This is Canon Victoria’s letter in our weekly Parish News email. To sign up for our newsletter, please visit: Constant Contact. To see the full weekly Parish News email from Dec 16th, please visit: http://conta.cc/2gJGa8w
In the deep mid-winter, frost wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone.”
Those words from C. Rossetti’s wonderful carol, which would describe England or New England in the winter, are true this week for us. What is still missing is the next verse, “Snow was falling, snow on snow.” Like our area, Israel sees little snow normally, but perhaps it was bitter cold weather as Mary and Joseph started on their walk to his hometown of Bethlehem. If it was winter, they had to go up on the high plateau to walk the ninety or so miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem. It would have taken them at least four to five days on foot, maybe up to a week, given Mary was pregnant.
There is no mention of a donkey in the Bible, even though the donkey always shows up in the pictures. Nor is there mention of what early Christians knew, but we do not. Joseph and Mary would have had to travel through the unfriendly territory of Samaria and there was danger from robbers and wild animals. Lions and bears were real threats in Roman Palestine. So, their travel would have taken them through bear country at least.
They may have had shelter most nights, stopping at villages along the way. Hospitality to strangers is a very ancient tradition in Israel. However, they probably had to camp out when they went through Samaria. Samaritans had no use for the Jews and vice versa, which is the point of Jesus’s parable of the Samaritan—he was the last sort of person in that world to do a kindness to a half dead Jew. It is unlikely his parents found shelter in Samaria.
Ninety miles would be roughly like walking from Irving to Waco. Imagine doing so in cold weather, with chance of bears, and with a third of the journey through an area were there was no room for “your kind.” If it had not been for the power of the Romans, I cannot imagine that they would have gone to visit family. However, it is overwhelmingly likely that they had both seen a crucified man. As a subject non-citizen, you did not mess with Rome. If the word was register, you registered and paid your taxes. It was unhealthy not to comply. So, they packed and started their journey in a cold season.
As you read this in warmth, I ask you to remember and pray for all who travel on dangerous roads, for refugees and non-citizens, and for those who do not have warm shelter.