Have you ever noticed how much of the account of the birth of Jesus involves travellers?
The angel Gabriel was a traveller to the home of Mary, and soon after Mary was on the road to visit her cousin Elizabeth for a three month stay.
Then shortly after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph with their new baby are on the road to Egypt escaping the cruelty of Herod.
In the midst of these great journeys the shepherds make their own pilgrimage to visit Jesus and the Magi are crossing deserts following the star to the greatest light of all, Jesus, Emmanuel, “a name which means God is with us”.
We now see all these journeys in the context of the greatest journey of all time; God’s journey from heaven to earth in Jesus. This is what we celebrate at Christmas.
I spend a lot of time on the road often driving 1000km in a week. From today (the beginning of the Christmas break) many of you will also travel great distances to be with family and friends for Christmas.
While our 21st century journeys might be a bit more comfortable than days across deserts by donkey or camel, modern travel still has its challenges, especially when we are tired and ready for vacation.
I suppose this is why the journey has always been a powerful metaphor for human life. Thomas Merton sees the road-traveller as the image of a life-traveller on pilgrimage to God.
The years we spend on earth are a journey and if we don’t know where we are headed we can end up wandering aimlessly instead of journeying purposefully.
The one who journeys with purpose is able to negotiate any obstacle. The wanderer is forever rudderless, tossed by every whim of fashion in the sea of popular opinion.
“They who have a why to live, can bear almost any how.” (Nietzsche)
Here’s Thomas Merton‘s Pilgrim’s Prayer which you might find helpful wherever and however you travel today.
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end….
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you,
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this,
You will lead me by the right road, though
I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem lost in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
O ANTIPHON 22 December
“O King of the Nations, whom they desire,
and the cornerstone, who join two together into one:
come and save mankind, whom you formed from the clay.”