Her body felt clumsy. Awkward. It was hard to tell how much longer it would be for her, but she knew she had no choice but to continue packing for the long, hard trip ahead. She was young, but already so tired. It wasn’t easy living according to the plan that had been laid out in front of her, but she knew it was her destiny. God had placed her in this very moment and she was determined to carry out her mission to its end.
What would she need? Definitely a change of clothes. It would have been nice to have another, more comfortable pair of sandals, but the ones she had would have to make do. She had plenty of cloths for her feet for added cushion as long as they stayed dry. Her fiancé would be here any moment, so she knew she had to hurry while she made sure she had absolutely everything necessary. How long would they be gone? Better plan for at least a month. That way, whatever they needed to do to could be done with enough time and no one would worry.
Her family had been more than understanding, once she and Joseph had explained everything. Her older cousin, Elizabeth, had been there emotionally to back them up since she had just received her own divine mission from God and was now the new mother of her own miracle baby, John. Her experience and testimony gave everyone else in the family the ability to believe that Mary’s story wasn’t so far-fetched and they became very supportive. They knew God’s hand was in this and they were not about to defy what they believed to be a divine mission. It was Joseph, who from the beginning, had doubts. But then, he experienced the same knowing that she had, once the full situation had been revealed by God’s Messengers. It was almost too much to believe, and yet, the two of them stood together in the faith they had been taught from early childhood.
But now, this trip. It was obviously in the plan, or God wouldn’t have allowed it. Pregnancy was hard enough, but to make a 70 mile trip on foot during her last months, not knowing when her time would come, was a little overwhelming. Better take a few extra cloths, just in case. Luckily, Joseph had a donkey. Perhaps she could ride for a few miles, but that was doubtful. The animal was in charge of carrying their load and would probably not be able to withstand the extra weight for such a journey.
She heard a commotion outside. He was here. Mother greeted him at the door and came for her. “I’m ready,” she told her mother.
She stepped outside. It was a bright day already, even though it was still early morning. She handed her knapsack of clothing to Joseph and reached for her mother. The hug was long and comforting. “I have packed bread for you both. I hope it is enough”, her mother offered. Mary reached for the basket once she released her mother from their embrace.
“Thank you,” she said softly as she took one more wistful glance at the home that had been hers until today. This was the end of her past and waiting outside was her future. She turned and took the first step.
They spoke little to start. There were many others on the same journey, some going where they were, and others diverting towards different parts, each going to their home towns to fulfill the order to register in the census. It wasn’t unpleasant altogether, but it was a little tiring. She found several women who, after they gave her questioning looks since they knew she and Joseph were not yet married, were kind to her. They offered small pieces of advice to keep her spirits up for the upcoming birth.
Joseph did not engage in conversation with them, but held his donkey in pace with himself, urging Mary to keep up, while knowing she could not. He deliberately slowed so she would not feel abandoned, but was a little frustrated that they were losing daylight and had not advanced as far as he had hoped the first day. The journey itself was a challenge, but the surrounding circumstances with the baby, the prophecy and their uncertain future was more than frightening at times. If God could trust them with His Child, then he needed to make absolutely sure that he did everything that was required of him. That meant keeping Mary and the Child safe.
The sun was setting. Mary was walking slower, but never complaining. Joseph knew it was time to stop and rest. Perhaps if they rose earlier in the morning, they would make better progress tomorrow. He found a place off the road and made her a small bed, just a blanket really, but hopefully comfortable. They took some bread from the basket and gave thanks for the food. Very shortly afterward, Mary was wrapped up in her simlāh sound asleep.
And so it went, day after day, trudging along the road, nomads for a time, on their way towards destiny. It took a week before they arrived in Bethlehem. It was later than Joseph had hoped and the sun was setting. Mary’s ankles were swollen and she was weak. Joseph handed her the rope holding his donkey and found a place for her to sit. He took the rope from her and tied the donkey to a hitching post near her and said,” Wait here. I will find a place for us to sleep.”
It was cold. Mary wrapped herself tight in her shawl and rubbed her ankles. Her feet were blistered and cracked. Thankfully, she had no open wounds which she attributed to God protecting her from even more pain. Her belly was rotund and she knew getting up again was going to be difficult. She was so tired, but Joseph had never left her side. She knew he worried about her but he never spoke of it. He remained alert to her every sound but only strengthened her emotionally with his gentle touch on her shoulder as they had journeyed. She knew he had plans for his life. He was such an excellent carpenter and people from all over had commissioned him to make suitable tables and chairs for their fancy homes. He was prosperous in his business, even though they didn’t have much to show for it. She was grateful to have him with her and again, attributed it to God providing for her.
She was fighting sleep when she saw a figure approaching. It was Joseph. She hoisted herself up and prepared her face to smile when he could see her. When he was close enough, she could see he was not happy.
“There is a stable near the end of town where the innkeeper said we could put our donkey.” He announced. He said nothing more but took the rope from the hitching post and offered his other hand to Mary. They walked in silence until they came to a large opening of what appeared to be a cave. This was the stable he spoke of.
He took the lamp from Mary’s hand and walked inside with the donkey. Mary stood still, not knowing if he needed her help. Then he called to her, so she entered.
There were poles lining the deep cavern with hitching posts attached, most with ropes tied tightly holding donkeys. Towards the other end were two corral looking areas, one filled with several sheep but the other was only filled with hay bales and pails. Joseph tied his donkey to a post nearest the empty corral and then looked at Mary.
“This is where we will stay until I can find a more suitable place while we are here. The innkeeper told me they have no room.” He said apologetically. “There is a well outside where we can draw water and he gave me some fresh bread he had left over.”
Mary, determined not to look disappointed, gave him a weak smile. She was so tired. At this moment, she was grateful to see the hay in the corner where they might actually have a softer cushion for sleep. She began to work; preparing their blanket on some hay she spread on the small floor space and then she reached for his bundle of bread. After he sat down, she gave him half the bread and took a bite of her own. No, she was not disappointed. She was happy. Happy to be sitting finally, knowing she would not have to journey again tomorrow, and happy to be under shelter, out of the wind. The smells were not unfamiliar to her and for the most part not very offensive. After all, each animal in this cavern provided heat from their bodies which promoted more warmth for her. She was grateful and attributed it to God keeping her from the questioning stares and whispers of strangers who assumed to know anything about her and her husband-to-be.