Christmas Thru-Hikes in the Bible

Suspension bridge over the Kootenai River, Montana
Suspension bridge over the Kootenai River, Montana

One of the things that I find interesting about the Christmas story is just how much of it happened outside, in creation.  People were more used to being outside then – it was more comfortable than being in a stuffy house, and to eat most people had to work in gardens and fields.  But it’s also interesting just how much of the outside-time in the Christmas story centered around long hikes.

Wildflower along the Golden Eagle Trail, Pennsylvania
Wildflower along the Golden Eagle Trail, Pennsylvania

One of the first things we hear about Mary is that she traveled to see her relative, Elizabeth.  It’s believed that Elizabeth lived near Jerusalem, a walk of about 100 miles.  Talk about a thru-hike when you’re newly pregnant… then back again when you’re 3+ months along!

Desert in the Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness, New Mexico
Desert in the Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness, New Mexico

Mary and Joseph had to walk to Bethlehem to be counted in the census (Luke 2:1-4).  The trip was about 90 miles long – that’s quite the thru-hike when you’re with child! – across the Jordan river, through the desert, back across the Jordan River, across the hills, and finally to Bethlehem.  Tradition suggests that they had a donkey, but given other parts of the story (specifically Luke 2:24), it’s more likely that the couple were too poor to afford any animal for riding on.  So they trekked all the way south from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

Cliffs along the Marufo Vega Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas
Cliffs along the Marufo Vega Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Once in Bethlehem, they stayed for a while in a stable (Luke 2:7), though by the time the magi came, they were living in a house (Matthew 2:11).  I’ve heard that stables in Bethlehem were caves, outbuildings, or even the lowest story of a two or more story house.  Whatever it was, chances are it was fairly open to the elements to that the animals could get in and out.  Jesus probably spent a good part of his infanthood being close to the outdoors.

A cow in the trail to Broken Bow Arch, Glen Canyon Recreation Area, Utah
A cow in the trail to Broken Bow Arch, Glen Canyon Recreation Area, Utah

The shepherds lived outside all of the time.  They had to watch the sheep and protect them from animals, thieves, and their own stupidity (sheep typically aren’t very smart).  God met them right where they were at – out on the side of a small mountain, watching their sheep – and proclaimed to them that His Son was born.  I have to wonder if the shepherds ran to the right stable on the first try – or if they ran from stable to stable until they found one with a baby in a manger.  That’s food for thought, but I digress.

Sheep on the Flat Tops, Colorado
Sheep on the Flat Tops, Colorado

The magi had their own hike across the desert to Jerusalem.  They were rich, so possibly they had camels or other forms of transportation.  But even so, they probably spent several months or more riding and walking and camping outside, just to get to Israel.  Then, after they had presented gifts to the Child, they had to return home.

Camel at the Cape May Zoo, New Jersey
Camel at the Cape May Zoo, New Jersey

After the magi came and gave Jesus gifts (he was probably 1 or nearly 2 years old by that time), God told Joseph to take Jesus and Mary and leave Bethlehem immediately because Herod was about to kill the child.  While Jesus came to die, now was not the time and Herod was not the one chosen to do it.  So Joseph, Mary, and the young Jesus walked to Egypt.

Walking into Egypt - or more accurately, the Egypt area of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Utah
Walking into Egypt – or more accurately, the Egypt area of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Utah

Roads were different back then, but it’s not unlikely that the trip was 300-500 miles long.  That’s sort of like walking from New York City to Raleigh, North Carolina or from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City.  After a few years, the family started back toward Bethlehem at the word of the Lord, but they were rerouted to Nazareth (Matthew 2:19-22).  Jesus would have been old enough by that time to do much of the walking, Himself.

Playing with rocks and backpacks on the trail in Big Bend National Park, Texas
Playing with rocks and backpacks on the trail in Big Bend National Park, Texas

So there you have it – 7 or so thru-hikes just in the Christmas story!  I find that very interesting – and exciting.