Luke 2:1-5 (NLT)
At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.
The saying goes that pregnancy is a binary state: You either are or are not pregnant.
While this is technically true, it doesn’t capture the reality of the maternal situation. Ask any woman who is currently or has ever been pregnant and I suspect you will get the same answer. A woman who is in the first week of pregnancy is unlikely to even know that she is carrying a child. However, a woman who is a week over her due date will have a different opinion entirely!
The Bible doesn’t paint an adequate picture of the pregnant Mary, but it’s easy to imagine a young woman with her hand on her lower back as she waddles into the barn, her other hand held tightly by Joseph who offers support over those last few yards of travel. The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem hadn’t been easy or fast. Traversing nearly 90-miles, the trip would have taken possibly two or more weeks. Finding a soft pile of hay to land in would not have been the worst option for Mary when they finally wrapped up the excursion.
Mary was obviously pregnant but Luke goes out of his way to tell us very little about her condition, and yet makes sure that we know that the couple is still engaged. This leads one to imagine any number of awkward encounters they may have experienced along the way.
For instance, when Joseph finally finds a cattle stall to rent, how did he introduce himself? “Hi. I’m Joseph and this is my soon-to-be wife, Mary” as she stood beside him rubbing her protruding belly, “We’re looking for a manger.”
When he appeared before the Romans for the census, did he provide a little back-story to better explain the holy situation, as Mary sat in a chair massaging her swollen ankles? Did he bring up the angelic visits to add credibility to the tale?
Luke leaves a lot to the imagination. The Bible fails to give us the entire picture. But we do know one very important detail. Joseph and Mary were together on the journey. How much easier would it have been for her to stay home, have the baby in the comfort of her own bed, surrounded by qualified midwives, family and friends? How much safer would it have been to chose that course of action? Wouldn’t it have been more discreet if Mary had stayed home?
I suspect that the reason they were together in Bethlehem, despite Mary’s obvious pending delivery and their unwed status, is that they shared a common knowledge. They both understood that this was no normal pregnancy. This was not a common child. No one at home believed, much less understood the story. Only the two of them had witnessed the angels. Only the two of them had heard the message. They alone knew the value of this maternal cargo and because of that, they were in this thing together.
As difficult as it might be to explain to others, as awkward as the situation might be along the journey, Mary and Joseph knew that their baby was the Son of God and they were not ashamed. They would not hide the truth for the sake of convenience.
Forgive us when we are ashamed of your Son, embarrassed by the story.
Give us confidence to believe and boldness to proclaim.