Becoming Pilgrims


Pilgrimage – “the journey of a pilgrim
Pilgrim – “a person who makes a journey, often a long and difficult one…

Pilgrimage may seem like a strange theme for Advent.

The Bible Project defines Advent as “…a season in the Church calendar dedicated to the hopeful anticipation for the arrival… of Jesus of Nazareth.” We remember how Jesus came to a people who had been waiting so long for their Hope and Promise to be fulfilled they had nearly forgotten. We reflect on how he came into the very midst of our darkness, pain and suffering as Emmanuel, God with us. And so we associate Advent with waiting, not so much with journeying.

But perhaps it is not like waiting as we think of it, like a child at Christmas waiting for the moment they are finally allowed to unwrap that gift under the tree.

Maybe it is more like pilgrimage, a journey, “often a long and difficult one”, towards Hope, towards Promise, towards the feast and celebration of Christmas.

Sometimes waiting involves the posturing of both heart and body to move towards the Hope, the Promise, the celebration time.

The “Christmas story” as told to us by Matthew and Luke is filled with journeys.
• Mary journeys to her cousin Elizabeth’s after her encounter with the angel Gabriel ( Luke 1:39-56).
• There is the journey to Bethlehem. I can not imagine a more “long and difficult journey” than this – the young, heavily pregnant Mary for days on the back of her faithful donkey. Except maybe the journey she and Jospeh made with the young Jesus as they fled for their lives, becoming refugees. ( Luke 2:1-7 & Matthew 2:13-23 )
• The shepherds journey to Bethlehem to see with their own eyes the fulfilment of the greatest promise ever made ( Luke 2:8-20 )
• Matthew 2:1-12 tells us of the Magi making the long and difficult journey to pay tribute to the new young King.

What I notice about these journeys, both those made by need and those made out of choice, is the physical and heart posture of those making the journeys.
Like Mary and Jospeh whose hearts are postured in readiness to hear and say yes to Divine invitations.
Like the shepherds who are removed from noise and distraction, physically postured to watch and notice.
Like the Magi who have given the entirety of their lives to watching and noticing.

David G. Benner says this about pilgrimage: “Pilgrimage always involves both an exterior and interior journey. Any travel can be a pilgrimage… The difference between a pilgrim and a tourist is the intention of attention and openness to God. This transforms a trip into a pilgrimage, and the result is that the self that sets out on pilgrimage will not be the same as the self that returns.

So often this time of year is a blur as our lives are filled with work commitments, school or uni studies, ministry opportunities, charitable work, extra family demands and relational expectations. Much like a tourist, we rush from one event or party to the next with no time to really take it all in, to reflect, to notice what is stirring in our own souls, what divine invitations are being extended to us.

This Advent, how might we slow down to the pace of a pilgrim, transforming our “Christmas busyness” into a pilgrimage towards Hope, towards Promise? How might we posture our hearts, our bodies, our time to see, to hear, to cultivate a fresh awareness in our weary souls as we journey?

And maybe, just maybe, we will come to the other end of this pilgrimage different in some way ourselves, having given birth to something of God or with a new joy and song or having found the One our hearts have long searched for.

Maybe this Advent, let’s be pilgrims instead of tourists.

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