Traveling from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph usually appear carefree in artistic renderings. The gentle swaying of the donkey upon which Mary rides comforts Mary in the late stage of pregnancy. She relaxes, sitting on this gentle beast.
We cannot know if Mary’s mode of transportation was a donkey, however. The biblical account in Luke of what happened that first Christmas reminds readers of the sparse literary style Ernest Hemingway made famous in his novels. Tight sentences free of superlatives tell of the couple’s journey. “Joseph went up … to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem … with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child …” (Luke 2: 4-5).
The Bible does not identify a particular animal that transported Mary. Often there is a thin line separating fact from fiction when determining what occurred on the trip to Bethlehem and how we wish the birth of Jesus turned out. It’s comforting to imagine a donkey befriending Joseph and Mary as they made their way on a wide road as smooth as satin. Similar feelings rise within us when we see an elderly person in a rest home pet a dog trained to calm nerves. Dogs and donkeys make life comfortable and calm.
Did this trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem tax Mary’s and Joseph’s strength and patience? The trip turned their insides upside-down. Their rigorous journey as the crow flies was about 70 miles, taking 4-5 days for a traveler who walked this route. More distant if a hiker took winding roads, stayed in huts along the way and took meandering paths to avoid robbers lurking in ditches near the road. Pregnant Mary had to walk slowly, lest she trip into a pothole on the “washer board” roads that the interplay of wind and rain eroded.
Arriving in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph bumped into merchants hawking wares, like beer-sellers at a baseball game. Streets stayed clogged with travelers eager to find lodging. Tourists had to match exorbitant prices for a room and bid a step higher to reserve it. Noise, dust kicked up in alleys, and rude people jammed narrow corridors. Do you assume Mary and Joseph were calm when an innkeeper offered to crib their baby in a smelly feedbox from which cattle ate?
Still, when chaos upsets us, we long for easy times and manageable problems. The Christmas carol, “Silent Night,” paints a sentimental picture of Jesus’ birth that we intensely desire to accept, even when our longing clashes with what happened. Carolers sing, “All is calm. All is bright.” This carol leaves the impression that the Madonna and her new-born son Jesus enjoyed tranquility in the stable.
When our lives are topsy-turvy, we seek a calm place. “Research shows that psychological distress often causes nostalgia,” writes The Wall Street Journal columnist Elizabeth Bernstein. “People tend to experience this sentimental longing for the [all is calm; all is bright] past when they are feeling sad, lonely, anxious or disconnected, or when life feels meaningless or uncertain.”
Chaos breaks our spiritual supply chain. It makes us weary, worn and feeling whipped as we, like …….