The Difficult Journey

Difficult Journey is a painting by the German artist, Fritz von UHDE. Its original title was Transition to Bethlehem which locates the scene and therefore the subject. It is the journey of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem for the Census. It depicts something of the difficulties they had in bringing Jesus into the world.

Many paintings of this journey and arrival are much more sentimental but this has a realism which roots it into a more contemporary interpretation. It isn’t located in the desert or the climate of the Middle East. This is Northern Europe. The road is muddy and uneven. There are no other people around and there is none of the bustle and crowded feel of a city where there is no room at an inn. There is, however, a sense of isolation and desolation. There are no people and no sense that the couple are welcome. They are dressed as outcasts, he carries the sign of his trade, a saw over his shoulder and she, a cooking pot. They could be refugees today, unwanted and uncared about.

There is  a sign that  Mary and Joseph are exhausted. No donkey carries them as in some accounts, though not in St. Luke’s Gospel. What is strongly portrayed is Joseph’s role as protector of Mary and therefore of Jesus. She leans into him and he holds her. He is concerned and caring. His love is obvious.

It is this which set me thinking again about Joseph’s role in the Nativity and a partial possible answer is in the poem below which I have written about this.

Difficult Journey

Against all judgement,
honourable, obedient Joseph
took Mary to be his wife.

It would be difficult
stepping into God’s shoes.
Overshadowed by an angel,
Joseph was appointed
to watch over the God-bearer;
the gentle, honest, open, faithful maid
who had conquered his heart.

It would be hard to fulfil God’s hopes,
God’s plan, worked out with angels
who were centre-stage of a sacred drama
played out on earth.
Joseph could see where Mary fitted in,  
but what of himself?

Legitimate descendant of David,
the sling-thrower warrior,
Joseph threw only wood on a lathe –
turning, shaping, forming,
revealing what was there;
allowing the inner core of wood
to show itself – its soul.

Joseph, gentle, watchful carpenter,
who strokes the grain,
and feels the beauty within,
holds Mary and the babe in her womb,
on the difficult road to Bethlehem
with its uncertain future.

He draws her carefully into the folds of his caress,
exhausted woman, with kicking  inner child,
who needs him.

The dawning realization:
he knew why God had called –
and that He held him too.

[Mr G. Christmas Eve 2022]

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