It’s easy to feel like something of a tourist during Christmas. You’re running around like mad. Checking things off the list. Trying to cram every ounce of hope and joy into the quickly dwindling days. Pile in the car and look at the neighborhood lights. Pack a bag and hit the road to see family. Let’s run over to the mall and brave the crowds and finish up those last obligatory gifts.
Make time to get pictures with Santa. Send a Christmas card to every person in the office. Try out a new recipe. Watch all the movies on the definitive list of top five Christmas movies in existence. (That list, of course, is: Love Actually, Merry Christmas Charlie Brown, Elf, It’s a Wonderful Life, Die Hard. Yes it counts.)
Wrapping gifts. Singing carols. Donating to a charity. Attending a church service
There’s just so much to do. You can’t give concentrated attention to any of it. A few minutes here. Another few over there. Squeeze all the necessary steps in before the big day arrives.
There’s nothing wrong with being a tourist. Nothing at all. In fact, I bet some of your best memories involve traveling to places you’ve never lived.
You ate a sampling of food from the local restaurants. You visited some of the well-known sites. You snapped pictures on the go and shared the best of them on your Instagram feed. There’s nothing wrong with that. You can have a pretty great experience as a tourist… even at Christmas.
You can sit at your desk and listen to the songs. You can laugh at the delight of young children. You can nod your head at a good gesture observed. You can appreciate this silent night.
From a secluded distance, you can hear once more the story of Mary and Joseph… the holy child they welcome… and the beauty of what it might possibly mean.
But the heart longs for more. You don’t simply want to observe it. You want to experience it. You want it to be part of you. You want to be right there in the scene, and sometimes on some years, it just feels like you’re so far away. It feels like you don’t belong.
So maybe tonight you need a reminder that even in the biblical account no one belonged in that nativity scene. No one was a local… not in the logical sense.
Mary and Joseph weren’t from the neighborhood. They didn’t live in Bethlehem. That town was in the region of Judea… just a few miles from the big city of Jerusalem. No, their family was from Nazareth, a small village in Galilee. And Galilee was in the country. Like the country, country. They talked funny up in Galilee. Mary and Joseph weren’t natives.
And Lord knows the angels weren’t from there. They were from as far away as you could possibly be — from streets of gold and crystal seas.
And while the shepherds may have received their mail at a nearby post office, they didn’t exactly belong in the scene either. They were rough field hands. Not the ladies’ Sunday school group hosting a baby shower. Most of the local townfolk didn’t want their kind around causing trouble.
And of course the wise men who eventually made their way had the longest earthly journey of anyone in the story. They hailed from strange and exotic lands to the east, guided for days by a star in the sky.
No one was a local. Every character in the story was a tourist on his or her way to the manger.
And maybe that should give us some comfort. Because here’s the beauty of what happens in the Christmas miracle. No matter where we’re from. Or how far away we have wandered. No matter what distractions we may face. Or what real world mountains we may be staring it. Even if we feel miles away from belonging, somehow, on this night we stop being tourists. The Word of God is made flesh. Among us. Here. In this very life. Among these very people.
This glory becomes flesh… so that this same glory can sink into our own flesh and make us alive with hope and joy.
You may not have words for it. You may not be able to manufacture an ounce of meaning.
Maybe the only word you can muster is the whispered thanks when someone lights the candle you are holding. And when you offer those words you mean them for everything good you can’t name. Because it’s a gratitude not just for the light you hold. It’s for the light that holds you… despite what shadows lurk.
You are not forgotten. You are loved. And this night you are included in the scene, as someone so much more than a tourist. Tonight you are a local. Divine love has kicked down the door to the manger and said, “Come and see.”