Journey to Bethlehem – 24 December 2018

Mary and Joseph are making their way along a mountain path, on their journey to Bethlehem. They travel together, without human company, through a rugged terrain which symbolises the obstacles they have to overcome. Mary walks, although she is very weary, Joseph assists her with great care.

The couple have an ass, and an ox watches from behind the rocky outcrop. These details are a reference to the passage from the Old Testament: ‘The ox knows his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel does not know me, and the people has not regarded me.’ (Isaiah 3:1) Commonly present in the scene at the manger, it is these animals who are the first to discern the identity of Mary’s child. Their presence asks the viewer, do you know this child, who he is?

This picture by Hugo van der Goes is a detail from a much larger painting (The Portinari Altarpiece, c1485, that will be the subject of a post for Christmas Day).


In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.  This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.  He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.

Luke 2:1-5

Christmas has a darkness
Brighter than the blazing noon,
Christmas has a chillness
Warmer than the heat of June,
Christmas has a beauty
Lovelier than the world can show:
For Christmas bringeth Jesus,
Brought for us so low.

Earth, strike up your music,
Birds that sing and bells that ring;
Heaven has answering music
For all angels soon to sing:
Earth, put on your whitest
Bridal robe of spotless snow:
For Christmas bringeth Jesus,
Brought for us so low

Christina Rossetti Christmas Eve


Almighty God,
you make us glad with the yearly remembrance
of the birth of your Son Jesus Christ:
grant that, as we joyfully receive him as our redeemer,
so we may with sure confidence behold him
when he shall come to be our judge;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Common Worship, Collect for Christmas Eve