The lovely blue cover of A CHRISTMAS JOURNEY reflects a familiar image to Christians: pregnant young Mary sits astride a donkey as Joseph leads her to Bethlehem under a starry sky. The story of that journey is well-known to Christians and non-Christians alike, though its meaning is often lost on the latter. From the Bible, we know that Joseph and Mary had to go to Bethlehem for the census and that Mary was nine months pregnant. We know that, due to the crowds, there was no place for them to stay until an innkeeper offered the use of his stable. And most importantly, we know that the birth of Jesus took place in that Bethlehem stable, fulfilling prophecies and offering hope to a broken world. But what really transpired on that journey?
Author Donna VanLiere uses a combination of researched facts and speculation to paint a touching, realistic picture of the fateful excursion that culminated in the birth of Jesus Christ.
The last thing Mary and Joseph want to do is take a nearly 80-mile trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem, considering the condition Mary is in. “She is nine months pregnant and will have to make the trip that winds through wilderness, desert and mountainside, sitting side saddle on a donkey and feeling every rock and bump along the way.” They are painfully aware that the baby could arrive anytime along that trail. The trip is yet another obstacle in the rocky road they’ve encountered since the night the angel visited Mary. They were newly engaged when Mary had to tell Joseph she was pregnant. He had thought she was a virgin, but clearly she had deceived him. Broken-hearted, he planned to quietly break off the engagement…until the angel visited him as well. He was to become the earthly father of God’s own son. From that point on, the young couple endured ridicule and scorn over Mary’s premarital pregnancy, but the truth held them together.
And now the trip. They head for Bethlehem. Joseph is growing weary of walking, and Mary is uncomfortable, then miserable, as contractions begin before they reach their destination. Small bits of touching dialogue reflect the couple’s fear at their impending roles as parents to the Christ child. They arrive at the barn, where there is no clean or comfortable place for Mary to lay, no blanket or soft bed for the baby who will soon enter the world. When the miracle occurs, it is not the “sanitary” version we’ve grown accustomed to in stories and songs. Instead, VanLiere delivers a very real portrayal of how that birth must have transpired.
THE CHRISTMAS JOURNEY is a quick read, but it will leave a mark on the hearts of those who drink it in. Laced with beautiful illustrations, it serves as a reminder that God loves us more than we can imagine and sent his Son to prove it.
Reviewed by Susan Miura on October 26, 2010