10 Days of Christmas: Mary and her Donkey

Posts in the 10 Days of Christmas series

  1. 10 Days of Christmas: Rulers from their Thrones
  2. 10 Days of Christmas: Matthew 1
  3. 10 Days of Christmas: Mary and her Donkey
  4. 10 Days of Christmas: Of The Father’s Love Begotten
  5. 10 Days of Christmas: The Kenosis
  6. 10 Days of Christmas: Mary Ponders
  7. 10 Days of Christmas: The Meaning of It All

We don’t know if Mary rode a donkey to Bethlehem. We like to think she did, because what kind of a jerk would make his pregnant wife walk from Nazareth to Bethlehem?

But that raises a different question, one I haven’t heard much about. Why did Mary make the trip at all? The census (maybe, probably) required only the male head of household to register, so Joseph could have legally made the trip alone.

I don’t know much about 1st Century Judean birthing practices, but somehow I don’t picture the husband hunched over the birthing bed, coaching his wife through her Lamaze breathing. I’m going to rely on the evidence of pre-1980′s world-wide cultural norms here, and say that most of the time the husband waited in the front room smoking the hookah with the fellas while the women of the family (and maybe a trained midwife) coached the mother through her labor. The husbandly role, throughout history, has been to fret nervously in a different room, then boisterously take credit once the child is born. Mary didn’t need Joseph around during the delivery, she needed her family, her female relatives, the local support network. Why go to Bethlehem?

The trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem is about 100 miles, through some rough terrain, and the hill country along the way was constantly populated with bandits (the parable of the Good Samaritan starts with a man being mugged along some of these same roads).  I got nervous when my wife walked a few miles through Rome on a hot summer day while pregnant. I can’t imagine Joseph’s stress over Mary making the trip with him through that rough country. Again, why make the trip? Why not leave Mary in the care of her family while Joseph went to fulfill his legal obligation.

Luke tells us why Joseph went to Bethlehem. Why did Mary go?

There are a few possibilities, I guess. Maybe Joseph was a thoroughly modern and sensitive husband, and just couldn’t stand the thought of his wife giving birth without his support. Maybe Mary was a rock-hard badass, and the thought of grunting out our Lord and Savior un-aided in the barren rocks above Jericho just made her shout, “Bring it on!” Maybe Luke invented the census and the trip to Bethlehem in order to make the birth narrative fit Micah’s prophesy, in which case of course Mary had to go along.

There is another possibility. Maybe Mary had no reason to stay. Maybe the embarrassment of the pregnancy left her estranged from her friends and relatives, with no support and no family. Maybe nobody had added up the dates yet, and everyone was assuming it was Joseph’s child. Perhaps Mary was eager for a chance to get out of town, and give birth away from the chattering gossips and back-biting spinsters, away from the prying questions that an actual birth date would inevitably give rise to.

I don’t know. Maybe you have some better ideas.

labor of love
photo by introspectre

Previous in series: 10 Days of Christmas: Matthew 1

Next in series: 10 Days of Christmas: Of The Father’s Love Begotten

One thought on “10 Days of Christmas: Mary and her Donkey

  1. Bill Heatley

    Pairing Matthew 1 and Luke 1 together provides the best insight on the subject. Elizabeth is pregnant with John the Baptist and goes into seclusion “in the hill country of Judea”. 5-6 months later Mary is pregnant with Jesus and goes to stay with Elizabeth for 3 months (until John is born). The birth appears to occur back at the home of Zech and Liz but the Bible is non-specific about where that is. So, where were the suburbs for the temple priests?

    It would be reasonable to assume that some portion of the travel to “Bethlehem” occurred early in Mary’s pregnancy. Did Mary walk back to Nazareth to tell Joseph she was pregnant? The Bible doesn’t indicate she did, that was accomplished through normal human gossip. The job of the angel was to tell Joseph who the father was and to give the child’s name.

    So, chances are, Mary was very close to Bethlehem already, Joseph knew where she was staying and went to her and from Nazareth together they travelled to Bethlehem for the census and birth.

    When I think of Mary and her situation my heart wonders and aches that she went to Elizabeth as her only hope of acceptance. Acceptance created through the miracle of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. That God arranged for John to herald Jesus even before either was born and that the miracle of John’s birth would make a safe and accepting place for Jesus and his mother amazes me. Every time I look at this story I’m amazed at God’s loving arrangements and provision.

    Through this story I learn how great God is, how gentle and caring, how much He is able to put in place in my life that leads me to “green pastures and still waters.”

    Merry Christmas

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