The Christmas story is a story of journeys. Mary and Joseph travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem. By today’s standards not much a journey really, but in the day it would have been a chore. Likewise the shepherds, coming into town from the fields was a long, arduous walk. And the “Wise Men?” – now that was a trip.
The Magi were on an over-the-horizon journey. The shepherds had but to look for the lights of town and walk in that direction. The Magi traveled to someplace unknown along routes they had never taken. Mary and Joseph had but to follow a well-worn path with roadside services to a place they had been before. The Magi, according to Biblical narrative, used celestial navigation.
In this day of smartphones and GPS, navigating comes all too easily. But celestial navigation is an entirely different story. I have a friend who was a navigator on some of the last B-29’s in military service. He had to stick his head out of the top of an airplane to sight a star to figure out where the airplane was. And yet he represented the pinnacle of celestial navigation technology, His sextant was of the finest quality; his timepieces highly accurate and he had computational assistance. A timepiece that could make longitudinal fixes truly accurate was not really invented until about the time of the American Revolution. When the Magi made their celestially navigated journey they would have been without timepiece and with the crudest of sextants. The journey of the Magi was truly a journey into the unknown, but it also represented one of the highest technological achievements of its time.
A arduous journey to an incarnation – something extraordinary was going on.
The events of Holy Week and Easter may be the pivotal events around which the axis of history rotates, for in them humanity finds its salvation. But it is the events of Christmas that tell us what to do with that salvation. From salvation we take an arduous journey to incarnation.
Through our salvation the Spirit of God is able to dwell in us. Just as Jesus came, dwelt among us and showed us God’s glory; so we, also filled with that glory through Christ’s ministry, death and resurrection, are now called to show that glory to the world – by dwelling in it. Those two sentences, easy enough to write, are the arduous journey from salvation to incarnation.
The journey from our salvation to being people that dwell in the world as shining beacons of God’s glory is indeed a journey into the unknown that requires our highest achievements and greatest efforts. The journey from salvation to incarnation is a journey in the direction opposite the one we are naturally inclined to take. It is a journey uphill, when it is so easy to go down. It is a journey that demands the diminishing of our glory so that God’s glory may be that much brighter. It is a journey that ends up full circle wherein we can say as Jesus did on the night before He was crucified, “Not my will but Thine.”
The world needs the shining light of God’s glory so desperately right now. The contrast between those that think they spread God’s light by the death of others through conquest, and the true light of God that shines out of humility and self-sacrifice is extraordinarily sharp in a Christmas season that began with a slaughter.
Christmas is a picture of what God’s expects of us – to take a most arduous journey, involving our greatest effort and achievement, to the place where we are filled with His glory while living most humbly. Anything less diminishes the bright light of His glory – a light the world needs now as much as it ever has.