Advent is the beginning of the spiritual Christian pilgrimage to Bethlehem. It is a journey of the soul that changes for each of us every year. It is a time for summing up, a time for learning from what went before, and a journey to a new beginning. A journey that ends with us standing at the manger, bringing what we are and who we are to the feet of the infant who is, for us, the Fulfillment of the Promise.
It is there that we hope to find what we seek -- comfort and consolation, or quiet and hope, or peace and joy. We will pause at the manger, pilgrims all, made wiser and simpler souls by the events of the journey, by the secret heart of Advent.
This year it began on November 28th and ends on Christmas Day.
The first journeys to the manger began in the Orient, when three Magi -- basically three very wise people -- looked at the heavens and saw a promise in a star. They consulted their charts and set off with gifts. Just like that. Three wise scholars just dropped everything and started looking.
Locally, a group of shepherds started their long walk. Why? because the skies opened up, and angels started singing. The angels said they should not be afraid, but should hurry to Bethlehem because Christ was born. Shepherds are very devoted to their flocks. But off they went, simple men who decided to not be afraid when the angels came. They just packed up and started walking. Just like that.
We take these stories for granted.
"We Three Kings.." "Hark the Herald Angels.." etc. We read, sing and forget to listen to the remarkable fact that the news got people moving, walking, and shaking up their lives with nothing but hope and a promise. Lots of people. Smart ones and simple ones. Rich ones and poor ones.
And at Advent, that's what we can do.
We can hit the spiritual road. We can stay mindful and intentional about the journey. We can take whatever we feel, whoever we have become straight to the manger. Just like that.
There are years we will stumble to Bethlehem, barely able to keep our balance as we trip over all the sadness and obstacles in our path. The grief we feel may make it more a free-fall than a walk, but we hurl our selves toward Bethlehem nonetheless.
We may have no more strength when we get there but to bury our face in the sweet smelling hay around the baby, soaking in the hopefulness of others.
Or, we may walk with sadness or fear. That's when others come to us, holding a hand, buoying us up, feeding us, housing us until our souls can stretch out on their own. It's good to ask for help on this journey, to reach out to the other pilgrims. That is what we are all here for, to help each other through.
Perhaps we have only part of what it takes to make the journey to the place of hope. We have water to drink, but no bread to eat. On this journey, we will find a woman with bread and no water to drink. Together, sharing, we travel; pilgrims joined by need.
Or, we have abundance, and travel in joy. That is when the journey gives us the chance to share, to be part of the great humming mass of pilgrims, to be part of the widow's journey, or the King's, the shepherd's journey or the professor's.
This is where we learn, on the Advent road, that after all is said and done, all journeys are one.
It is also where we learn that all pilgrims are teachers. Whenever there is a pilgrimage, there is learning. The contents of our souls seem to bubble to the surface when we set our feet intentionally toward Bethlehem. What we need and what we have to offer start to become more clear, refracted by the light of this amazing star overhead.
Listen closely this Advent. It is a time when teachers will come into our lives. They may be dressed like shepherds, simple folk, uneducated, poor pilgrims, or they may be decked out in the finery of the Magi.
But they are on this trip for the same reason we are -- to find the Fulfillment of the Promise, the sacred child, the place where we are all known fully.
Take time this Advent to mark your journey. Spend a few moments thinking about your year, and what your soul may bring to Bethlehem. Look around and see who might need your help getting to their personal Bethlehem. Or, who might help you to get there.
In the small manger we will find that we are known -- with all our imperfections, our sadness, our grief, regret, confusion, doubt, tumult, anger, love, joy, kindness, and our compassion. This messy and wonderful mix of who we all are is known and loved in a small manger in a special town called Bethlehem.
But we won't find that out for a few weeks. Right now, we have the walking and the watching and the listening. And we have each other -- joined by faith, joined by hope, joined by love.
And for your Advent, what will you do? What do you bring on this year's journey?
~~ Contributing Editor, Mata H. also blogs right along at Time's Fool
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