Some of my best memories of Christmas don’t have anything to do with gifts that I received on Christmas morning, in fact, I can’t remember most of them, except that there was always socks and underwear. The best memories I have center on trips, and while we didn’t travel much over the holidays, there was that one Christmas we went to my grandmother’s house. To be honest, I don’t remember it, but it is permanently etched in my mind because of the pictures we have. In college, I was the one who travelled home for the holidays, and that journey was always filled with great anticipation because I got to spend time with my family and friends. But the Christmas journey I loved the most was the one my grandmother would make to come and visit us for the holidays. She would usually arrive just a few days before Christmas, often the day that school let out, so her arrival meant Christmas was close. I always looked forward to that visit.
This year, I want to invite you to take a journey. I know your season is already filled with shopping, decorating, and baking, and I know you have to make time for wrapping gifts, planning dinners, and attending concerts, and I know you may already be stressed out about how you are going to get it all done, and paid for, but I want to invite you to add one more thing to your list. I want to invite you on a journey because Christmas is all about a journey.
The story of Jesus’ birth is filled with people who were willing to make a journey. Mary and Joseph took a trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Shepherds traveled from the open fields to a tiny manger, and Wise-men took a long journey from a distant country to the land of Israel. And let’s not forget that Jesus took his own journey, a journey from heaven to earth, because the baby born in Bethlehem was the God of the universe who came to this world in the flesh and blood of a human being.
Christmas is all about a journey, and so today I want to invite all of us to take a journey that can not only enrich this season, but might just change our lives, and the lives of our family, and community, and world, because this journey might call us to embrace new ideas, it might change some of our holiday traditions, and it might create some new ones. The journey I want to invite you on will lead us to the fullness of life God has for us, because the journey will lead us to finding hope, love, joy, and peace.
For this journey we don’t need a map, we don’t need to set a destination in our GPS, we simply need to follow the star. Not any star, but THE star. In the gospel of Matthew it says that when Jesus was born a star appeared in the sky (Matthew 2:2). When the light of this star appeared, it brought with it the hope that life could be better because it signaled the birth of a new king, a mighty king, whose reign would be so great that it would literally give light to the world. This news, this star, gave hope to the Wise-men.
Hope is always that beacon of light shining in the darkness saying things will get better. So the Wise-men set out on a journey to find a king who they believed would usher in in a better kingdom. So they started with hope, they started with the expectation that the world was going to be a better place because of this new king, but their journey began in the dark.
We don’t see stars during the day, but when it is dark, when it is really dark, the stars appear. So it was in darkness that the Wise-men saw this new star. It was in darkness that they received the hope that a new king had come to bring about a better world. It is always in the darkness that light shines the brightest, and it is always in darkness that hope appears. What is the darkness that you are living in today?
For each of us, this Advent and Christmas journey begins in our own darkness. It begins where we are feeling overwhelmed? It begins where we are filled with sorrow, overcome by fear, or looking for a new beginning? Where, in our own lives, do we need to see that things can get better? Where do we need to see that things can improve? Wherever we are today, whatever darkness we experience, is exactly where our journey needs to begin.
The invitation to come and experience the light of God’s hope always begins right where we are. The Wise-men started their journey at work. They were studying the skies, which was part of their job. The same was true for the shepherds. They started their journey at work, they were in the fields keeping watch over their flocks at night – in the dark once again – doing their job. Mary and Joseph started their journey in the course of their daily lives, because that is where God called them to be part of his plan to bring the Messiah into the world. Each one of them started right where they were, in their own darkness of doubt, fear, sin, shame, brokenness, pain and disappointment. They all started in darkness. We all start this advent journey in darkness.
In fact, we can’t see the hope of God’s light until we acknowledge the darkness. We can’t understand the hope God wants to give us until we can name those places in our hearts, and lives, where we struggle to see new life, and a better future. Too often, during this season of Christmas, we think we have to ignore all our sorrow, and pain, and paint a smile on our face for the world to see, but that is not what this season is about. Christmas is about a journey from those dark places to places of hope, so we start right where we are.
We start in our sin, hoping for forgiveness and freedom.
We start in broken relationship, hoping for a love that will heal.
We start in crushed dreams, hoping for a new vision.
We start in the darkness of failure, hoping for a new beginning.
We start in the darkness of fear, doubt, debt, loss and pain, hoping that God can lead us to the light of a better life.
The good news is that our journey starts right where we are, we don’t have to clean up our lives, or work things out before we start, we can start today, but the bad news is that we aren’t going to get to our destination today. This journey will take some time, which means we are going to have to be patient, and maybe at times, be still, and wait. None of us like to wait, but the journey God invites us to take with him, this journey of finding hope in the darkness, will require us to go slow, take steady steps, and stop often so that we can look to God to make sure we are following his way.
The Wise-men didn’t make their journey overnight, in fact, some scholars believe their journey took several years. Imagine the patience they had to have, the tenacity to keep going, and not give up. And they couldn’t travel during the day when they could move quickly because they needed to follow the star, which meant moving slowly at night. We cannot rush this journey, we need to learn to go slow, and trust that each step we take with God will lead us closer to the hope, love, joy and peace God has for us.
The steps along this journey are simple ones. We talk about them often. We pray. We worship God in our hearts, and lives, and we worship God as a church. We serve. We study and learn. We read God’s word. We give. We love. This journey is not filled with difficult steps but faithful ones we can all take, but steps we need to take daily. This journey calls for commitment.
The Wise-men made a commitment when they followed the star. They took all they needed for a long trip, as well as gifts to give the King. I never thought about it before, but the Wise-men had gifts to give the new king because they fully expected to find him. They knew their hope of finding a king would be fulfilled before they left home, which is why they took gifts with them. That is the kind of commitment we need to make to this journey. We take this journey fully expecting that we will find God along the way because God has promised to reveal himself to us. The Bible says when we search for God with all our heart we will find him. If we set out on this journey to find the presence and power of God – God will light our way and guide us to him.
Today I want to invite you on a journey, a journey to a better life, a life lived in the light of God’s hope. We start in our darkness, right where we are, and we commit to a journey that will seem slow at times, but with each step, we will find more of the light and life God has for us.
If we commit to this journey, the hope we find will not just shine in our lives, but through us it will shine into the lives of others. So as you commit to this journey, I want to invite you to also go to the dark places of this world, and offer the hope, and light, of Jesus. Where can you go, and where can your family go, during this holiday season, to be a light of hope for those living in darkness? Can you adopt a child, or a family, and begin to change their situation? Can you give to toys for tots, reach out to a neighbor who lives alone, visit in the nursing home, or give to the food bank? As we find the light of hope we need to find ways to share it with those living in darkness. Find a new tradition for you and your family where you can be a light shining in the darkness.
I know it is a busy season, I know you are already stressed out, and feeling like you cannot add one more thing to your life, but please, accept this invitation, and a take a journey with God that will lead you to finding hope, love, joy and peace. Take this journey, commit to it, and each day you will be able to experience the power of God, and feel the presence of God, and see the true light of God’s hope.
THE STAR ~ HOPE
- Identify the dark places in your life that need the light of God.
- Read one passage each day and reflect on the hope it brings.
Isaiah 9:2-7 ~ Isaiah 11:10-10 ~ Isaiah 40:1-11,
Isaiah 60:1-7 ~ John 1:1-8
- Commit to these steps of faith during the Advent Season:
Prayer, Worship, Service, Giving, Loving
- Look for the dark places in our community. Ask God to show you how you can bring the light and hope of Jesus.
- Commit to one activity this month that will help shine the light of Christ.