Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, most of us point our direction towards Christmas. In fact, even as I write this, there are millions making the journey to the local shopping malls, box stores, and electronic establishments to key in on the best bargains and save money while filling shopping carts with the latest gizmos that are sure to make us more prosperous and life easier. But as we start our annual march toward the big day, I would like to turn your attention to another kind of journey and something we can learn from it.
This journey took place some twenty-one centuries ago in a far off corner of the world that barely anyone alive at that time even noticed. It was an arduous journey for anyone fit to travel, but to someone who was in her ninth month of pregnancy, the thought of such a journey, some ninety miles in length, would seem to have been unthinkable. And, yet, there was no option. The trip must be made. It was the law!
The journey to which I refer is, of course, one of the most famous journeys ever recorded. The two travelers were two peasants who lived in the northern reaches of ancient Israel. They came from a small hill town called Nazareth. The man, a carpenter, was probably in his late twenties. The woman (if she could be called such) was most likely in her mid-teens. Their names were Joseph and Mary and the journey they were undertaking would be a journey that quite literally would alter history.
This journey must have been one of the most uncomfortable few days for the young mother-to-be. Nine months pregnant and atop a donkey is most like not the way a woman would like to spend the last few days before the birth of her child. Nonetheless, because of the decree from Caesar Augustus, the couple set out from Nazareth. I believe we tend to take this journey for granted, but I would like to have you stop and think for a moment and imagine the difficulties and even the dangers they faced along the way.
Travel some two thousand years ago was not for the faint of heart. We must remember that much of the route taken by Mary and Joseph was desert country, arid and forbidding. There were no Comfort Inns & Suites. Rest areas did not exist. And there was no highway patrol to come to your aid should something happen. You were on your own. And these are the more tame problems. Oftentimes, bands of marauding robbers prowled the roadways, sweeping down on innocent, unsuspecting travelers such as Mary and Joseph robbing them and, as often as not, beating them and leaving them for dead. Jesus Himself included this peril in one of His most famous parables, that of the Good Samaritan. (cf Lk 10: 25-37) Yet, this couple pressed onward despite the dangers not just out of respect for Roman law but more from the love each had for God.
While the couple was complying with the law to report to the ancestral home of the husband, both, it can be seen, understood that this was only a smaller part of the plan that God had for them. Shortly before this dangerous trek, both had visitations from angels sent by God to invite them to participate in His exquisite plan to save humanity. It had been a tumultuous time, certainly a time of doubt, a time of uncertainty, and a time of emotional ups and downs.
Think of it. What would you say or believe if someone was to come to you and announce that an Angel of the Lord had appeared to them and announced that they were to bear the Son of God? If you were the woman's betrothed, what would you think of her story and then, after you had a dream about your own encounter with an Angel, what would you feel? Chances are, if you are like me, you would be highly skeptical of the whole thing. Yet, Mary and Joseph's response was to travel all the way to Bethlehem in Judea because, somehow, God must want that.
While we often forget the difficulty of this journey, either because of the end of the story or because we have managed to romanticize it through songs and picturesque Christmas cards, the fact is that this young Jewish peasant couple made the trip and made it because they trusted God completely and placed their safety and fate in His hands. And their reward for following God's will turns out to be our reward for at the end of the journey, the Son of God entered the world, and a new journey was begun. A journey made by the Son of the couple to a hill called Calvary and to a tomb where, after a brutal death, he would rise again thus bringing salvation to the world.
In a sense, all of us are on a journey and we have been from the time of our conception to the present. For many of us, our journeys have been easy and rather relaxed, free from major difficulties and few troubles. However, for most of us, the journey has not been without troubles. Our journeys have often encountered times of enormous challenges and many times we have reached the very edge of defeat. Are we any different from Mary and Joseph?
Like their's, our journeys are often fraught with the unknown danger and uncertainty of what tomorrow might bring. But so unlike that Jewish couple of centuries ago, we fail to trust completely the will of God in our lives. We fail to develop a faith that will weather everything if we but surrender fully to our Creator. Joseph and Mary had no idea where they would stay once they arrived in Bethlehem. They had no idea when they would return to their hometown. They even were not certain where their next meal would come from if it came at all. Yet, they pressed on completely trusting in God to provide for their needs.
The question I have for all of us as we begin our journey towards Christmas and the celebration of the Incarnation, God becoming man, is this. Are we radical enough in our beliefs so as to turn our fates over to God completely? Are we willing, like Mary and Joseph, to set out each day, trusting God and following His will completely? If we were to do this, I am sure that life would become far less complicated for us, allowing us to focus on the reason for our very existence, God, Himself.