Journey

By Shannon Vowell –

Editor’s note: In a time when United Methodism is heading toward an uncertain and undefined future, Shannon Vowell – a frequent contributor to Good News – reminds us that the essence of the Christian life – Christian discipleship – is journeying onward toward Jesus and with Jesus.

The call of God repeats ad infinitum: “Journey!”

Life, God’s great gift to His Creation, consists entirely of journey. We journey through time, one season left behind and another always ahead.

Detours are inevitable, of course; the enforced re-routing of illness, grief, circumstances thrusting up precipices in the middle of the path. The journey is not a straight line. Sometimes U-turns can be salvific. But not stopping is essential… because stopping is deadly. To stop journeying is to die.

Water illustrates that truth. Water that moves is water that lives. Water, journeying, teems with life. But water that stops moving supports neither flora nor fauna; the Dead Sea is deathly still.

God is Life, so God calls – encourages – woos – commands: “Journey!”

God called Abram to leave Ur, to leave his ancestral home and native tongue and all that was familiar. God called Abram to go toward the land that was a Promise, to take a name that was a Promise, to become a people who would be the Promise to the world. God called Abram to journey.

God called Moses to leave Midian, to leave his place of hiding and shame and return to Egypt on mission. God called the murderer to become the instrument of deliverance, the stammerer to become the voice of God’s people, the runaway to become the patient-walking leader. God called Moses to move on – for years, decades, the rest of a lifetime; Moses, wandering in the wilderness but no longer wondering where the destination would be because God went with him. The destination was God, and God called Moses to journey with God.

Sometimes the journey is to distant, foreign lands. God called Ruth to leave Moab, return with Naomi to Israel, be grafted into the family line of the Messiah. One identity left behind in the journey; a new self, embraced with a new life, at journey’s end.

Sometimes the journey is across a room, across a great divide of fear and prejudice and evil intentions. God called Esther to enter the throne room, to move toward the King who held the fate of God’s people in his hand, to walk toward the threat of execution that God might use her to execute justice. Such a clear-cut case, for Esther: journey, and risk your life; or stay still, and meet your death with all your people.

The early church was built by journey-men, disciples on the move, Spirit-led and Spirit-powered, taking the good news ever out – ever away – ever toward the ends of the earth. And the journey moved both ways, as that Spirit drew new children for God to itself toward the church from the ends of the earth, that they might journey home again, carrying the Spirit within them.

Always, always – the call of God is “Journey!”

Advent is journey. 

Mary and Joseph journey to Bethlehem. Deprivation, hardship, even the danger of a rough ride for a third trimester first-time mother cannot delay or deter them.

The shepherds journey to the manger. They leave their flocks – leave their posts – go where the angel directs them to go. No discussion, no weighing options or debating pros and cons – the journey. Now. Urgent and immediate – a newborn king! Tonight!

The wise men, journeying who knows how long, stubbornly follow a star across foreign lands and trackless deserts – the star is God’s map to Himself illuminated in their minds, somehow, and the journey is their only way to God.

Advent has always been journey, and its destination has always been Christmas. Advent moves, inexorably, toward the manger, the Nativity, the Son miraculously come with authority and healing and hope as His birthright. The destination of Advent is Christ.

Christmas cannot happen without the journeying of these Advent people, these people of God’s call. Christmas cannot come if these people prefer stasis, comfort, or status quo to the call of God to go… the call of God to journey… the call of God to somewhere else than here, and ultimately the call of God to Himself.

Nor can Christmas happen for us, in us, through us, if we refuse to journey.

U2 sings the truth of the journey that is Advent and the destination that is Christ:

You’re packing a suitcase for a place none of us has been

A place that has to be believed to be seen…

The only baggage you can bring

Is all that you can’t leave behind

That which pulls us off track – that which coaxes us to get comfy, that which entices us to settle down and settle in and settle for this world – that is the enemy of the journey and that is our Enemy at work in us.

We are to take sabbath pauses, yes. We are to take pleasure in and give thanks for the good gifts God gives, yes. But we are never to mistake the pauses or the gifts for the destination. Only Heaven, only the One who waits for us in Heaven, is the eternal rest and the all-sufficient Gift! Anything less is too quickly a distraction from forward momentum. And that “less” is too often more than enough to make us sit down when we are called to keep moving, to see the journey through.

The journey can feel like wandering in the wilderness. But making ourselves at home in the wilderness – building ourselves “permanent homes” in this world when we are supposed to be pressing on, daily, toward the next – this is the fatal error. This costs us Advent. Christmas. Easter. The kingdom come and the Kingdom to come.

So, we must take Advent on its own terms. We must journey… Deprivation, hardship, even the danger of a rough ride cannot deter us from the journey through Advent, toward Christmas, toward Christ.

In darkness, God shines the way for us. In lostness, God is our compass. And in this peculiar season of “stay at home” orders, when physical safety seems to consist in not going anywhere, God reminds us that we are not bound by the physical: our prayers know no geographic limits and God’s power unleashed through those prayers takes Christ into every shut-in place.

Encouragement custom-fit for Advent 2020 comes through the Apostle Paul, who declared while journeying despite being tethered by chains in a prison cell: “God’s Word is not bound!”

The journey does not stop, even when traveling is impossible.

How to keep moving toward God, now? How to keep bringing the good news of God to those who have not heard it, now? How to persist in the journey even during “lockdown,” now? The “how” is the “Who:” Christ.

Jesus is our traveling companion and Jesus will ever be our destination. Christ, our Immanuel and our hope of heaven, comes for us at Christmas to remind us that God waits for us at journey’s end… and to empower us to journey, with Him, all the way home.

Shannon Vowell is a frequent contributor to Good News. Her writing is found at shannonvowell.com. She writes and teaches on loving Christ and making disciples.

 

Comments

  1. The Early Church (Assemblies) did not leave Jerusalem. Read Acts 8: 1, they stayed in Jerusalem. This is about 7 to 10 years after the Great Commission by Jesus. They stayed because they thought the 2nd Coming was imminent. Paul was called because the Jews rejected their Messiah. The Age of Grace was not known or seen unto its coming. It was kept secret since the foundation of the world until it was revealed unto Paul. The Gospel is 1 Corinthians 15: 1 – 4 and many preachers do not preach this Gospel.

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