Newsletter Subscribe
Australian Catholics Subscribe

PrayerBlog: Strange Journeys

Andrew Hamilton, SJ |  14 December 2016

Many children associate Christmas with journeys made and odd places visited. Plane and train trips to visit separated parents, car trips to visit rarely seen relatives, camping expeditions to tent cities by the beach.

Journeys and odd places are also the stuff of the first Christmas stories: where Joseph, Mary and Jesus make roundabout journeys to be in strange places that turn out to be God's right places. In Luke's Gospel the pregnant Mary makes a long and tiring journey from Nazareth, a nothing village, to visit her cousin in the hill country, and returns in time to go to Bethlehem, a faded town once important because it was once the city of King David. The trip was at the demand of the taxman. It also associated Jesus with David, the archetypal King.

When they get to Bethlehem they cannot find room in the inn, so they go to a field where Jesus can be born and by visited by shepherds, another image of royalty.

In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus is born in Bethlehem, but has to flee to the unfashionable Egypt to escape Herod's dragnet for infants of his age. The result is that Jesus, like Joseph the patriarch, is called back out of Egypt.

Through arduous journeys to odd places forced on him by the contingencies of his life Jesus is linked to key figures in God's relationship to Israel and to Jewish hopes. The first Christmas stories are about a family under duress taken on long journeys to places that would never have been in their plans. They are also about the devisings of a scholarly God who ensures that they make the journeys and find themselves in the places that correspond to key texts in the Scriptures.

In Jesus' case, of course, his final journey to the wrong place took him finally to Jerusalem where he was taken, tried and killed. Like a Christmas trip to Syria today, that was the journey that everyone warned him against. It was also the place where through his constancy in love God brought life out of death.

The story of Christmas suggests that we are never in control of our journeys or our destinations. To plan prudently in our financial affair, our career path and our mission is important because it accepts responsibility for the steps of our journey. But planning never comes with guarantees of results.. A fall and a plaster cast can cripple the best-planned hiking trip; a financial crisis can knock the stuffing out of the best constructed retirement plan. They can take us to places where we would rather not go.

But the assertion of our lack of control over our journeys and the place they will take us is only the lesser half of the Christmas message. Christmas also reminds us that the disruption of our journeys and the forced visitation of odd places is never lost time. In those journeys and places we may later recognise God's hand. The risk, the loss, the flight and the anxiety may later seem to be gift-bearing, and what at the time appeared to be a circuitous detour is later seen to be a straight path through terrain we needed to traverse.

That may also be true of the larger journey of humanity. Over the last year the world has seemed to many of us to turn back to dark places. It has become more conflicted, more inhospitable, less open to connection, more making of fences, more brutal in its treatment of difference, less open to the future. It is like the world in which Herod felt at home, filled with dynastic intrigue, murderous use of power and a trip to work past the corpses of executed patriots and brigands hung up to dry.

And yet goodness and freedom broke through in Herod's time. If Christmas is a living story for us we may hope that in these public indecencies today goodness, love and courage will be stronger than all the things that make for death and despair.

 

Andrew Hamilton is a consulting editor at Jesuit Communications.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Topic tags: feastdays, people’sstoriesoffaith, ourrelationshipwithgod, thecatholictradition

Request permissions to reuse this article


Comments

Submitted feedback is moderated. Please read our comments policy. Email is requested for identification purposes only.

Word Count: 0 (please limit to 200)

Similar articles

Prayerblog: Celebrating Mass among the unwelcome

Fr Peter Carrucan | 17 Jan 2017

A Christmas day celebration at a detention centre provides an insight into the difficult lives of asylum seekers in Australia. 


PrayerBlog: Remaining Resolute

Mark O'Shea | 15 Jan 2017

'Argh! Just ten more minutes!' It's 6am, and already I'm in the throes of a heated battle with my alarm clock. My outstretched hand slams down on the snooze button, the only ally I can count on in this daily grudge match. It takes another three rounds in the ring for my conscience to finally leap into action, prying my unwilling eyes open with a few short, sharp pangs: 'Didn't you promise yourself that you'd be getting up early from now on?' Fine! I surrender!


PrayerBlog: Hope

Susie Hii  | 08 Dec 2016

My mother died about a month ago, on 26 October, 2016. On the news recently, we heard of the tragic deaths of young people from meningococcal meningitis, one of whom who had just finished high school. Others have even died from severe attacks of asthma during the storm in Melbourne. On top of all these, the news of the death of a friend's sister literally brought on an attack of dizziness. In the midst of this mental storm, I prayed for silence and stillness.


PrayerBlog: Waiting

Brendon Nicholls | 17 Nov 2016

Our lives are often cyclic. We wake up, go to school or work, go home, relax, sleep and then repeat until the weekend. Most of us enjoy the constant patterns of our lives and can find joy and security in the ‘ordinariness’ of life. 

 


PrayerBlog: Take Another Look

Brendon Nicholls | 06 Nov 2016

It is easy to miss events in the world around us. So much of the beauty of creation occurs in slow motion, or in ways that are so minute as to be virtually unnoticeable. The wild weather here in Victoria over the last month has been quite exceptional however; it has imposed itself upon us and gained our attention. So often though, our attempts to divide our attention between all that life throws at us can be overwhelming, and we miss the wonderful, less obvious opportunities that God has placed in our way.


Newsletter Subscribe
ACU