Have you heard the expression “It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive”?
It suggests that the anticipation of reaching a place is more enjoyable than the reality of arriving. In advance, our imagination is free to paint an idealised picture — but it may not match up the reality of what we find on arrival!
We’re currently in a season in the Christian calendar called ‘advent’, a period of build-up to the annual celebration of the birth of Jesus at Christmas, so there is very much a sense of waiting, expectation and anticipation. In advent, we are reminded of our hope in Jesus, of being near to the Kingdom of God. In advent, we definitely travel hopefully!
Of course, ‘travelling hopefully’ was very much a part of the first Christmas, over 2,000 years ago. A heavily pregnant Mary (Jesus’ mother) and Joseph (her husband) were travelling metaphorically towards becoming parents for the first time, and the start of the journey that was the extraordinary life of their son, Jesus. But the book of Luke [NT] in the Bible tells us they were also travelling literally, to register in a census being taken by the occupying Romans:
“In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem… He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.”
Nazareth is about 100 miles north of Bethlehem, which is near Jerusalem. If you look for directions on Google Maps, you can choose between options for car or public transport – and it will take you about an hour and three quarters on fast modern roads. But Joseph and Mary would have had quite a journey on their hands, with many dangers along the way and great concern for the safety of their unborn baby. They would certainly have been travelling hopefully.
Jesus was born safely, in the stable of an inn because there were no rooms anywhere to be had (hotels always seem to do good business around Christmas!). His birth was marked by an unusual star in the night sky, which drew the attention of some ‘wise men’ from the East, who interpreted the star as an announcement of the birth of a great king. The book of Matthew tells us they
“came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”
We don’t know where, exactly, in the ‘East’ they came from, or for how long they travelled, but it must have been quite a journey into foreign lands, into the unknown; they, too, travelled hopefully.
I hope you feel the excitement of anticipating Christmas this year. But this, like the original Christmas, is a journey in which the arrival is immeasurably better than the anticipation: the birth of Jesus Christ changed the world, and our relationship with God, wonderfully and forever.