Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Holiday travel can be the worst. The Interstates become congested with too much traffic, and sometimes they even close I-80 or I-70 because of winter weather. At the holiday, airline ticket prices spike. It can take hours at the airport to get through TSA. And air travel isn’t even fun anymore. You’re crammed into seats that are too small and too close together with connection times that are impossibly short. Unless you’re flying on Southwest, you still have to pay for checking your bags, and you may not even get a free soda anymore!
Last year on Christmas vacation, I missed my connecting flight to go to my sister’s house in Florida. My flight was delayed two hours because de-icing on the tarmac in Denver. Delta couldn’t get me a connection out of Atlanta until late the next morning. But I didn’t want to miss my niece’s baptism (or sleep in the airport). I had to rent a car and drive four hours on no sleep from Atlanta to Tallahassee. Delta only refunded me $68. And they refused to pay for my rental car. I’ll never fly that airline again!
I’m sure that you have your own holiday travel horror stories full of missed flights, ice storms, and power blackouts. But I’m pretty sure that the Holy Family takes the cake on those complaints. When Joseph and Mary set out from Nazareth to Bethlehem, their journey took them nearly 70 miles through mountainous terrain. It was a journey that would have taken several days. They didn’t have a plane ticket, express train, or rental car. They didn’t even have a Greyhound Bus! There weren’t any freeways—or even gravel roads. We don’t know what kind of animal they rode, but given the fact that they were poor, they likely could not afford a camel or even a horse. So the very pregnant Mary probably sat perched on a little donkey, as most Christmas cards depict, feeling every jolt and jostle as she bumped along with her baby bump. Joseph and Mary didn’t even have a nice holiday meal or gift exchange to look forward to. They went to pay their taxes in Joseph’s hometown, among relatives who looked down on Mary with scorn.
Many people wonder why, if Mary was from Nazareth (Luke 1:26-27), they had to undertake the arduous journey to Bethlehem. The answer is twofold. One is circumstantial: Caesar’s census required everyone to be registered in his hometown, that is, the husband or father’s hometown (2:1-3). But even more importantly, the Old Testament Scriptures had predicted that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem:
“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2).
Bethlehem was known as “the city of David,” because long before David and Goliath or David and Bathsheba, King David grew up as a shepherd boy in Bethlehem (how fitting, then, that shepherds were present on the night of Jesus’ birth!). Jesus was descended from David, the royal son in a long, broken line of kings. To reinforce this royal pedigree, he had to be born in David’s city, the town of Bethlehem (cf. 1 Samuel 16).
Yet Jesus’ journey began long before his birth on that first Christmas over 2,000 years ago. By the miracle of the Incarnation, Jesus was fully God and fully human at the same time. He was 100% divine and 100% man. No, the math doesn’t compute, but that’s all part of the mystery. Jesus is the eternal Son of God, begotten from eternity before worlds began. And yet he undertook a journey through time and space to leave his throne in heaven and come down to earth in the flesh of a little embryo conceived in Mary’s womb by the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Luke 1:35ff).
Yet Jesus’ journey didn’t end at Bethlehem. The cross was his “final destination”—not the manger. The baby Jesus was born to die. And while the travels in his earlier years brought him from Judea to Egypt, back to Galilee and Samaria, and finally Jerusalem, he knew that he would not arrive until he ascended the tree of the cross. There, where he bled and died for the sins of the whole world, including yours and mine, he declared “It is finished!” and then gave up the ghost. From heaven above to earth he came, then into the earth, then a descent into hell. Jesus went to hell and back again—a journey no one, absolutely no one else, has ever made. On the third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven. And from there he will come again to judge the living and the dead.
Jesus’ journey began before time existed. Yet he entered time to become our Savior. He entered the womb of Mary to be born in Bethlehem town. What a journey Jesus underwent! And he did it all for you. Martin Luther writes wonderfully of this in his Christmas hymn, “From Heaven Above to Earth I come”:
“Welcome to earth, O noble Guest,
Through whom the sinful world is blest!
You came to share my misery
That You might share Your joy with me.”
Alleluia! In the name of the Father and of the Son and of T the Holy Spirit. Amen.