Joseph and Mary left the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem with mixed emotions; they were glad to leave the teeming narrow streets, crammed full of fellow travellers and merchants trying to sell them all kinds of everything. On the other hand, it was clear that Joseph and Sarah’s child was soon to arrive, so the decision was taken for them to remain in Jerusalem for the birth of their first child. Mary assured Joseph that she was fine for the umpteenth time as they edged their way along the road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. It was slow tortuous going, the sun burning by day, the cold winds off the wilderness chilling them by night. They had even thought, like others, to travel by night, but rumours of bandits and brigands attacking night-time travellers quickly changed their minds. It was clear to both of them that Mary’s time was drawing closer, Joseph even wondered whether they should turn back to the city but Mary was insistent her son must not be born in such a corrupt city, but in the hometown of her husband’s people, Bethlehem.
On the third day out, their discomfort was eased and distracted by a glorious sight; a royal retinue with teams of camels heading North against the flow of pilgrims pressing South. People were so enthralled by the sight of them in all their finery and largesse, that they moved aside without question to make way for what surely must be a delegation of Eastern Kings. Mary gasped aloud with a spasm of an early contraction just as the first of the regal travellers was passing her. He had been paying scant attention to the masses below him, his eyes fixed hungrily on the city of Jerusalem. However Mary’s cry of pain broke his concentration and he looked down at her, at first in mild curiosity and then, for a moment, in rapt focus; a look of confusion and recognition on his weathered face. He seemed to shake himself, looked away from the heavily pregnant woman atop a donkey, to the sun-drenched walls of the city before him, and spurred his camel forwards. Every so often he would glance back at Mary, Joseph unnerved by his attention to her, until finally he was out of view.
People around Mary and Joseph began to notice her distress. They were frustrated at their own daily delays in this unending queue, but they recognised in the face of the young mother to be, a determination that her child would not be born in a road-side hollow, but in the Davidic hometown of her husband. Messages were called along the line, ‘Make way, make way!’ they called to each other, ‘a child is to be born of the clan and tribe of David, make way for the mother and child, make way for the anxious father’, they laughed. Joseph and Mary were grateful beyond words. It was like the parting of the Red Sea centuries before as God delivered his people from Egypt. Everyone stepped back and the expecting family urged their donkey forward with Mary’s breathing and increasing cries echoing across the valleys and nearby hills as they finally entered Bethlehem. Such was their urgency that even the soldiers and Roman officials did not try to stop them as they ignored the registration booths and began to search frantically for an inn or a house where they could lodge for the night. It was clear to them, and to all, that there would not be much rest nor sleep that night, the baby was coming, and soon!