“As for me,” said American writer E.B. White, “I enjoy living among pedestrians who have an instinctive and habitual realization that there is more to a journey than the mere fact of arrival.”(1)
Under typical circumstances, the beloved author of Charlotte’s Web would not have presented me with much pause here. The pause of agreement, yes, for his is the kind of thought with which I deeply resonate. Particularly in the segments of life where we are comfortable with our divided realms, we lamentably fail to see the great gift of the collective whole. Much to our own detriment, the end triumphs over means, destination over the journey, heaven is removed from earth, the spiritual from the physical, the present from the eternal. White’s words fit aptly upon any soapbox addressing the gift of a journey, the miracle of the ordinary, the need for an undivided life—head and heart, journey and arrival. Or indeed, the paradox of a kingdom that is both present and approaching, a kingdom found both along the way and in our final arrival. In the mysterious kingdom Jesus espoused, the journey toward it is not a matter of merely arriving one distant day at the gates of pearl, but rather finding the pearl of great price in our midst even now and seizing it for all eternity. Under typical circumstances, I would have enlisted E.B. White’s voice in one of my favorite sermons and kept moving.
But I read this quote as I watched live coverage of 33 Chilean miners emerging from a two-month journey of being trapped beneath the earth. For them, the journey was indeed astounding, but the arrival was everything.
Over seventy years ago from a pulpit in London, Dietrich Bonhoeffer described the image of a man trapped after a mining disaster: Deep in the earth, dark as night, the man is cut off and alone. The supply of oxygen is limited. Food, water, and options are scarce; silence and fear are not. He knows his situation, and he can do nothing but wait. Writes Bonhoeffer, “He knows that up there, the people are moving about, the women and children are crying—but the way to them is blocked. There is no hope.”(2) But what if just then, in the distance, the sounds of tapping are heard—the sound of knocking, the sound of friends, the sounds of drills, rescue capsules, and deliverance? This, said Bonhoeffer in December of 1933, is the hope of the Incarnation: the coming of a deliverer, the drawing near of God to humankind, the arrival of Christ our rescuer in flesh like ours. Like the Chilean miners, elated at the arrival of Manuel Gonzalez, the rescuer sent 2,040 feet underground to coordinate the procedure, Christ’s arrival into our dark world matters most profoundly. His descent assures our ascent, his vicarious humanity ever changes the possibilities of our own.
But his arrival is not the end of our waiting. The journey continues. “Can and should there be anything else more important for us than the hammers and blows of Jesus Christ coming into our lives?” asks Bonhoeffer.(3) Indeed, no. The Incarnation of the Son of God teaches us how to wait and to watch, how to experience the journey expectantly, though we remain in the dark, though we find ourselves impatient pedestrians anxious for new scenery. We learn to be pedestrians bent on arrival, but alert on the journey nonetheless: “When these things begin to take place,” instructs Christ, “stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).
The world is of course still dark and lonely. But in it every day and each new year is the startling hope of a rescuer in our midst with whom we share our humanity. “There are actually 34 of us,” wrote Jimmy Sanchez from underground, who at 19 years old was the youngest trapped miner, “because God has never left us down here.”(4) The signs and sounds of this hope are all around: sounds of God’s reign in unexpected places; signs of Christ in fellow pedestrians; the sounds of saints who have gone before us, and now stand on the solid surface of our hope.
The story of Christianity is a journey of arrivals—of Christ’s arrival. And it is this storied mystery we are invited to proclaim: Christ has arrived. Christ is among us. Christ will come again.
(1) E.B. White, One Man’s Meat (Gardiner, Maine: Tilbury House Publishers, 1997), 108.
(2) Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christmas Sermons (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 89.
(3) Ibid., 96.
(4) Tim Padgett, “Chile’s Mine Rescue: Media Circus and Religious Revival,” Time Online, October 12, 2010, http://www.time.com/, accessed October 19, 2010.
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