As I worried about last minute gifts, stressed about stocking stuffers, and thought about how to pack the gifts in the car, my eyes fixed on the suitcases. Why did traveling have to be a part of the holiday? Other families I knew had all of their relations close by and they did not spend their holidays worried about packing the car, assessing road conditions, or leaving 2-hours earlier than expected to avoid winter storms. It seemed unfair that I was stuck with travel when other families seemed to have holidays that looked like they were straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
Travel added a level of challenge to the already complicated plans. How to fit everything in the car without strapping a child to the roof? How to bring dishes to the holiday party with no room to pack a cooler, or how to keep gift wrap from tearing when crammed in the trunk? And I always puzzled over when to celebrate the true meaning of the holiday with my children when so much time was spent on the road. Travel seemed to be an unwanted addition to the Christmas holiday. But was it really? Or is travel a part of its original DNA?
I paused my pity party and thought about the travel involved in that first Christmas. Did Mary and Joseph complain about having to travel so far? They had to journey by donkey rather than in a comfortable, temperature-controlled vehicle, and they had to traverse rougher terrain than the freeways in my travel plans. Did Mary and Joseph complain about the accommodations that they were allotted? They would probably have been delighted with the hotel accommodations we felt stuck with. The shepherds traveled to see the baby and the wise men followed a star to find Jesus. Traveling, I realized, played a significant part in that first Christmas.
As my perspective on the situation slowly adjusted, one detail became quite clear: love travels. We travel to family because we love them and want to be near them for the holidays. Jesus traveled from the throne room of heaven to be born in a stable because love travels even the greatest of distances. And Jesus’ traveling continued on. He journeyed through temptations and faced all kinds of opposition because he wanted to be close to you and me. Love is like that; it makes the journey. Our Jesus traveled to a death on a cross because each one of us matters that much to him. This journey defies my understanding. The God of the universe crossed heaven and earth to draw you and me nearer to the heart of God.
There is no greater love than this, this amazing, traveling love.
I may not like traveling so much - and maybe you don’t either. But if we strive to be more like Jesus we might appreciate how this gift of traveling reminds us of God’s love. Can we shift our focus from pity to appreciation? That gift of time in the car can be a time to draw close to family, to sing songs of praise and holiday cheer, to laugh together, and reflect on our God and his traveling love. Time together in the car might provide the captive audience we need for a Bible reading and prayer as we consider the real focus of the season.
Maybe traveling at Christmas is not your experience. You may be blessed to have your family close or perhaps your family lives too far for you to travel to see. Your situation and challenges may look different than mine, but for all of us the message is the same. Love travels. For you, this might mean making the effort to call your overseas family first thing on Christmas morning. Maybe it means taking the first step to apologize after a family fight. Or maybe it’s simply choosing to receive the holidays as an opportunity chance to celebrate our Savior’s birth and one another’s company. Whatever the case, may your love “travel” this holiday season.
Perhaps seeing that suitcase was a gift to remind me of the love that traveled so far to restore my relationship with my Heavenly Father. Whatever challenges you face, we pray that you are able to bask in the warmth of the love that traveled to be with you. Your God loves you with an everlasting love and he continues to travel with you and make himself known. Scripture tells us in Romans 8 that nothing will ever separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. His love keeps traveling with you.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra