During the season of Advent, we are all invited to travel our own personal “road to Bethlehem”. When we arrive at our destination on Christmas Day, we will hopefully be closer to the Lord than when we began the journey. Over the course of these few weeks, we have the opportunity to look at our lives and attempt to find ways of becoming closer to Christ. One of the biggest mistakes we can make is to “take the easy way out” and do nothing or choose only those spiritual practices with which we are comfortable. If we look at the lives of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men — there was nothing easy about the journey to Bethlehem. For each of these individuals, however, their efforts produced great fruit. Let’s explore how the Lord often calls us to leave our “comfort zone” in order to encounter Him more deeply.
If our vision of the Lord’s birth is confined to looking at nativity figures and watching sentimental Christmas movies, we can easily fool ourselves into believing that this was a very cozy event for all involved. When we reflect on the facts more deeply, however, we can see that the journey to Bethlehem was difficult for everyone involved. Mary and Joseph had to leave the security of their home and travel to the city in order to register for taxation. Mary was about to give birth and the couple had nowhere to sleep, but they needed to make the trip in order to fulfill the prophecy (Micah 5:2) that the Savior would be born in Bethlehem. The shepherds were at work, watching their sheep, when the angel appeared to them and announced the birth of the Lord. Ignoring their fear, they left the familiarity of their workplace and traveled “in haste” to visit the newly born Savior. Upon their return, Scripture tells us that they “glorified and praised God for what they had seen” (Lk 2:20).
The wise men (or magi) were astrologers who were aware of the common belief that the Messiah’s birth would be announced by the appearance of a great star. While studying the stars, they were alerted to the great event by the appearance of a star in the East. Like the shepherds, they left their jobs and traveled to Jerusalem in order to inquire about the exact location of the Lord’s birth. When King Herod found out about their mission, he sent the men to Bethlehem, asking them to inform him of the exact location so he could also “worship” the Messiah (in reality, he wanted to eliminate a potential rival to his throne). They rejoiced as the star led them to the newly born Savior and presented Him with gifts upon their arrival. After being warned in a dream to avoid returning to Herod, the wise men boldly returned home by another route. Upon realizing his orders were disobeyed, the evil ruler became furious (Mt 2:16). According to Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, the king was an insecure and cruel man who killed over half of his ten wives and some of his children. Disobeying Herod’s orders was a dangerous act which most certainly put their lives in jeopardy.
We can each prepare for the arrival of Jesus in different ways, but our ultimate goal should be that we end up with Him “in Bethlehem” instead of somewhere else. As with all spiritual activities, we will “reap what we sow”. We can leave our “comfort zones” and journey to Bethlehem or sit back and remain secure…the choice is ours. However, just like Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and wise men, what better way could there be to express our love for Jesus than to honor Him in those in ways which we find difficult? If we listen carefully, the Lord frequently provides opportunities to visit Him by traveling roads that we would otherwise choose to avoid. It could be an invitation to a “painful” family party, a request for help from an elderly neighbor, a phone call from someone you might find annoying, or any number of other situations. In addition to listening for God’s call, you can actively seek out “uncomfortable” ways to travel to Bethlehem. If you are not a “morning person”, maybe you could wake up a little earlier and say some prayers. If it’s difficult for you to share your faith at work, you could offer to say a prayer for a troubled coworker or talk about something you heard in a homily. If you love watching television at night, try substituting some prayer time instead. How about reaching out to a family member or friend whose personality may be difficult to handle? Maybe you’ve been away from the Sacrament of Confession or the Eucharist and can make a vow to return during Advent. In my own life, I have received the greatest blessings when I have responded to those promptings which I found to be difficult. It is often said that God will not be outdone in generosity. When we offer sacrifices to Him, we always get back an abundance of graces. When the apostle Peter asked Jesus, “We have given up everything and followed you. What will there be for us?” (Mt 19:27), Our Lord’s words were very clear:
“Amen, I say to you that you who have followed me, in the new age, when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory, will yourselves sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life.” (Mt 19:28-29)
In a way, our entire life is a journey to Bethlehem. By following God’s commandments and leaving our sinful ways behind, we look forward to one day seeing Christ in all His glory. There we will join Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men in kneeling before Our Lord and Savior. Why not use this Advent season to leave your “comfort zone” and explore new ways to follow Jesus? We have no guarantee that we will have another Advent to prepare, so let’s do our best right now to make sure we’re ready…and don’t settle for being comfortable!