Continuing our examination (which begins here) of chapter five of Go to Joseph we now begin to take examine preparation for the trip to Bethlehem. Of course, that is of no immediate interest for contemplation if we do not also consider the spiritual side as well, which is thoughtfully brought up here. I especially like the link to Israel's history and Jesus' heritage which is brought up in the footnote. That was both a surprise and good food for thought for me personally in terms of considering Jesus' journeys. As a detail-oriented planner by nature, the idea of Joseph's pains to consider everything needed on a practical basis appeals to me also and makes me relate to him personally.
The route of the journey was probably the same as that taken in the Visitation, which Luke tells us was through the hill country known as the shephelah, a geographical backbone down the center is Israel.ii The other routes were safe and more level, but this was the more direct route, and significantly, it was trodden by the feet of countless pious pilgrims going up to Jerusalem for the great Temple feasts. This distance to Jerusalem was about 85 miles. Joesph, however, was going five miles further south to Bethlehem to register in his ancestral home as required by the imperial census.Part 3 will discuss the journey itself.
We can be sure that Joseph set a prudent daily pace out of respect for Mary's condition that added one more penitential aspect to this pilgrimage. Perhaps, then, about two weeks were required. These very weeks would correspond to our final phase of Advent. The earlier weeks were the period of prayerful preparation.
We can meditate on these preparations with a great spiritual gain. As an expectant mother, Mary prepared the customary necessities for her Child. We hear only of the swaddling clothes, but she doubtless had many other items to gather or to make with her own hands.
The spiritual preparations, however, would have been the most sublime experiences. Every expectant mother lives in constant awareness of the new life stirring in her womb. She must make sacrifices big and small and perform other acts of self-denial, all for the advantage of her child. She does so with great joy, and --if she is a believer--she will give thanks and pray for the life within.
But Mary heightens these maternal experiences in correspondence with her exalted holiness and her knowledge of the mystery of Who this Child of hers is. For her, the first Advent was filled with love, self-giving, peace, joy, and a constant inward contemplation. Hers was not only hope, but literally expectation, longing to behold the face of this Child, hers and God's. We recall the salutation of Gabriel, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee" ... is within thee!
In his own way, Joseph shared in this loving preparation. He, too, must have meditated on and adored the Child in Mary's womb. Enlightened now by heavenly revelation, he knew that his young wife was "blessed among women" and that "the fruit of her womb" was blessed, the Holy One of God. As a man with a mission to be the Redeemer's protector and provider, he labored arduously to assemble provisions for the journey. He would have carefully planned ahead to meet every need and to attempt to estimate the daily schedule, to plot the possible night-shelters.
ii This is also the route that King David took with the Ark of the Covenant in 2 Sam 6:2-16.