The Route to Bethlehem
Confession: I don't get along so well with the GPS lady. She gets irritated with me when I miss a turn or decide to go another way. I can hear the frustration in her voice when she must come up with a third or fourth option for me to take to stay on course for my chosen destination. What she doesn't know about me is that I was born feet first (actually, the first thing out was just one foot), and I've been turned around ever since. Just ask my husband.
We were on our way up north recently and decided that our evening stopping place would be Bethlehem, PA, partly because we wanted to get that far north by day's end and partly because that's where Bill and I lived as newlyweds way back in 1973. My husband entered the information into the GPS gizmo, and as he turned the corner out of our subdivision, I heard the GPS lady's voice announce, "The route to Bethlehem."
Wow! Hearing those words stated so clearly and confidently got me to thinking about Mary and Joseph and their trip to Bethlehem. How did it go for them? We had 800 miles to go that day for a 12.5 hour trip in our comfortable vehicle, protected from wind, weather and dark of night. They had a 90 mile journey ahead of them when they set out at a time in antiquity when one averaged about 20 miles per day at best. However, with Mary very pregnant and the terrain having both hills and valleys, Biblical archaeologist James Strong* estimates they averaged about 10 miles per day. At that time of the year, the daytime desert temperature would have been in the 30s with frequent rain; the nights even colder and more brutal. And, as if bandits and robbers weren't challenging enough, there were also bears, lions and wild boars to look out for. Our 800 mile trek was looking more like a walk in the park.
Oh, and the food! We knew there would be all kinds of rest stops, gas stations, restaurants, and hotel options to meet our needs along the way. Mr. Strong tells us that Mary and Joseph would have carried all their provisions: water in wineskins, and bread along with herbs and oils. For days. For a pregnant woman. My mind goes back to the yummy ice cream sandwich I picked up at a quick refueling stop on my way to Bethlehem. My biggest dilemmas were sticky fingers and, at times, poor radio reception.
As our trip progressed, we exited the highway now and then for various reasons. Each time, my husband refreshed the GPS app, and each time I heard, in turn, "the voice" announcing "the route to Bethlehem." Then, when our time in New York was up, we decided to drive back to Pennsylvania and take the time to walk around our old stomping grounds and reminisce a bit. Now leaving from New York, the GPS lady once again confidently announced, "the route to Bethlehem." It struck me that these days, everybody all over the world with a GPS system could find their way to Bethlehem whenever they wanted to do so, even the route to the real Bethlehem.
The question is, do we want to? The manger. The Christ child. The wise men and shepherds. The astonished new parents. God Himself incarnate. How much of that do we earnestly seek? How ready are we to renew our love for our fellow man? Can our hearts and minds get there fully and sincerely and confidently? Can we get there on our own, or do we need the GPS lady?
*Los Angeles Times-12/23/95