Our advent journey is drawing to a close. We are nearing our destination. We are moving closer to the light. This is the last Sunday of Advent. We light the final purple candle reminding us that it is all about love. Our journey has been towards love and light.
Each year Andy and I try to undertake a journey. We go to visit our sons who are living in Arkansas and Georgia respectively. We enjoy our road trip, we like the planning and preparation. I like to give lots of attention to detail. I plan our stops. It is exciting to know we will have our mid-morning cup of tea near the civil rights district of Birmingham, Alabama and a few hours later dinner in Memphis, Tennessee.
Our advent candles are the planned stops on the advent journey. We linger and spend time with hope, peace, joy and love. We pause a moment and consider what each means. Of course, the journey is not always easy. The road is not completely smooth. The events of the last ten days have made this advent seem a rough ride. Our hearts have wept with those who suffered loss. I’m sure each of us has searched deep within as we have struggled this week with the incongruity of lighting the candle for joy in the midst of such pain.
Yet the journey continues and now we rest again with love. A very brief pause, only two more days to reflect and then we celebrate the dawning of the light, the birth of the Christ child.
In our gospel passage this morning we read Luke’s account of the beginning of the Christmas story. In this story Mary undertook a journey. Perhaps for her too it was a journey towards love and light. Mary who had just learned she was pregnant took to the road. She journeyed to the house of her cousin Elisabeth and Zechariah.
We are not told much about the journey. We merely know it was to the hill country of Judea. I suspect it wasn’t a very smooth journey. I tried to find some information about how this journey would be undertaken in Mary’s time. It would be about 120 miles, not long by our standards, but requiring several days travel and some resting stops for Mary. In probability, Mary would have joined a caravan or group travelling south towards Jerusalem. One account I read said a soldier on a horse would accompany them, although a rich man may ride a camel or in a chariot, most of the men would walk. The women would ride on an ass. The journey was over rough, mountainous terrain taking them through Samaria. They would stop at inns on route (although apparently the Samarians often closed their inns to Jews going towards Jerusalem). As they neared Jerusalem the roads became more defined and the journey would have been easier. This leg of the journey would have taken about a week.
From Jerusalem Mary would need to find another caravan heading towards Hebron for the final twenty miles or so of her journey adding another couple of days to her journey.
Even though welcoming the events I expect Mary was disturbed and confused when she left home. Who wouldn’t be! I expect the journey wasn’t merely a means to arrive at a destination but a fruitful and fulfilling experience. I hope that Mary too journeyed through hope, peace and joy as she tried to make sense of the events of the precious few days.
On our road trips, whenever we are nearing our destination, Andy and I are filled with excitement. This is because we are soon to see our sons or, on the way home, soon to sleep in our own bed! This excitement is tinged with thankfulness. We have safely undertaken our journey. Our eyes have been opened to new sights, sounds and smells along the way. We have reconnected with those we love. We are thankful when we see them happy and well.
Mary too ended her journey also with excitement and thankfulness. What an excited meeting between Mary and Elisabeth. What thankfulness pours out of their mouths. What love and light is shared between them as the prophetic voices of these two women ring out with those words that have been remembered and recited for generations. We know nothing more of the three months spent together or the return journey. Yet surely it was a time of hope, peace, joy and love helping Mary to prepare to welcome the Christ child.
We just have a few hours left to prepare welcome the Christ child. My hope is that we will use them wisely. Our hearts and minds will have benefitted from our advent journey, our time of preparation. I wish you could all join with us tomorrow night as we welcome the Christ child here in Ithaca. However, I pray that each of you, in your own locations, will be able to welcome the Christ child, the shinning light of the world with joy and thankfulness.