2018-12-9 WELCA Advent Devotions
When Barb asked me to provide a devotion for today’s WELCA celebration, the Honduran Caravan was in the news. According to a December 7 article in the San Diego Union-Tribune, the caravan completed its 2800 mile journey in Tijuana and the group is in the process of dispersing.
The reports I heard about why people were leaving Honduras was because they feared for their lives and the lives of their children in their home country. Drugs and the violence are horrendous; political corruption; need for work. Their best hope for a future worth living lay elsewhere. They travelled as a group to ward off the human predators that feed on the vulnerable.
The Honduran Caravan made me think of the journeys that surround the story and life of Jesus. There are four journeys that surround Jesus’ birth that I want to briefly touch upon. Each of the journeys is made for a different reason.
Christmas Eve, we will hear again from Luke 2 about how Joseph and Mary had to travel from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem. They travelled some 80 miles one way to get there. Most likely they walked that trip. Perhaps traveling with some kind of caravan such as the Hondurans. Hopefully traveling in a group for the same reasons as the Hondurans.
Even though most pictures of the holy family on the way to Bethlehem show Mary riding on a donkey, no donkey is mentioned in Scripture. Jesus rides a donkey into Jerusalem, but we do not know if Mary and Joseph even had a donkey.
The reason for this 80 mile one way trip was because it was government mandated. Gosh, can we ever complain about having to go to downtown South Bend to tend to something government mandated again? 80 miles to get registered for taxes! For crying out loud!! The nice thing about Luke is that he names names. It is all Emperor Augustus’ fault.
On Epiphany, January 6, which is happily on a Sunday in this cycle, we hear about the Visit of the Magi. The visit of the Magi is only recorded in Matthew 2. They first go to King Herod because they assume that the reason for the special star is because of a child born to Herod. The quick thinking but paranoid Herod learns from the Jewish religious leaders that the star is meant for a Messiah who must be born in Bethlehem. Herod sends the Magi on there way. We will return to Herod’s devious mind in a moment. But, the Magi do find Jesus, Joseph, and Mary, and present their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
We do not know for certain who these Magi are. One speculation is that they are a learned class in ancient Persia. Persia came to an end as an empire in 330 BC with the invasion of Alexandria the Great. But, Persian culture lives on. Modern day Iran is the heart of Persia. At its height, the Persian Empire was expansive.
We do not know the origin of the Magi, but if we conjecture that they came from the vicinity of modern day Tehran, that means they traveled close to 1300 miles to present their gifts.
We always see the Magi pictured on camels. That is not mentioned in Scripture. But, I hope they rode camels and they traveled with a caravan. That is a long way to go. And, they would need the protection of a large group of people.
What motivated these Magi? We are told it was because of a special star. They wanted to honor the one that the very heavens told them had come. I often wonder” Did they do chase after stars often?
As it turns out, it’s a good thing they gifted the holy family with gold, because they would soon need it. The quick thinking, paranoid Herod figured out that the Magi were not returning with a report. On December 28, we commemorate what happens when a quick-thinking, paranoid ruler has an army at his disposal. Herod orders the army to slaughter innocent children in Bethlehem. Matthew 2:13-18 tells how our third journey begins:
13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ 14Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’
The journey is taken out of fear for their lives. An unstoppable mad man was after their baby, they took the gold and traveled at least 430 miles to somewhere in Egypt. They got out before the Army arrived.
The irony of this journey to Egypt, of course, is that in Israel’s spiritual history, Egypt was a place of bondage and death. Now, in the New Testament, Egypt is a place of freedom and life. Israel, and in particular Jerusalem, is the place to fear. For in Israel, there is deception and death for the Messiah.
The fourth journey is the return to Nazareth. Matthew 2:19-23 reports that Joseph once again received news in a dream that it was time to travel: “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.”
Another near 500 mile trip to return back home. They settle in Nazareth. Why Nazareth? Matthew reports that it is because it fulfills Scripture. According to Luke, it is where Joseph and Mary are from. They are returning home to their kin.
I began this reflection with the Honduran Caravan. I heard in the news that their motivation to travel to America was because of fear for their lives, government corruption, safety, and wanting a better future for themselves and their children. Some undoubtably felt they were on a God-mandated quest.
What we heard in the four journeys that surround Jesus’ birth are similar themes: government requirements and government sponsored terror; fear; quest; safety. The motivations of the journeys themselves further connect us to the humanity of the Incarnate One, Jesus. Even as he is being born, he is experiencing the currents and demands and reality of the “world.” Even in birth and as a young child, Jesus experiences what we experience.
Those of us in this room are from somewhere else. My own people are not native to America. All branches of my family come from European lands. My experience is not unique. Journeys are a part of our American experience.
Journeys are also a part of our spiritual experience. Most of us have not always been at First English. We all came from somewhere else. What I am grateful for this Advent season is that God has brought us together in God’s mysterious way so that we can wait for the final part of Jesus’ journey together when he comes again at the close of this age.
Let us pray: O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.