a Christmas mini-retreat with Mary
During the Christmas season, scriptures remind us of many important, even startling, journeys surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ.
First, the angel Gabriel journeyed to Mary of Nazareth. His message became a life-changing event for the young virgin and the salvation of all peoples for all time. After Mary courageously agreed to bear the Son of God, she journeyed to visit Elizabeth, her aged and beloved cousin, who also experienced a miraculous pregnancy. Elizabeth bore the prophet John the Baptist. Justin Bartkus writes about the joyful visitation between the two holy women:
The infant John. Barely formed mind and barely formed body, a little stitching together of cells and tissues inside Elizabeth’s womb – he is a spirit of expectation. The oncoming God-with-us has approached, borne aloft on a holy throne – his mother’s tummy. Without thought, without theology, the Forerunner somersaults with joy. The King and Messiah is here.”Justin Bartkus, Give Us This Day, December 2022
However, Mary’s journey to Joseph was different. He did not understand Mary’s supernatural pregnancy nor the presence of the Messiah, and his heart broke. Joseph decided to divorce Mary quietly, hoping to maintain her dignity.
But, ah! A second angelic appearance!
An angel journeyed to Joseph, who listened and allowed transformation in his heart. Scripture tells us Joseph took Mary into his home and cared for her.
More journeys followed. During Christmas, we think of Mary’s ride on a donkey, traveling with Joseph to Bethlehem. Other wondrous journeys fill the Christmas stories. An angel choir gloriously announced Jesus’ birth, shepherds searched for a stable, and new parents traveled to a temple to present Baby Jesus before a priest.
Our Christmas story continues. Three wise men from the East followed a star and found Herod. They inquired about the Newborn King. The jealous King Herod commanded soldiers to journey throughout the country to kill the “Innocents,” the baby boys under age two. An angel again appeared to Joseph, commanding him to flee with Mary and Jesus to safety in Egypt.
Perhaps our Christmas journeys are not historical to-be-remembered-for-all-time events, but they are valuable. People venture by car or train or airplane to visit family and friends at Christmastime. Smaller still, many travels end in the store, where we buy gifts, holiday lights, and cookie ingredients as expressions of our love for others and our joy in the season. The significance of our journeys falls far beyond the sparkly ornament.
Perhaps our life journeys are not dazzling, but collectively they shape our eternity. We make many journeys throughout our lives to attend school, seek jobs, and follow spouses or friends. We travel to offices, churches, doctors, psychologists, retreats, reunions, far-away countries, and to our neighbors’ homes. During these journeys, we work, serve, praise, cry, laugh, and love. Every small or big decision brings us to the places — and the people — where we find ourselves today.
In the here and now, at this moment, the Lord knows us. The Lord loves us. The Lord accepts us. The journey of Jesus as a human being on earth won our salvation. God’s presence fills all our journeys, constantly calling us to new life in Him. Ultimately, all our journeys lead us to the destination, our home in Heaven.