A voice in the wilderness: Holy inconveniences
Just before Thanksgiving, my family and I traveled to Denver to see my parents and sister. Though we live in the Quad Cities, we flew out of Cedar Rapids on an airline known for its affordability. This limited our travel days, shortened our trip, but kept the tickets reasonably priced. That is, until our flight was cancelled, we had to find a new one, and pay twice as much on another airline. And yet we still had to drive to Cedar Rapids because that’s where our trip originated! I swore I’d never fly again after that whole ordeal.
Well, most of the annoyance of this trip preceded it, so as the days drew nearer, and by the time we got to the airport, and then our gate, the excitement began to build. The kids were enthused about the special snacks I’d packed, the adventure of flying on a plane, and the atypical advantage of staying up late since our arrival was long after their bedtime. As I sat next to them, doling out M & M’s while they marveled at the sounds and sensations during take-off, I started to relax; sensing that the hassles beforehand were worth it.
It’s a far cry from the Bible stories of this season, I know that. But I can’t help but think of the Holy Family and their inconvenient trip to Bethlehem. Imagine the newly betrothed couple navigating their life together and traveling by donkey a distance of about a hundred miles. In contrast to many idyllic renderings, I picture the mother of our Lord, sitting side saddle on a braying beast, perhaps clothed in a loose and humble garment as she tries hard not to make a spectacle of her ever-growing midsection.
The Advent narratives, whether it’s Zechariah’s surprising visit by an angel in the temple, (Luke 5:11-20) John the Baptist’s harsh words, ushering in the season, (Luke 3:4-18) or Mary and Joseph adjusting to their new life as expectant parents on the road, (Luke 2:4-7) nothing is convenient; nothing luxurious.
Christmas, in our affluent North America, surrounds us with luxury. Television commercials with brand new cars tied in bows, a suggestion for “the perfect gift.” Catalogues and gift ideas flood our mailboxes and news feeds. When it comes to Christmas, Theologian and Biblical Scholar Richard Horsely refers to it as a “festival of consumption.” The ‘festival’ starts earlier and earlier each year with Black Friday sales creeping into Thanksgiving Day, requiring those who work retail to skep out on turkey dinners, don uniforms and get to work earlier than usual. In the world of business, and “busyness,” such a festival is what Christmas has become.
But Advent remains something altogether different. Peculiar to consumer culture and baffling to unreligious minds, these stories are preserved in their obscurity. To my knowledge, no one’s bidding on Ebay for locust and honey hors d’oeuvres for their holiday parties, at least that I’m aware of.
Last month my family and I journeyed by plane to Colorado where my parents live and – praise God – we made it there in one piece. Likewise, two thousand years ago, an impoverished couple traveled to the husband’s homeland so Christ could be born, and joy proclaimed. It’s what this season is all about: joy amidst the inconvenience; the experience of the holy on the dusty roads of life.
There’s much to love about the season of Advent; those narratives I mentioned are at once humbling and inspiring. They encourage me to lighten up when my plans get interrupted or inconvenienced. Though not quite as drastic, the embrace of such interruptions make space for the Spirit to work; just like the Spirit did so many years ago.
Kendra Thompson is Pastor for Children and Family Life at St. Paul Lutheran Church. She is a wife, a pastor, a mom and a writer. She blogs regularly at www.crylaughsnort.wordpress.com and tinyfaith.org.