BY JEANNE HEIBERG
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.
In any 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.
Thinking 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.
The 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 and died.
But back to the beginning—about Jesus’ first earthly journey to Bethlehem.
Even 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.
His last 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.
Wow, what a journey! And we are invited to join him!
Many Stories, Many Journeys
There are 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.
There are 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
There is 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.
Einstein 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.
On your 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?
Jesus came 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
Do you 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?
How would 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?
Jesus, 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.)
This year, 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 Craft
* construction paper or card stock
* glue sticks
* hole punch
* 1 ½” x 3” strips of paper
* crayons, fine markers, or pencils
* suitcase pattern
Optional: string, cord, pipe cleaners, pre-cut craft foam symbols, or symbols cut from magazines
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 folds.)
2. Follow the pattern to make folds upward at all indicated places. (Tip: Make sharper folds by scoring with a ruler in place.)
3. Place glue on the outside of the left-side and right-side flaps (not the sides).
4. Fold 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.
5. Fold 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.
Opening 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 among us.
In coming 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.
Because of 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.)
To 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 catechetical programs.
Copyright 2012, Bayard, Inc. All rights reserved. This article is protected by United States copyright and other intellectual property laws and may not be reproduced, rewritten, distributed, redisseminated, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast, directly or indirectly, in any medium without the prior written permission of Bayard, Inc.
This article was written by the Catechist Staff and appeared in Catechist magazine, October 2012.
Image Credit: Aris Suwanmalee/Shutter Stock 555003484