"In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn." Luke 2:1–7 (NRSV)
O Savior, Tear Open the Heavens.
This painting by Beate Heinen caught my attention recently. Titled, “O Saviour, Tear Open the Heavens,” it’s actually from a moment later in Christ’s life than the Luke passage for this last week of Advent. An illustration of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus’ flight into Egypt is titled after an evocative prayer in Isaiah 64. Heinen paints this family on a journey, in transition, and sees the Christ Child as a rip in reality. Among the vast crowd of anonymous faces, another reality sunders the mundane and ordered. Something holy journeys through where heaven and earth are joined.
The holy also journeys through into a mundane and ordered world in this passage from Luke.
I AM a poor wayfaring savior.
Mary’s pregnancy—and the season of Advent—ends with a journey.
It could also be said that the new life of Christ begins with a journey.
Christ has already left one home for another, having come from heaven to be incarnated in a woman's womb—conception marked by transition. His birth is likewise marked by transience, born at the end of a secular pilgrimage from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Christ leaves his Father’s House just as his new earthly father, Joseph, is journeying to his own ancestral home.
It’s no wonder that the Gospel of John echoes these journeys by using poetic wayfaring language to describe the Incarnation. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us…” (John 1:14, KJV). Dwelling ("skēnoōin" in the Greek) is wayfaring language. It carries implications of living out of a tent, evoking imagery of the ancient Israelite tent tabernacle wandering through the desert.
Christ is conceived in transition, is born in travel, and later ministers as a wayfarer. Later in the Gospel of Luke Christ says, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” That’s been his life, even since his birth when there was no place for his family at the Bethlehem inns. He is a Wayfaring Savior.
We are Poor Wayfaring Strangers.
We too are called to be wanderers and wayfarers if we are to be like Christ. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we must all be homeless, but we should at the least be willing to see our world from wayfaring perspectives.
There are several perspectives in the this story, but I want to now focus on two that particularly resonate with my own experiences of wandering: Quirinius and Mary.
Even for this pre-natal journey Christ has humbled himself, being subjected to an ambitious Roman legal mandate to count the “whole world.” Quirinius was the governor of the region for this census—and perhaps as far from a wayfaring perspective as we can get in this story. This Roman command that Quirinius was to enforce and complete is stunning in its hubris. The whole world… seriously? Certainly, Rome controlled a large portion of the Ancient Near East and Europe but nowhere near the whole world. I wonder… if something is not within our own control, does it count? Do we pay attention or even care?
Sometimes we wander like Quirinius.
We like to order everything in our world. Our world narrows to the boundaries of what we can count. Sometimes we like to think we’ve managed to order all the corners of that world. Populations are counted. Journeys are mandated.
I have my own plans and expectations. I want to control and count my options. When I wander—and I do love to wander—sometimes I end up wandering like Quirinius. I travel with my expectations in place. On a certain day I will be in a certain place. I need my finances to be in place; I need to know where I am going to stay when I arrive somewhere. I lug a house on my back instead of a temple in a tent.
Yet there’s something in Quirinius’ world that he would never be able to truly count—no matter how extensive the census.
Within one of those neatly counted, ordered, and apparently ordinary human subjects hides Divinity.
Where is the Wayfaring Savior hiding in my controlled and ordered moments?
In this story, Mary reminds me of those unexpected, unordered places in my life filled with God.
The time of her labor was inconvenient.
There was no controlled environment for the birth.
There was no room in the safe places to stay.
This birth is an uncontrolled, random, and uncertain experience, yet this is the space into which Christ was born.
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children” (Galatians 4:4–5, NRSV).
The Wayfaring Saviour journeyed through our law and control and counting. He snuck past our census by hiding inside a young girl who shouldn’t have been pregnant in the first place. He was born in an unexpected and even undesirable space. He is both saviour and stranger.
How often will I seek a reservation at an inn, but end up in a stable instead?
How many chances will I get to leave Quirinius at home and wander with a pregnant Mary instead?
How many times will I finally notice the Wayfaring Savior hidden within a wayfaring stranger?
I hope I lose count.
Scott Arany is a freelance pastor, graphic designer, and liturgical artist living in Riverside, California.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/3660