2In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. (Luke 2: 1-5)
Mary awoke early that morning. She laid in bed, heavy in both body and spirit. She was close to giving birth. She could feel it. But they had received word that they had to go to Bethlehem to register with the Roman government there. It didn’t make sense. This was their home. But Bethlehem was where their names were known. The world was changing so fast. It didn’t used to be this way. But the land was no longer their own. They were considered trespassers, immigrants, really, even though they had lived here their whole lives. So she got up and began to pack. The desert trek would be treacherous and unforgiving. She thought back to what the angel had said: “Do not be afraid.” There was no choice but to go, so she packed both her fears and her faith and began to ready herself for whatever might come. They would leave Galilee and head toward Judea, to a foreign land, an unwelcoming land. Go with us, God.
For most of us, our faith journey is fairly easy. We live comfortably. We live in a place that feels like home. But once in a while, we are forced to go, to go into the unknown. And that is where our faith comes to be. Maybe these treks are God’s gentle way of nudging us along on our faith journey, lest we get too comfortable, lest we begin to call a place home that is really not ours.
You know, if you read the Bible, it is a story of immigration, of moving from one place to another and sometimes back again, journeying from one way of being to another. The Bible stories are full of those who found themselves in places that they did not really belong—strange utopian gardens, searching for Promised Lands (“So, here’s the deal Abe…if you’ll leave your country and journey to a place that you’ve never seen and that you don’t know, this is all going to turn out.”), and 40 years of lost wilderness wanderings, just to name a few. And in those places, alone, without the comforts of home, they found God and, perhaps just as importantly, they found who they were supposed to be. And now this Bethlehem tale. We know they’ll get there and there won’t be a place (AGAIN!) They won’t build a mansion and settle into a dream home. They will keep journeying to the place that God calls them to go.
Our journey is no different. There’s never a place. You see, God does not call us down roads that are paved with our plans and our preconceptions. God calls us instead to travel through the wilds of our lives, to journey with our eyes open that we might see this new thing that God is doing. T.S. Eliot once said that “the end of all our exploring…will be to arrive where we started…and know the place for the first time.” There’s never a place. We never really “arrive”. The journey does not end. It’s always new, re-created. That’s the point. After all, even Mary and Joseph turned and made their way home. But they were never the same again. And the baby that is coming? Well, he was never meant to settle down and stay put. And there was never really room for him at all. God didn’t intend to show us how to build a house; God revealed the journey home and threw in traveling mercies on the way. So, let us go and see this thing that the Lord has made known to us!
God travels wonderful paths with human beings; God does not arrange matters to suit our opinions and views, does not follow the path that humans would like to prescribe for God. God’s path is free and original beyond all our ability to understand or to prove. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Christmas With Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Manfred Weber, ed.)
Grace and Peace,