December '18 / January '19 Magazine
A Christmas Journey
Someone asked me recently if we had to make many journeys at Christmas – by which I think they meant did we have to travel much to catch up with family and friends… It’s one of the things that people often do at Christmas, isn’t it? Travelling round to see parents and grandparents, aunties and uncles, siblings and cousins…
The Christmas story in the Bible includes many journeys too.
Joseph and Mary make a number of journeys: firstly, to Bethlehem for the census (Luke 2:4); then later they have to travel to Egypt to escape from Herod (Matt 2:14); before returning to Nazareth following Herod’s death (Matt 2: 21-23).
Although it was a shorter journey, the Shepherds decided to leave their flocks and journey into Bethlehem to find the baby, whose identity as the Christ would be indicated by his lying in a manger (Luke 2:15).
The magi made a much longer journey from ‘the east’ (Matt 2:1-2) - possibly around 800 miles, though we don’t really know where they were from – following the star which they believed indicated a special royal birth, hence the bringing of gifts fit for a king.
Perhaps the most significant journey, however, was the one made by the infant Christ himself narrated so vividly by John’s gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:1, 14)
Sometimes the lengths someone is prepared to travel to be at an event, a wedding for example, reflects how much they care about the people involved. When the tinsel, turkey and trimmings have been stripped away, the truth at the heart of Christmas, the ‘reason for the season’ is that God has journeyed to be with his people. Theologians call it ‘the incarnation’; God becoming one of us. This is the miracle and wonder of Christmas.
One of the things I find interesting about those who travelled to find Jesus (not just here but in other places in the gospels) is that they didn’t have all the answers before they set off. It was a risk; it was not clear what would happen, or quite where it would take them, and yet it seemed worth the effort. They encountered Jesus and set off on their return journeys changed.
One of the challenges of the secularisation of Christmas is that the impression is often given that Christmas has already started by November and is over by December 26th. In terms of our Christian calendar, Christmas actually only begins on December 25th and lasts for 12 days.
This year I want to encourage us to make our own journey through Christmas by using the Church of England’s #Follow the Star booklet which you will see available in our churches as we approach Christmas. Please do take one to use on each day of Christmas from Christmas Eve through to Epiphany Sunday (if you can afford to donate £1 to cover the cost that would be great but please don’t let this be a barrier to taking one). Each day includes a picture, a short Bible passage, a simple prayer and a challenge to reflect or act differently. Together, they form a journey through Jesus’ early life – a journey that will help you take the joy and wonder of Christmas into the year ahead.
With my prayers for a wonderful Christmas journey.