Tomorrow we begin the season of Advent. Tomorrow we begin the long walk to Bethlehem , to the stable and to the baby Jesus. Each time I round the corner to this moment in the Church year, I find myself returning to an image and to the words of a Christmas carol I learned as a child. First the image—a painting I encountered at the Alte Pinakothek in Munich. It’s English title is “The Hard Path (The Road to Bethlehem)”.
I can almost feel the weight of Mary’s weariness as she heads down that path. I wonder if she and Joseph spent some time looking back over the last few months as they made their way down that road. Were they engaged in conversation or did they keep their thoughts to themselves? Each year at this time I pull that picture out. I imagine what lies ahead for Mary and Joseph and I imagine what led up to that very point on the road.
As I look into the painting, I hear the words, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.” Hopes and fears—I can imagine they accompany each approaching birth. There are times when the fears threaten to push aside the hopes. Then there are those times when the hopes plow a way through the fears. As I look into the painting, I can almost hear Joseph reminding Mary of the angel’s promise and of her own hopes for the child she was bearing. I suspect that in that conversation Joseph plows a way through Mary’s weariness and fear helping her find her way down the hard road to Bethlehem.