The Christmas story is all about journeys. The journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. The journey of the shepherds from the fields to the stable. The journey of the wise men from the East. The journey of the Holy Family as they flee from Herod into Egypt. Their journey back to Nazareth once the coast is clear. These are the obvious journeys associated with these stories. There are others.
For a start, there’s the journey the celebration has taken from Jesus’ likely date of birth (probably sometime in September) to its current date of 25 December. Explanations vary widely as to why this has happened. Of course, the moving around of a birthday has precedents in our experience. Queen Elizabeth II was not born on the second weekend of June, any more than Jesus was on 25 December. But the latter will do as a date to celebrate in the absence of any other certain date. Those of us who have been part of ‘Christmas in July’ festivities know that, for the southern hemisphere at least, the feast has the potential to be once more on the move…
But all of this wandering about of people and dates is neither here nor there when it comes to the spiritual journey each of us is being invited into. The journey of Jesus did not end with the 33 years of his life. In fact, with his crucifixion, his journey was just beginning. But there is a catch or, perhaps better, an invitation. His journey now involves yours. For, among many other things, this is what Christmas as a celebration is fundamentally about. It’s not just about kids dressing up for nativity plays, re-enacting a long-ago scene. That’s a nice thing to do, but only of real use if it achieves its purpose: to remind us that Jesus is offering to be born again in us. We are to go on the journey that brings us to being the presence of Jesus in the world. No pressure…
Bringing Christ into the world is not easy. We’re busy. We have our own lives...so we often leave God to fend for himself. The fact is, there is a very real sense in which God is dependent on us. In order to be born into our lives, that he may transform every part of them, God needs us to place our trust in him and to allow him to lead us. This is the most important thing that we can possibly do. In fact, it is the reason we exist – to live heart and soul in response to the One who gives us being.
Preparing us for this is the work that God has been doing in us since our own birth. The Holy Spirit has been offered to us to bring about this transformation. The degree to which God will be successful in this, is the degree to which we agree to go on the journey.
Tips for the Journey
Have you looked for a car park recently? There are none. Everyone is at the shops.
This annual shopping frustration puts an ironic layer upon Advent, the liturgical season of waiting.
During the four weeks prior to Christmas, we light the candles of our Advent wreaths and put ourselves in the spiritual space of the Israelites who, through many long centuries, waited for the coming of the Messiah, “How long, O Lord?”
Take advantage of the traffic and the shopping lines—really anything that makes you wait. And let the truth of what 18th-century French priest Jean-Pierre de Caussade said sink in: "God's activity runs through the entire universe. It wells up around and penetrates every created being… accept cheerfully all the difficulties you meet, and surrender to the will of God in all you have to do…. This is authentic spirituality, and it is valid for all times and for everyone. We could not choose to become good in a better, more miraculous, and yet easier way than by the simple use of the means offered us by God; the whole-hearted acceptance of everything that comes to us at every moment of our lives."
See the wait as a spiritual invitation to draw closer to God. Pray one of the great prayers of the church, such as the rosary or the Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”.
The Bible teacher Scott Hahn said, “If we do not fill our mind with prayer, it will fill itself with anxieties, worries, temptations, resentments, and unwelcome memories.”
Consider the possibility that God wants you at that moment to wait and then sanctify the time through one of those savouring prayers.
This article is part of Faith Journey, a newsletter from the National Centre for Evangelisation.