We turn from the story of the Annunciation (the announcement that Mary would have a child) to the story of how Joseph came to know that Mary was pregnant. First, we turn to his hometown, the “little town of Bethlehem.”
For years I thought that Joseph was likely from Nazareth as Mary was, and that Joseph only went to Bethlehem with Mary as a result of the census that we’ll consider shortly. But I’ve come to believe that Joseph’s hometown was actually Bethlehem. Matthew’s Gospel doesn’t mention Nazareth until Jesus is likely several years old, after the return of the Holy Family from Egypt.
Bethlehem was only somewhat larger than Nazareth; but, while Nazareth was considered a town of low esteem (“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”), men and women would proudly say they hailed from Bethlehem in Judea. The name Bethlehem means “House of Bread,” probably a nod to the fact that there were farmers, millers, and bakers there who supplied bread for nearby Jerusalem. Bethlehem was best known as the home of King David and his family. It was known, along with Jerusalem, as “the City of David.”
Other well-known people were associated with Bethlehem as well. Jacob buried his beloved wife Rachel near Bethlehem. (The traditional site of her tomb can still be seen outside Bethlehem’s wall to this day.) One of the rulers of ancient Israel, Ibzan the judge, was from Bethlehem, and he was also buried there. The Book of Ruth is set in Bethlehem and gives us a glimpse of what the village was like eleven hundred years before the time of Jesus.
All these people were a part of the rich history of Bethlehem. Yet it was the words of the prophet Micah that made Bethlehem a name synonymous with hope and with God’s future deliverance of his people. Bethlehem was the name associated with a promise that God would not abandon his people. One day God would send a ruler who would “stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord” (Micah 5:4) and who, as king, would “be the one of peace” (Micah 5:5). This promise of a king who would shepherd his people and bring them peace sustained the Jewish people over the centuries. The promise, and Bethlehem as a symbol for it, gave them hope in exile, in war, and in adversity. They believed that one day, from Bethlehem, would come a shepherd king, a man of peace.
The photo accompanying this post is of a sunrise over Bethlehem.
Today's post is an excerpt from Walking the Road to Bethlehem.
To learn more about Joseph’s hometown, I’ve included a video clip below where I travel to Herodium, which is just outside Bethlehem. Herodium was a monument to King Herod. Herodium would have been ever-present in Joseph’s daily life as it loomed over the little town.