“Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for.” Luke 2
We’ve been in the process of relocating. We spent some time camping out in our new house before all our belongings were delivered; painting, finding the super mailbox, visiting with our kids and grandkids. Then we returned to our old place to load the moving van and clean for the next owners. We’ve started a new journey that brings us closer to our kids and grandkids.
The Christmas season tells stories of journeys, especially going “home” for Christmas. As I was painting the living room I listened to a jazz piece “Driving Home For Christmas.” The song mentioned the driver looking at other drivers on the road, who, like him, were driving home for Christmas.
Many Christmas movies tell “journey home for Christmas” stories, because it is at home that people fall in love with their unexpected match and it is at home that the real magic of Christmas takes place.
The spiritual path this time of year, for many local church families, is the Advent and Christmas season. I’ve noticed that this year the idea of a congregation going on a journey together is popular. I’ve noticed themes like, “A Journey With The Prophets,” “The Journey to Bethlehem.” and “The Journey of Hope.”
One of our family traditions on Christmas morning is to read Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. This is a journey story. Joseph and Mary leave their home in Nazareth and travel 111 kilometres. They make this journey because an imperial order has directed every person in the empire to register themselves in their ancestral home. When the Shepherds heard from the angels of the birth of the Messianic Saviour of Israel, they immediately journeyed in from their pastureland to see, and then journeyed around their villages telling everyone what they had experienced.
There are several journey stories in the Gospels that we associate with the Christmas season. Luke also tells us about the journey Joseph, Mary, and the infant Jesus took from Bethlehem to Jerusalem to dedicate Jesus at the Temple. And he relates the annual trip from Nazareth to Jerusalem with the Festival of Passover.
Matthew tells of the escape to Egypt to save the infant Jesus from the murderous intentions of Herod. And then he explains how the family returned from Egypt and settled in Nazareth. Matthew is also the writer who tells the story of the Magi from the East who made a journey with their gifts to honour the newborn King.
Jesus’ birth in obscurity and poverty in Bethlehem, according to Luke, is in contrast to the opulence and power of the life the Emperor Augustus lived in Rome. The journey Mary and Joseph made to Bethlehem was forced by an imperial edict requiring all to be counted, presumably for tax purposes that drained wealth from Palestine to Rome. At the time of Jesus’ birth, Augustus considered himself in some sense a god and the provider of prosperity and peace for the whole Empire.
Mary and Joseph hear from an angel that their son will be the saviour of Israel. Angels tell shepherds out in the pasturelands surrounding Bethlehem that their long-awaited royal saviour has been born.
There are many other journey stories in the Bible. So much so that the idea of journeying has become a popular metaphor for understanding and explaining the Christian life. During Advent and Christmas we can read, imagine, and identify with the journeys of Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus. I find myself interested in the political features of the story. Mary and Joseph obeyed the edict and were counted. But I think they also had a sense of the domineering power and self-serving motivation of the Empire. They saw in Jesus a saviour who would bring down Emperors from their rule.
We are on a relocation journey. It’s very different from the Christmas journey story in Luke. We’ve met all kinds of people on this journey and our overall impression is one of gratefulness and delight because of the kind and generous service and help we have received.
We will be in our new home for Christmas. We won’t be all unpacked. But we will have plenty of space to spend time with our family. It’s part of a life-long journey that we chose to take with Jesus, who opened the way for us to know him when he started life in Bethlehem.