See the end of this article for
more detailed information about the census at this time in biblical history.
One of the
loveliest images of Joseph is of him leading a donkey that is carrying Mary who
is pregnant with Jesus. They are traveling from their home in Nazareth to
Bethlehem. The journey made by Joseph and Mary may hold more spiritual gold and
meaning than the census that caused it.
good story (and Jesus’ story is the greatest) there needs to be a good plot. In
my study of the art and craft of writing, I have learned that there basically
are only two plots: a stranger (someone new) comes to town; and/or someone goes
on a journey. Both of these circumstances bring about some kind of change.
of Jesus’ story this way does not take away from its historical veracity. The
greatest stories—the best plots, whether historical or fiction—reflect the
deepest truths of life. The story of Jesus’ journey (and ours) shows what a
great storyteller God is. He works through his human writers.
Evangelist John says of Jesus, “The Word was made flesh and made his dwelling among
us” (1:14). Someone new comes to town!
It was God
who developed the story in which Jesus makes a huge journey from heaven to earth.
Yet, Jesus was often treated like a stranger. He came to teach God’s ways to
people whose thoughts, feelings, and actions were far from God’s, as proclaimed
in Isaiah 55:8-9. People extremely far from God can’t recognize or accept
someone who lives God’s goodness and truth. It is no wonder that Jesus suffered
to the beginning—about Jesus’ first earthly journey to Bethlehem.
before his birth, Jesus journeys as Mary’s unborn child to Bethlehem. After he is
born, he travels to Egypt and back. When his teaching mission begins, Jesus
journeys by foot, proclaiming God’s ways throughout all of Galilee and Judea. Then
he makes a final journey to and into Jerusalem—on a donkey, a symbol of peace
(we hear of war horses, never war donkeys). Only kings, princes, and the rich
could afford horses. For the poor and the humble, donkeys were peaceful
companions for work and travel.
journey along the streets of Jerusalem is a most painful one, with Jesus
carrying his cross to his crucifixion and death at the hands of people who see
him only as a stranger, dangerous to their views of power and life.
But in a
good story, there must be an overcoming of evil, a victory for the hero. For
Jesus, it becomes the greatest journey of all—through regions beyond this
earth—as he returns to his (and our) home in heaven. Some like to say that
Jesus “opened the gates of heaven” to those for whom he is no stranger and
presents no danger, but is friend, brother, and greatest of all God’s gifts.
a journey! And we are invited to join him!
Many Stories, Many Journeys
other stories of journeys—before and after Jesus. In the Old Testament,
Abraham, “father of faith,” is called by God to journey from Ur to Haran, and
eventually to Canaan (see Genesis 12-13). Moses is called to lead God’s people
out of slavery in Egypt on a journey to freedom in the Promise Land (Exodus
3:10). In the New Testament, Paul journeys to Damascus (Acts 9:1-8) and, along
the way, becomes a great Christian and Apostle who journeys throughout the
Roman Empire with the Good News of Jesus.
great works of literature—such as the
Iliad and the Odyssey, Don Quixote,
Gulliver’s Travels, and many others—that develop plots based on journey
tales. I began my book Winning Your Inner
Battle (Resource Publications, San Jose, CA) with a chapter on “journey.”
Monsignor Seymour of the Newark Archdiocese, for whom I worked as catechetical
director, almost scolded me when he read the manuscript. “What about Dorothy
and her journey in the land of Oz?” he asked. Of course, I added Dorothy to the
book. Dorothy wanted to make the journey home, just as Jesus came to take us
all to our home in heaven.
Changes and Transformations
one more parallel between Jesus’ story and the developing of plot ideas:
change. Change is important to a good story. Both of the two basic
plots—someone new and/or someone going on a journey—result in some kind of
change. Sometimes the changes are external, but in great stories, there are
inner transformations as well. The hero/heroine (and perhaps others) receives
insights and becomes a better, wiser, greater person.
said that you cannot solve a problem with the same mindset that created it. In
a really good story, the old mindset that brought about the problem or the
dilemma is outgrown; the key character gains new insights and skills. He/she
grows into a new, wider mindset that enables him/her to solve the problem and
grow into a greater life.
journey of life, don’t you want to grow beyond the mindset that creates
problems for you? Don’t you want to expand your mind, heart, and outlook that
will solve problems and bring you into better relationship with self, others,
and God? Isn’t that what all of us, including your students, want? Isn’t that
what Jesus came to make possible?
on his journey to bring us on a journey of transformation in which we become
sons and daughters of God; heirs of God’s kingdom; loving, helping, and joyful
people. This Advent, as we journey toward Christmas—often a foretaste of
heaven—let us open ourselves to be further transformed by Jesus for and during
the coming year.
Say to the Children
like journeys? Does your family take trips, go on vacations, or travel far to
visit family members and friends? What are your favorite journeys? Where would
you like to go if you could?
you like to go on a journey this Advent with Mary and Joseph as they journey
from Nazareth, where they were living, to Bethlehem, where Jesus will be born?
How would you like to be there when the magi arrive after their long journey to
bring gifts to Jesus? Perhaps you can welcome the little drummer boy of the
song; he brings his gift of music to Jesus. What gift would you like to bring
to welcome the Newborn King?
after all, journeyed from heaven to earth to help each of us make our own
journey of life better and to return with him to our home in heaven. (Talk
about any of the journey themes and insights previously mentioned that relate
to your students.)
let’s make a journey together. Let’s journey through Advent to Christmas to
give Jesus a royal and loving welcome on the day that celebrates his arrival on
earth. Make a list of things that you
would like to put in a suitcase to take on such a journey. Think of what will
help you prepare for the coming of Jesus at Christmas: things like patience,
smiles, welcoming words, kind actions, listening ears, an open mind, a loving
heart, helpful hands, forgiveness, peace, and prayer. Write words and/or make
symbols of what you would like to put into your Advent journey suitcase so that
you are well prepared to have a great and happy Christmas.
ACTIVITY Christmas Journey
paper or card stock
* 1 ½” x
3” strips of paper
fine markers, or pencils
string, cord, pipe cleaners, pre-cut craft foam symbols, or symbols cut from
1. Make a
copy of the pattern [CLICK HERE] (increase size to fit 8 ½” x 11”
sheet) and cut it out. Trace around it on construction paper or card stock,
cutting around the solid lines. (Do not cut on dotted lines; these indicate
the pattern to make folds upward at all indicated places. (Tip: Make sharper
folds by scoring with a ruler in place.)
glue on the outside of the left-side and right-side flaps (not the sides).
the Front up and crease the Bottom so that it sits on a flat surface. Fold the
left-side and right-side flaps in so
the glued edges press against the sides of the inside Front.
the Top over.
6. Cut out
a short strip of paper and glue ends to the Top, leaving the middle section
raised to serve as a “handle.” Or punch two holes in the top and thread the end
of a cord or pipe cleaner through each hole, tying knots at each end.
7. Cut out
four more short strips of paper to make “locks.” Glue one end of a strip of
paper to the Front Flap. Glue the ends of another strip of paper on the Front Side. The loose end of the
paper on the Front Flap will tuck into the horizontal piece of paper on the Front
Side. Or punch a hole in the Front Flap and in the Front Side and tie closed
with a piece of cord or pipe cleaner.
8. On 1 ½”
x 3” strips of paper, write words or draw symbols of treasures you would like
to carry on your Advent journey to welcome Jesus at Christmas. Put these
treasures in your suitcase (adults may need to help young children).
Christmas Journey Blessing
On your prayer table, place a bowl of holy water,
a sprinkling sprig, a Bible, a violet piece of cloth, an Advent wreath or greens,
and the children’s suitcases.
Song: “People Look East.” Text by Eleanor
Farjeon. Found in Breaking Bread, Music
Issue, 2011, OCP.
Prayer: Loving Father in Heaven, thank you for sending
Jesus to lead us on our life journey home to you. As we prepare to celebrate
his coming at Christmas, open our minds and hearts to be ready to receive more
of his wisdom, peace, love, and joy. Show us what we can do, how we can be
helpful, and the ways we can travel to grow in his love and joy.
Readings: Isaiah 55:8-9 (God’s ways are beyond ours);
Genesis 12:1 (God calls Abram—Abraham—on a journey); Exodus 3:10 (Moses is
called on a journey); Acts 9:1-8; (Paul’s journey to Damascus); Luke 2:4 (Mary
and Joseph travel to Bethlehem); John 1:14 (The Word dwelt among us)
Commentary: God told people living before Jesus that
his thoughts and ways are as high and far from us as the heavens are from
earth. This is true today as well, but we have Jesus, God’s Son—our loving
brother, teacher, and redeemer who made a journey from heaven to earth to dwell
from heaven to earth, Jesus is God’s very Word coming forth from God to earth,
like rain falling on a dry desert making it fruitful and beautiful. If we seek
God, call upon him, and listen to Jesus as he teaches God’s ways, we, too,
become fruitful, abundant, and beautiful, filled with peace and joy.
his great love for us, Jesus came to us on the first Christmas to begin a
journey of teaching, healing, and serving people. His earthly journey seemed to
end in suffering and death. But in a great victory, Jesus overcame pain and
death in a great and wonderful journey back to his heavenly home with God. Now
he makes our journey on earth better, happier, filled with purpose,
fruitfulness, and success. (Depending on the age of your students, you
may want to add: Now we know that when our earthly journey ends, we too
will make the final one to heaven to be with God, Jesus, and all those we loved
who travelled there, too.)
remember to prepare for the joy of Jesus’ coming, take out one slip of paper
from your suitcase often during Advent, and pray about that treasure so that
you will celebrate a happy Christmas.
Let us now
bless our Advent suitcases.
Blessing: Bless these symbolic suitcases we have
made, Dear Jesus, to help us on our Advent journey. Let them remind us of the
loving journey you made to be with us. Help us to be kind to others and, with
happy hearts, to prepare to celebrate your coming. (Sprinkle suitcases with holy water or make the sign of the cross over
the crafts.) Bless all who are present, Lord, to remember your gifts, to
listen to your teachings with open and attentive minds, and to find fun and joy
in our Advent preparations. May we also find quiet times, away from the noise
and busyness of the world, to be with you in prayer and preparation. (Sprnkle all present with holy water or make
the sign of the cross over them.)
Closing Song: “O Come,
O Come, Emanuel.” Found in Breaking Bread,
Music Issue, 2011, OCP.
Jeanne Heiberg is the author of Advent Arts and Christmas Crafts (Paulist
Press) and Advent calendars (Creative Communications). She has taught art,
writing, creative catechetics, and meditation, and has directed parish
The Census at the Time of Jesus
There are some
questions about the census of Caesar Augustus that caused the journey for Joseph
and Mary. Roman records list one in 28 B.C.
another in 8 B.C., and another in
while, scholars questioned Luke’s census date. Ancient rulers did, in fact,
call for censuses—primarily to levy taxes, plan for military needs, and assign
forced labor. The Israeli census taken by King David (see 2 Samuel 24:2; 1
Chronicles 21:2), thought to be the country’s first, was deemed displeasing to
God. Joab, his general, and other military leaders advised him to see the people but not number them.
The census may have been interpreted as prideful and over-controlling of the
people for the ruler’s purposes, or lacking in trust. God had always overcome
enemies no matter how outnumbered they were. David over-ruled his generals, and
the country was punished.
recent research shows Luke’s account was probably correct for several reasons:
census-takers listed only the man in the home at the time.
and other Middle Eastern countries listed both man and woman in the place of their
births and their ancestries. This describes the census that sent Joseph, of the
House of David, and Mary, his wife, to Bethlehem, the place of David’s birth.
* Luke 2:1-2,
says “This first census took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.”
Critics point out that Quirinius was not elected governor until 6 a.d. However, he had held high military
and political office earlier, and so he might have been governor twice. Luke
specifically cites “the first census,” indicating there were more.
connection between a local and a worldwide census may have been the basis for
Luke and his sources to portray as king of
the whole world.