The Christmas season is all about journeys. People are traveling in order to be home with family. Kids are heading to the grandparents' house. College campuses are abandoned ghost towns.
The Christmas story itself is full of journeys. Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem because of the census. The angels traveled from heaven to tell the shepherds about Jesus’ birth. The shepherds traveled to the manger. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus all traveled to Egypt to escape Herod’s death sentence.
But the most famous journey of all is that of the wise men.
My three-year-old son found the first booklet on a bench outside our local theater. Then, excitedly, he discovered another one on the next bench over. He kept going. On each bench at our shopping center, someone had dropped paperback copies of “The Hero of Hacksaw Ridge” by Booton Herndon, postscript by Doug Batchelor. It was opening night of Mel Gibson’s biopic Hacksaw Ridge, featuring Adventist non-combatant Desmond Doss.
If Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson had been New Testament scholars instead of country music singers, they probably would have used a different word than “cowboys” in their Grammy Award winning duet of an Ed and Patsy Bruce ballad.
“Mamas,” they might have crooned for a 1st century version, “don’t let your babies grow up to be church leaders…
They ain’t easy to love and harder to hold…
Them that don’t know ‘em won't like them
and them that do, sometimes won't know how to take ‘em.”
Watch out, you shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture, declares the Lord. This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, proclaims about the shepherds who “tend to” my people: You are the ones who have scattered my flock and driven them away. You have not attended to their needs, so I will take revenge on you for the terrible things you have done to them, declares the Lord. I myself will gather the few remaining sheep from all the countries where I have driven them. I will bring them back to their pasture, and they will be fruitful and multiply.
An old man planted and dug and tended,
Toiling in joy from dew to dew;
The sun was kind, and the rain befriended;
Fine grew his orchard and fair to view.
Then he said: "I will quiet my thrifty fears,
For here is fruit for my failing years."
But even then the storm-clouds gathered,
Swallowing up the azure sky;
The sweeping winds into white foam lathered
The placid breast of the bay, hard by;
Then the spirits that raged in the darkened air
Swept o'er his orchard and left it bare.
One of the scenes from the Wizard of Oz that I remember from my childhood (the movie; I never read the book) was that of Dorothy and her friends traveling the road to the Emerald City, repeating to themselves over and over again, “Lions, and tigers, and bears, Oh My!” At the age of seven, it was not at all difficult for me to absorb their anxiety. Of course, that was not the only thing that impacted me as I watched. There was also the Scarecrow’s hunger for knowledge, the Tin Man’s for human connection, the Lion’s for courage, and of course Dorothy’s longing to find her way home.
The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.
The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.