James Strange, a New Testament and biblical archeology professor, wrote this: Writers of the gospels of Matthew and Luke “are so laconic about the [Nativity] event because they assume the reader would know what it was like. [W]e have no idea how difficult it was.”
Sometimes words are just not enough, thus the saying that a “picture is worth a thousand words”….. and since there are no actual pictures from that time we are reduced to just the words. Fortunately we do have written records of that time, and there are biblical archeologists whose studies print a vivid picture in our mind and of course theological based studies of the lives people led in those times. As noted above Matthew and Luke were rather sparse in their words used to describe the difficulties and challenges such a trip would present to Joseph and Mary. I share with you some words from Deacon Frederick Bartels in an article he posted 12 January 2019. While I am paraphrasing his words I wanted you to know the Deacon’s excellent writing on this subject is my source of information.
After a demanding trip to Bethlehem and finding room only in a cave that was being used to stable live stock, what would this trip had been like for Mary and the child in her womb. Deacon Bartels asks a question that requires we go beyond the written word. Most of us have a very firm picture in our minds of what Mary was like. An alabaster complexion, clothed in ornate robes whose hands had never seen a day of ordinary household work. But in reality Mary was an ordinary Palestinian Jewish girl, poor and as we have come to learn of extraordinary faith and abilities. Truth is Mary would have been no different from other Jewish woman of her place and time. Her day would be one of tedious chores and duties to be done, having none of the modern every day technology available to aid her. She would start at sunrise or maybe a bit sooner preparing a meal, then there would be water that needed to be brought in, carried by hand in jars or wine skins. The water would be used for drinking, cleaning, bathing and washing clothes. Ground wheat-flour and other food ingredients had to be gathered and of course firewood to cook with and heat to provide warmth in the cold mornings and evenings. All of these things would require, as some estimate, at least ten hours of work. I think we can say she had to be strong and efficient. Joseph was a carpenter and his day began at sunup and would last till there was no light left to work by. I imagine his face would be of a ruddy complexion, with lines reflecting the responsibility of family and providing for them. His hands would be the rough calloused hands of a working man. He would be a strong and resilient man. Further more it very likely that both Mary and Joseph were, as many of the people of that time illiterate to some degree. Because of where they lived it is possible they had limited knowledge of some Greek and Latin. They most likely lived in a small complex, four small one room houses with dirt floors which were connected by a shared courtyard for cooking and other daily needs. Most of these complexes were shared with kin. It would have been a good thing because the women would be able to help each other with water, wood and other needs. It was not an easy world to live in. They were taxed by both the Temple and the Roman government and people of bad intent were all about them.
Moving to the journey they were about to make it could not be said that they did not know the dangers of taking such a trip, not to mention that Mary was heavy with child at this time. Mary and Joseph were aware of all the dangers of such a trip. They would have to travel about sixty miles and at best given her condition ten miles a day would be all they really could expect. There would be wild animals, bandits and desert robbers to contend with. Weather would also be a factor as temperatures in winter in this area would be a bone chilling 41 degrees at night and rise into the high forties during the day. I don’t know why but I have always read or been told that the desert temperatures at night felt much colder than you would think. They would have had to have warm clothing, build a fire each night to protect themselves from predators and of course to keep warm as they rested. Their provisions would have consisted of bread, herbs, oil and some dried fish. Water was carried in wineskins. Yet all these things did not intimidate Joseph or Mary.
At this point we switch our attention to the Shepherds. Luke 2 verse ….8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
Theirs is a unique position. One of the little known facts…things not included in Luke 2: 8-14. They were only about eight miles from Jerusalem in the fields near Bethlehem, that we are told but the reason while practical, is not that well known. These shepherds were tending sheep that had been designated for sacrifice in the Temple in Jerusalem and most likely the property of the Temple. These shepherds were educated in the specific quality of sheep needed for sacrifice and it was their job to protect them from being hurt, damaged or blemished. Shepherds were in general looked down on by most people. Tending sheep was a 24/7 job and required the shepherds attention at all times. Realistically there were many of the daily religious practices that they couldn’t practice because of the demands of their job. They were rarely in the synagogue for worship or instruction and their fellow Jews looked down on them for it. It must be noted that the task of shepherding was an honorable job and often fell to the youngest son in the family. It has always had a place in Jewish history and in that part of the world was part of the history of all the people living in those times. God got some great leaders from the ranks of shepherds. It is here that the angel came on high to announce the birth of a Savior… He who is Christ The Lord.
The weak, average, illiterate, lowly in status…the shepherd … to him was first given the news of man’s salvation to come. This birth, this one who by God’s intent has come among us…God incarnate, would go among those of similar standing. He would become a tradesman from an uneducated working class family. When time for his ministry came upon him he chose twelve others, fishermen and such, from the northern region of Israel which at that time was considered to be inferior to the rest Israel. He who’s coming was told to these lowly shepherds keeping the sheep…He would become a shepherd of men and they Fishermen of men.
Life is Good