Last June Gwen and I were about to drive into Switzerland for the first time. Siri told me to turn a bit late. I slowed way down and a young man in his company’s Smart Car clipped the back of our Auris as he tried to zip by. He pushed us into the oncoming traffic lane. Happily, there were no cars coming or I might not be here to write this. We were shaken up – and then the German police arrived! The polizist was nice – but he spoke German!
We had one thing going for us, however. We decided a long time ago to take all our trips as pilgrimages. Our definition of a pilgrimage includes welcoming the unexpected or even the unwanted as part of our journey with Jesus. A pilgrimage allows us to see God at work in all sorts of new situations that test our capacity to trust him. We get to prove to ourselves again and again that beyond our ordinary awareness God is present and leading. So we don’t take vacations anymore; we’d rather inhabit what’s happening than vacate.
This is a good day to start a pilgrimage. It is the second day of Advent, the season that begins the Christian year. An “advent” is the coming of something expected. God is coming in the person of Jesus to be God with us. God’s coming as a baby invites us to begin again, ourselves, and go through our own process of maturation until we move though death into resurrection life with Him.
Last week many Americans (especially if they were in elementary school) remembered the persecuted separatists from the English Church, called THE Pilgrims, who created a place for themselves in Massachusetts. A pilgrim is a person who goes on a long journey, often with a religious or moral purpose, and especially a journey to a foreign land. The Pilgrims who had the famous thanksgiving feast thought of themselves as those kind of pilgrims. Here’s evidence: After the Mayflower arrived, the first baby born to the Pilgrims who sailed on it was a boy. His parents (William and Susannah White!) named him Peregrine – a word which applies to a person travelling from far away and also means “pilgrim.” When Governor William Bradford wrote about the group’s departure for America he said: “They knew they were pilgrims, and looked not much on those things, but lifted up their eyes to the heavens, their dearest country; and quieted their spirits.”
Everybody in the story of Christ’s coming is something of a pilgrim. The wise men probably come all the way from Persia looking for what their studies revealed. John the Baptist goes into the wilderness and then out to the Jordan River where people journey to meet him and repent. Joseph and Mary go to Bethlehem and then to Egypt and back. The shepherds go to Bethlehem to see the Savior and then go all over the countryside to tell everyone about him. Where are you going? God has come from heaven and Jesus is taking first steps as a human and leading through death into life. Are you a similar pilgrim?
Advent is a season for beginning the journey. Some people reading are just getting to know Jesus and every step is fresh and maybe unnerving. More people reading are challenged to begin again, to not stay put, to not let the notables in the well-known “Christmas” story just pass them by.
How do we get started? We have a few weeks to figure that out. I think each of the main players in the story offers a very good example of what to do:
1) Go somewhere. The whole season will be filled with places to go that are not really spiritual places at all — take Best Buy, for instance — perhaps your office “winter holiday” party. Plan at least one event in your season that is like being a wise man searching for the Savior. Take half a day off and call it “searching for the Savior time.” Follow the star like the wise men.
2) Experience wilderness. The whole season is exquisitely designed, these days, to be absolutely fake. We even disguise trees and put them in our living rooms. But you don’t really need to travel very far from Philly before you can see actual stars. Or just sit down in the park and experience the weather. Listen to God in creation like John.
3) Fulfill an obligation. It is a common joke that the season is already so full of obligation that the cool people are all huddled in a bar avoiding it. But submitting to work as someone who must be saved rather than resenting work as someone who is too good for it is good for us. Feeling like you must care for someone else out of your own sense of honor is good. Go do what you have to do like Joseph. Go to your “Bethlehem” and you might unwittingly fulfill a prophecy!
4) Escape. There is no doubt that this season has become a real baby killer (note ornament). It is filled with escapism that needs to be escaped. Maybe you should deliberately skip doing something that you would not do unless expected you to — like making those cookies or going to that thing in New York. Run for your life like Mary taking the baby to Egypt.
5) Go tell your story. Maybe you have no freedom to make a lot of choices or have little money to spend on interesting ways to be a pilgrim. Don’t fret. You can be on a “speaking tour” as you move through your day. Your latest experience with Jesus is worth telling. Move around your own countryside telling about the Savior that is born to everyone, Christ the Lord, just like the shepherds did.
But let’s keep moving. Advent is a pilgrimage. Your inward journey will be greatly benefited if you have outward movement that helps it. If you can manage to not get pushed around by the wacky holiday thing the world does or manage to not just resist that wacky thing, maybe you can experience what the people in the true story are experiencing.
More? Hit “Advent” in my tags for other posts