2:1In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 

2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.

Even before he was born, the forces of the world crashed into Jesus’ life and took control of the external circumstances of his world in ways that brought pain and suffering.

It cannot have been easy for Joseph and Mary to travel “from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem.”  The journey is 156 kms. Under ideal circumstances in the ancient world, travellers might have averaged 30 kms a day. But, a woman heavily pregnant would have been unlikely to keep up such a pace; so, for Mary and Joseph the trip probably took two weeks.

To get from Nazareth to Bethlehem, they had to pass through the treacherous Judean wilderness. In the winter this hilly barren stretch of land was assaulted by torrential rain storms which often led to dangerous flooding. It would have been desperately cold at night and there was always the risk of wild animals or marauding bands of violent robbers.

Mary and Joseph would have had to carry all their provisions and sleep outdoors for as many as fourteen nights. This is not a pretty Christmas card image. The decree Emperor Augustus issued from the comfort of his palace, inflicted terrible hardship on this vulnerable young couple.

Clearly, God’s “favour” that we have heard so much about in this narrative, does not guarantee a life of ease or comfort. Jesus’ life was marked from before his birth by hardship and toil. And yet, these very difficulties, enabled him to grow into a man who had a deep and profound inner life that manifest in compassion and gentleness towards all people.

I wonder how often I resist the circumstances of my life that have the capacity to scrape away some of the hard encrustations of ego and liberate in me that open, authentic person I see in Jesus.


Today I will try to see whatever struggles and hardships I may face as gifts that have the capacity to liberate within me the person I most truly am.

(Journey to Bethlehem – Mosaic. The Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora, medieval Greek Orthodox Church (a Mosque today) in Istanbul, Turkey) 

(Hugo van der Goes. Uffizi Gallery, Florence. Joseph and Mary on the Journey to Bethlehem 1475-1478)