Last year, I traveled to see friends for Christmas.
The cool thing is, my travels cost me nary a penny. My boarding pass was a bookmark, my mode of transportation words on a page. Our final destination was the same as our departure: The Shire, but my friends and I trekked high and low all over Middle Earth until we finally found its green once more.
The hairy-toed halflings joined me for the holidays. I had the time, and once more, my favorite literary nomads invited me along for the ride, a ride that took us far, far from home.
(For all non-Tolkien nerds reading this, basically I’m saying I reread the Lord of the Rings trilogy last Christmas.)
I’ve heard their story many times, but last Christmas I felt a special affinity to Bilbo and Sam. I was deeply drawn to them, even more than normal. They were nomads, and so was I. Their courageous, and admittedly sometimes foolish, tales felt deeply comforting to me.
Christmas reminds us how far from home we really are. When Bing Crosby croons out that “there’s no place like home for the holidays”, well, at that moment, the world beyond my gate feels a bit like Mordor. Notes of “I’ll be home for Christmas” make the far away rolling foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains (my USA home) look every bit as perfect as The Shire.
But last year, my literary nomads helped me see something. Something I’ve never noticed so keenly in the story of Jesus’ birth.
A motif of displacement.
As a literature teacher, I love motifs. I think they’re brilliant. They’re recurring ideas, symbols, images, all purposefully placed to develop or explain a theme. Motifs call us to stop and consider their significance.
And the Master Storyteller has a motif of displacement woven beautifully through the story of The Advent.
Think on it: who in the story of Jesus’ birth was cozily at home?
Mary and Joseph: travelers from Nazareth
Wisemen: sojourners from the East
Angels: visitors from the heavenlies
Shepherds: journeyers from the hillside
Widen the lens to the greater story of Advent, to those giving us glimpses of the coming Messiah, and what do you see?
More nomads, strangers, pilgrims.
Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Ruth, Nehemiah, Jeremiah. And so many more. All with significant parts of their story played out in displacement.
Friend, if you’re feeling alone and far away this Christmas, know this: you’re in good company.
Let Abraham’s story give you courage, the tale of Ruth spur you on. Remember Joseph’s faithfulness and follow.
Let their obedience be your courage, and let courage be your gift this Christmas.
Even if you’re reading this from smack dab in the middle of what you call home, as a Jesus-follower, you’re a nomad. You don’t have to move oceans away to make that true. My current physical displacement simply serves as a reminder of what’s been true all along.
And then there’s the greatest of all gifts, the truth that is beautiful beyond imagination. The baby at the center of the story knew the greatest displacement.
Think on that for a minute.
Our King knows displacement.
This mission of displacement for the sake of redemption meant knowing exposure to cold, to potential illness, to discomfort, to pain. It meant being needy and alone. It meant encountering new people, new landscapes. It meant being misunderstood, learning new forms of communication, learning to listen, learning to love and be loved by a whole new set of people. It meant starting over, literally at day one.
Yet he obeyed.
His obedience is our gift.
Not only because it gave us the greatest gift we could imagine, but because it also makes our obedience possible.
In your displacement, fear not. You’re among friends. The cloud of witnesses cheers you on and Jesus has gifted us with a path worn by His obedient steps.
He’s the gift.
Open your hand to receive.
Which of Scripture’s displacement stories is the most special to you this year?