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On the road to Bethlehem

by davesandel on December 23rd, 2021

Thursday, December 23, 2021                                   (today’s lectionary)

On the road to Bethlehem

Geography fascinates me. And it fascinates Jack Sandel and Miles Tomita, and the guys and gals at Google who made Google Earth, and Google Maps, and who know that practical travel directions are not the only use for their magical screens filled with places to go and things to see!

You can head to outer space and see the space station, you can perch above a lava-filled, fire belching volcano, or visit your own house and the homes of your friends. I haven’t figured out how to look inside buildings, but I think there is a way. Look inside the National Cathedral perhaps, or the Empire State Building, or the Tate Museum in London?

And I see that the best route for my car to drive the 158 kilometers from Nazareth to Bethlehem skirts Caesarea and Tel-Aviv, then heads straight through Jerusalem. Just a few miles more, and there are the dark streets shining with the everlasting light.

Lo, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me; and suddenly there will come to the temple the Lord whom you seek, and the messenger of the covenant whom you desire. Yes, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.

Joseph and Mary took a more direct route, not needing to avoid the desert and the mountains. There were paths between the highest hills, and friends told them where to find water along the way.

Your ways, O Lord, make known to me; teach me your paths, guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior.

Fellow travelers also gave them tips when they met on the road. Were there road houses, as there used to be in Alaska every ten miles apart or so, the distance of a day’s walk for a man or a camel?

But who will endure the day of his coming? And who can stand when he appears? For he is like the refiner’s fire.

Mary didn’t ride a camel; Joseph didn’t own one. Did they have a donkey? We imagine they did; the walk took several days, and Mary was ready to have her baby. Walter Wangerin, one of my favorite practitioners of imaginative prayer, tells her story:

The exertion of the journey has already triggered some irregular contractions. The baby dropped several days ago and lies low on the floor of Mary’s pelvis. Last week she could barely breathe. Today she can’t hold her water.


Tomorrow? Mary has felt it even from its fluttering beginnings. And that life is so big now. Huge and slung so low. He’s big. His head’s at the door. He wants to be born!

Tomorrow? Mary’s belly is a globe as round as the great earth. Full of the gathering of God. “ … that fullness of time when God sends forth his son, born of a woman.” O Mary, virgin Mother, that’s the Son of God inside you, straining soon, soon … to be born.”

We imagine, day by day, walking with them, walking beside them, sharing their food and drink, contributing some of our own. Walter, good Lutheran that he always was, asks permission.

O Mary, virgin Mother, may I walk with you awhile before the borning? May I, in my meditations, bear something of the burden? For in a sacred manner, you are my mother – and very soon, at the delivery of your Holy Son, I shall be delivered too.

 (Malachi 3, Psalm 25, Luke 1)

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