The very essence of celebrating Christmas has its true meaning summed up in the Holy Scripture which states ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:16). Christmas is henceforth a manifestation and celebration of God’s love for our salvation and eternal life. The humanity that had plunged into the darkness of sin had seen a great light of redemption in the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
The exaltation of womanhood, the manifestation of God in human form in the very person of Jesus Christ, the prioritization of the marginalized, the singing of angelic hosts, the prostration of the magi before the divine glory are all events of awesome wonder. Carol singing, decorations, and lighting, chanting of jingle bells the greetings of Santa Claus, sharing of gifts and exchange of good wishes form the routine activity of yuletide. Staging of nativity scene or play is an interesting feature of Christmas season.
While we celebrate Christmas joyfully, it is also necessary to go beyond the routine framework of such celebration and contemplate on the circumstances that led to the coming of the baby of Bethlehem into this world. At this background, a paradigm shift from nativity scene to nativity trail becomes quite indispensable. The journey of Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem known as nativity trail is not only a journey of arduous nature and adventure but a journey of faith.
Adhering to the royal mandate by Caesar Augustus for the census to be taken for tax purposes, everyone had to go to their respective hometown or place of descent to register their names. Epic journeys are not uncommon during the Biblical times. Even during our Lord’s earthly sojourn and ministry, many such journeys were undertaken in and around Galilee. In this context, the nativity trail is an epoch-making journey that had taken place even before the birth of Christ.
The distance between Nazareth and Bethlehem is approximately 130 km and would take 8-10 days to cover by foot. The road traverses through little hills, valleys, and terrains which might have been very difficult for the expecting mother. The payment of toll collected by Roman soldiers and the way laying by robbers could have made the journey unsafe. Travelling by foot, Mary riding on the donkey’s back, the uncertainty of a night’s rest, availability of food and water were all matters of great challenge during this journey. Thus the journey of such suffering and pain undertaken by Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem is a clear indication of God’s love for us.
At the fulfillment of time as prophesied by Micah and as recorded in Matthew 2:1-6, the Lord has chosen to come into this world to redeem the mankind from the perils of sin and give eternal life. Augustus Caesar through his proclamation not only made the registration of birth compulsory but also paved the way for the birth of Christ in Bethlehem. The word Bethlehem has a Greek origin meaning “House of Bread”. It is the divine providence that the Bread of Heaven had to be born in the House of Bread. It is the practice in Bethlehem that after the sheep was nurtured into a healthy one, transported to Jerusalem to be offered as a sacrifice for one’s sin in the Holy synagogue. In a similar manner, the babe of Bethlehem had to go to Jerusalem as a sacred Lamb to be crucified as a ransom for our sin.
Neither Mary nor others would have ever imagined while passing through Jerusalem to reach Bethlehem, that this baby traveling on the donkey’s back in the mother’s womb would make a triumphal entry years later on a donkey’s back to Jerusalem to get crucified for our sake. No wonder, the meaning of Jerusalem itself is “the City of Peace”. The Prince of Peace fulfilled the purpose of His birth that we recollect at the City of Peace on this Christmas day. Amazing, isn’t it? Hence Christmas is not only a celebration of joy and happiness but is a saga of suffering and love.