How's Your Trip So Far?
I've been across the U.S. by auto two times. In 1965 I was the moody 12 year old traveling with parents in the cab of a non-air-conditioned F-250 pickup with a camper on it. The second time was the driver of an Areostar with six people and a heavy 19' trailer. Both times were adventures. Both times I was ready for the trip to be done. Ever had one of those trips?
In the Christmas movie Elf the title character discovers he was a human baby raised by elves. He travels back to New York City to find his bio-dad, in the process learns, and teaches others about caring. Will Ferrell describes his journey by saying, "I passed through the seven levels of the Candy Cane forest, through the sea of swirly twirly gum drops, and then I walked through the Lincoln Tunnel." Mystery and reality entwine to create the image of someone who is crazy. Yet in truth he's the sanest for he has made that transition and knows the reality of both mystery and reality.
Such journeys from mystery to reality are a staple for God's people. Abraham journeys to a mysterious new place and is shown the land promise by God. Joseph, the son of Jesse, journeys to Egypt as a slave and saves those who sold him into slavery. With acts of mighty power God takes Israel from Pharaoh to the Promised land. Even within that journey was another 40 year journey as God prepared His people. Israel journeyed into exile for continuing disobeying God and then once again, as promised in Jeremiah 31, they are restored as they journey. A new Exodus, back into the place of God's grace and mercy, will happen.
Finally the most mysterious journey takes place as Jesus, the Son of God, who journeys from His place of eternal worship into the womb of Mary and the care of his human father, Joseph.
If you haven't realized it, we are all on a journey to somewhere. Some of us have completed a bit more of that journey than others. Some of us try not to move. We hold on doggedly to the past, like those Jews who wanted to go back to Egypt and die as slaves rather than face the unknown with God. There are those who run ahead of the pack. They embrace change without any thought to the source of the change; the link it has with our past or the consequences of it for their lives. I believe God has a journey on which we are to be travelling. I believe it is informed and directed by the Holy Spirit and God's Word when we are receptive to God's voice. I do not believe that every trip is one that should be taken.
Think about your own journeys up till today. How's the trip so far? There have been some pretty good moments haven't there? There have been times which shook our lives to their core. There may have been some detours on the trip as well. Here's an exercise for you to do. Consider one time when you knew God was with you on this journey. Now, consider a time when you didn't have any sense of God's presence at all. In two minutes or less I want you to share these with your neighbor. That's 30 seconds for each experience.
We should be able to relate to Joseph. His journey has unhappiness, uncertainty and a bit of uneasiness about it. He journeys from shame and alarm at Mary's pregnancy to wonder as he God's angel meets him in a dream. He journeys from a desire to distance himself from Mary and all that might have been to a place of wonder at the child to be born to them. I the movie, A Nativity Story, there is a great scene, not from the bible, in which Mary and Joseph are travelling to Bethlehem and are camping for the night. Mary asks him if he is afraid and he says, "Yes." She answers, "Me too." As they wonder about Jesus, Joseph says, "I wonder if I'll be able to teach him anything?"
On our journey this Advent we are travelling down a road to a new future. None of us has been there before. None of us knows what will take place in the coming months. Let me give you three travel tips and then flesh them out a bit more for us.
· Pack what you need to take not what you want to take. Airlines are charging for baggage now so it literally pays to pack light.
· Take ½ the clothes and 2 times the money. No trip is without the unexpected.
· Flexibility and patience are marks of a well-journeyed soul. Sea grass survives a hurricane better than the tree because it bends with the wind.
Packing: We carry a lot of baggage in life. When previously married people want to be remarried one of my question is, "What baggage are you bringing into this family?" We have to be able to express what is that we are carrying if we're going to travel well.
Kenton is on a trip to a new place. We're not officially an EPC church but with the beginning of a new church year it is appropriate to see ourselves in headed down a new road. As we move forward we need to remember to pack light. We will take from the old what is needed. And we'll leave behind some of the stuff that is no longer useful. In this way, we'll travel better.
The unexpected: Do you will remember how I said simply traveling to a new denomination would not fix everything? It's true. The bumps will come. In our personal journey setbacks and roadblocks happen too. There are times we don't live, as Jesus wants us to live. There are times of rebellion to God direction. There will be times when others run us off the road by their choices. Joseph was there to put a human face on Jesus' father and to address issues of protection, security, making a living and the social norms of the first century. Joseph's presence fulfilled this need for Jesus.
Flexibility: Bend with the wind if you don't want to break. You are on a journey whether you like it or not; admit it nor; or understand it or not. Mike Jensen, a college friend of mine used to say, "We will be conformed into the image of Christ. We may go kicking and screaming but we will be conformed into the image of Christ." In Biloxi Mississippi there were some houses that seemed to weather the hurricanes quite well. Architects discovered how that is when they repaired some damage to a historical home along the gulf.
The walls have a sheet of wood slats on about a 40 degree angle to the studs. On top of this is another set of slats which to the opposite way. When the wind comes the house has the ability to absorb the force by transferring it to the slats moving in that direction. They are sturdy homes, but with enough movement to allow safety in the storms that come.
Jesus Christ is our foundation on which we build our lives. But we have to build into these lives a flexibility that gives movement when the winds blow. The winds that blow aren't only storms. The Holy Spirit also blows like a mighty wind. Both types will strip away dead and useless branches and excess baggage. God gives such storms the power to re-focus our lives on what is really important.
Here's your assignment. What baggage is really weighing you down? Start to get rid of it this week. If it is an attitude stifle it with prayer. If you have a Christmas grudge or Holiday grief, that you hold on too when you feel the unhealthiness come upon you go to your knees in prayer. Ask God to carry the load. Don't do all the traditions, fix all the meal, buy all the presents if those are things that are excesses in your life.
Secondly, expect the unexpected but do it with a sense of God's timing. Start praying that God would let the unexpected things become blessings this year. Ask the Lord to show you His hand in the midst of everything that will happen.
Third, bend with what comes. Let the Holy Spirit move you in new direction and don't let the storm winds shake you apart. Start noting how such winds came upon you in the past and take steps to think through what you might say or do; pray or reflect on a similar situation if it should come tomorrow.
Do this and we'll be well travelling on down the road with Christ leading the way. Amen.