We know why Joseph, the carpenter, made the difficult, 80-mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. The emperor, Caesar Augustus, had decreed a census, and it was required that Joseph go to Bethlehem, the city of his ancient ancestor, King David, to register. As the Scriptures say, “he belonged to the house and line of David” (Luke 2:4).
But why did the Virgin Mary make that treacherous journey with him? Her pregnancy was advanced and there’s no trace in Scripture that she too was of the line of David (Matthew 1:16, 20). She didn’t have to be registered there. She could alsohave stayed home in Nazareth because of her condition.
Speculating, I can imagine that her mother might have urged her to stay behind. Stay where I can help and look after you if the baby should come, she would coax. And other women of the community might have joined in the entreaty.
I can even imagine that her mother and the neighbor women might have become peeved at Joseph and even chided him for taking her along. Men don’t seem to understand these things, they would say.
So, we have the mental picture of Mary, the bearer of God’s Son, seated side-saddle on a plodding donkey, as Joseph leads it through long dusty miles in the midst of a company of travelers.
Then again, I can think of a better reason why Mary is on this difficult journey. When many months earlier the angel, Gabriel, had foretold her role as the bearer of God’s Messiah she had asked for more information. He explained, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35).
That was creation language. Perhaps Gabriel’s words took their cue from the moment when “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (Genesis 1:2). So it’s believable that the Spirit who acted in creation was now acting in a miraculous procreation.
Can we not believe that the same Spirit, known to us as the third person of the Trinity, could whisper into Mary’s consciousness, “It is time. The journey will be hard, but go with Joseph to Bethlehem.” He may have whispered the same order into Joseph’s consciousness. So they made the trek together.
But a friend of mine whispers into my ear a third possibility. In combination with the Spirit’s prompting, Mary may have known the prophecy of Micah 5:2, even though it had been given no less than 700 years earlier:
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, / though you were small among the clans of Judah, / out of you will come for me / one who will be ruler over Israel / whose origins are from of old, / from ancient times.”
We sense Mary’s piety and reverence for the “Most High God” from the way she received Gabriel’s visit. She was a devout Jewish maiden and without doubt had been steeped in the Old Testament Scriptures from childhood forward.
If this is the real reason she endured the journey then she was simply carrying out the pledge she had made when her mission was announced by Gabriel, “I am the Lord’s servant … may it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38) That’s equivalent to her saying to Gabriel, “Whatever God wants, that’s what I want, and I’m willing.”
In that long hard trip and the subsequent birth of the Holy Son of God, Mary was carrying out her divine assignment. It was a unique moment in history, never before enacted and never again to take place.
We dare not worship Mary because the Bible gives us no such command or permission. But we can revere and give thanks for her because she was a beautiful young servant of God, who accepted his call and fulfilled his unique assignment.
And that’s why Mary, the Virgin, went to Bethlehem!