“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, unto Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child” (Luke 2:1, 4-5).
The lengthy venture to Bethlehem from Nazareth on foot would have taken multiple days, without consideration given to Mary’s expectant condition. The arduous trek undoubtedly would have provided ample opportunity for her to contemplate the angel’s sacred declarations regarding the child she was carrying: “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest… And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:32-33). Surely the weight of the responsibility entrusted to both Mary and Joseph as the chosen guardians of the Son of God must have given them much to ponder en route to what had been foreseen as His birth place.
Artist Joseph Brickey shared his thoughts about this painting during an interview with Meridian Magazine: “As a foreshadowing of His future triumphal entry into Jerusalem as the Son of David and the King of Israel, the unborn Christ is carried by a donkey to Bethlehem to be numbered of the house and lineage of David. Mary looks tenderly, perhaps knowingly, at the shy shepherd boy they pass along their way. Would she have remembered the prophecy that spoke of her future son as the “Shepherd of Israel” (Psalm 80:1)? Mary’s hand is held to her womb as she meets the gaze of the shepherd boy as a reminder that “unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given” (Isaiah 9:6). Joseph’s focus is on the path ahead, and his hands, one opened and one closed, reflect both the strength and the gentleness of the provider and protector” (http://ldsmag.com/ldsmag/arts/060503spirit.html).
Additional reading: “The Road to Bethlehem”