The highway between our home and my parents had been under construction for several years, as Oklahoma highways are neither expedient nor efficient in the repairs department. The road would predictably narrow to a bottleneck of a single lane where travelers would sit nearly still for an hour or longer headed north. As the holidays approached that year and we planned to make the trek with a potty training toddler and a preschooler with not much more bladder control we debated how we would make a three hour trip that often turned into a five hour trip.
My brother suggested a rural highway that cut up through the southeast part of the state and after much deliberation we decided we would try this other highway. Even if it was longer, we reasoned, we wouldn’t get stuck in traffic with someone in the back seat yelling “I neeeeeed to go pottyyyyyy!”
The road circumvented the construction but it turns out was further out of the way, adding an hour to the trip. We would not sit in traffic but we would arrive at the same time and the two lane highway offered some pretty seedy places to stop and potty with little kids. Just as we settled into the grumpiness of these facts, the road turned and we were driving through a nature preserve neither myself or my partner or I had known about. Hoping to stretch the small restless legs in the back seat and buoy our own bedraggled spirits, we decided we might pull over and do a bit of exploring. As we pulled off the two lane highway into the designated parking we looked up to see beyond the wire fencing a herd of buffalo grazing.
We stood gazing at these giant creatures in the setting sun amazed. Heads bowed, slowly chewing the tall grasses that blew gently in the late afternoon breeze these giant creatures seemed unconcerned with our hurried need to get to the holidays safely and without a potty accident. We took a breath, soaked up the scene and got back into the car more settled and ready to finish the trip. The kids both fell asleep in the back seat as Tim and I made hushed conversation, a rare moment of connection in the chaos of parenting small humans.
Two years ago the prolific Barbara Brown Taylor released a children’s Christmas book, entitled Home by Another Way. Rather than centering the holy family, pilgrimage to Bethlehem and manger, Taylor chose to focus on the entanglement between Herod and the wisemen. The title of the book and central theme comes from Matthew 2:12 “And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.” This is a story of two ways home–the wiseman take another road and Mary and Joseph instead of returning to their home land of Nazareth migrate to Egypt in an attempt to protect their newborn from the death dealing ways of Herod. Both roads were not the roads they had planned. Both roads led them into uncharted territory, along unfamiliar terrain. Both were committed to keeping their small travel parties safe from the ill will of Herod.
As I think about what this Advent and Christmas will be like as a minister, a mother and a person of faith I cannot think of a more perfect story from the Gospels to guide this season. As most of the country exceeds worst case scenario infection rates and hospitalizations and we respond ethically to the science around the danger of gathering indoors with people outside our household, Advent and Christmas will not be shaped by sanctuaries filled with carols, but of the small liturgies we shape at home. In the confines of our apartments, condos, rooms and homes we will shape the space and season in a new way. This is not the road we planned. It will be filled with unexpected disappointments, it will not live up to old expectations or standards. But maybe we should leave those old expectations and standards along the side of the road.
Given the new terrain, who do we want to be? What are the rituals that help us make meaning in this new land? How might we see our faith differently as we try it out in a new land?
This year we can follow the lead of the holy family, of the wisemen and find home, the home of Christ dwelling in our lives and in this world, a different way. We can make a home for the living Christ to dwell in our midst from the spaces and places that are the most intimately us, most messy, most real, our own homes and discover what new word God might have to breath into this story are we figure out how to discover Christ in our midst by a different road. We might even be amazed at what we discover on this road, we did not want to take, that feels far from the comfort of the roads we know. We might even encounter God in our midst.
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