Often, in bible classes, the professors will have their students trace the different journeys that Jesus took in adulthood. I think of a couple that folks tend to emphasize as far as theological significance: the road into Jerusalem, on a donkey, and La Via Dolorosa, the way, or path if you will, of suffering that led to death. Both of those journeys were bitter or bittersweet, depending on the perspective.
I am recalling the story of another path, though, one I don't find that we discuss very much at all: the path that took Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem. I've read that ninety-mile trip was a difficult one, for anyone who had to take it; lots of hills and other difficult terrain, plus the hazards of travel out in the wild. Mary was heavily pregnant, and I can't speak from this experience firsthand, but I've heard plenty of other women say the final stages of pregnancy are often the most uncomfortable. And riding on a donkey, probably not astride? Yikes. My low back is getting sympathy pains.
I bet Mary took a lot of time to think on this path. I don't imagine she and Joseph talking the entire way. I wonder if she complained about her back or her swollen ankles, or the baby pushing on any of her internal organs. I wonder if she was worried at all about giving birth, even though the angel Gabriel told her she would indeed give birth to a son. I wonder if she worried about Jesus' life to come. Or maybe she didn't? The angel told her Jesus would reign forever. Did she have any doubts?
The Advent path is more difficult for me than the Lenten path, I think. Advent is dark and silent, with unknown and maybe dangerous terrain; impending birth pangs that will bring an unveiling and anticipation of the parousia. Lent is dark, but we know what's coming: death, and resurrection. And yet Mary had to endure both the Advent path, and the Lent path.