Posted in 2021 Advent devotions


“The Road to Bethlehem” Advent devotion for December 8, 2021. Photo by Holly Mandarich on Unsplash

Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David. (Luke 2:4)

Joseph’s road to Bethlehem begins in Nazareth, where he was a carpenter (Matthew 13:55), a “just man” (Matthew 1:19), and betrothed to Mary (Luke 2:5). An angel of the Lord had come to him in a dream to let him know that it was OK to marry her since her child was of the Holy Spirit and would be the Savior.

Nazareth must not have had a good reputation. As Jesus began his ministry, he met Philip, who immediately told Nathanael, “We have found the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth” (John 1:45)! Nathanael reacted, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46)

So Joseph is a blue collar worker from the projects with a pregnant girl friend. The other side of the tracks. The dark side. With one of “those” girls. He sets out with her on the road to Bethlehem because of a government mandated census. With a baby. From Nazareth.

Even though it is a prominent city in the northern district of Israel, with a population close to 80,000, it may have been a settlement of only 400-500 people when Joseph and Mary set out for Bethlehem. In a town that size, smaller than the size of my high school class, everyone probably knew everyone else. Someone’s expecting? Someone got engaged? Someone’s going on a trip? Someone just got back home? Forget about privacy. Everyone knew everyone’s business.

Today, tourists can walk the 100 mile Nativity Trail from Nazareth to Bethlehem. The trail’s description is rugged: steep hillsides, dessert valleys, and olive groves through a number of small villages along the way. The hike takes four to seven days, so you get to stay in homes, monasteries, tents and bed and breakfasts along the way.

Wouldn’t that be an amazing trek? We’ve heard and told the story so many times, both narrated and sung. You could be walking in some of the same dust and dirt as Joseph and Mary on their trip to Bethlehem and back. You would have a lot of time to think about the promises, the faithfulness and love of God that paved the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem. You would definitely get your 10,000 steps in each day.

The Lord knows all about you, both good and bad. Through his word we know a lot about him, too. Just like we were neighbors in Nazareth!

I am amazed, Lord, that you know all about me and still love me. I thank you that I know a lot about Jesus of Nazareth, too. Let my steps today remind me of that ancient road from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Amen.

Posted in Israel, Travel

Israel (Day 2)

Sunrise over the Sea of Galilee

Ruins at Caesarea

This was our first real full day of touring. After an amazing buffet breakfast, we were on the road at 8 am to Caesarea. Tali our tour guide used our hour drive time to review the religious and socio-political history of Israel.

A nice video helped us understand the history of Caesarea before we stepped out to the edge of the Mediterranean to see what was left of the harbor, hippodrome, amphitheater and Pilate’s lake house.

On our way to Megiddo we passed Mt. Carmel where the prophet Elijah had his showdown with the prophets of Baal. The visitor center at Megiddo is being renovated so many of the structures were temporary. A little bit of an uphill hike took us past twenty-seven layers of ancient cities until we reached the top of the tel where we had a great view of the Jezreel valley. The panoramic view from the top of the tel was awesome. On our way back we went down many flights of steps to the springs far below the surface that provided water to the fortified cities that once stood there.

Ruins at Megiddo

Lunch at a little restaurant near Megiddo gave me my first taste of falafel. Not too bad, especially when you spice it up.

Church of the Annunciation

Mary’s house; place of the annunciation

Our next stop was Nazareth. I was surprised to learn that the population of Nazareth is mostly Islamic, with a few Arabic Christians mixed in. Jews do not live in Jesus’ hometown.

The city of Nazareth was old and kind of dirty. The closer we got to the Church of the Annunciation, the more souvenir vendors lined the street. This church is amazing. Beautiful stone architecture and artwork. The grotto on the lower level, supposedly where Gabriel told Mary she would be the mother of our Lord looked liked little more than a small cave. Many tourists knelt there to pray.

Our last stop for the day was Cana, where Jesus did his first miracle of turning water into wine. The church itself and several side chambers were filled with couples renewing their wedding vows. We headed into the basement to see a twenty gallon stone jar, like the one Jesus told servants to fill with water.

Church at Cana

Upon returning to Tiberias, we stopped in the National Diamond Center where a crack team of salesmen leached onto us until we finally found the exit and escaped.

A busy day. Each site was full of tour busses just like ours. A thriving business for sure.

Tomorrow we head to Galilee.