeys we would not have chosen. But yet we are called to hope in a God who works all things together for good to those who love Him and are called to His service. Perhaps you also have a story about how He brought something good from despair and difficulty.