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On faith: Traveling in perilous conditions

Pastor Susan Berge, Knife River Lutheran Church

As all of us are aware, this winter season has been among the coldest and snowiest on record for our area. The true wintry nature of December and January have provided some breath-taking sights, with snow-laden trees sculpted into fantastical creatures and all the world looking white, bright, and beautiful. But, this weather also has created difficult driving conditions for most all of us. The early and heavy wet snowfall, followed by bone chilling cold, has left us with ice and snow-packed driving conditions, seemingly into the foreseeable future. Hearing about five or 10 car pile-ups due to weather difficulties all across the country gives little comfort as we clutch the steering wheel more tightly and peer ahead to discern if the pavement is clear or not. And a breakdown in the bone-chilling cold could not only be inconvenient, but downright dangerous. Travel has been perilous as of late.

Interestingly, the Gospel stories we have heard and continue to hear in church during December and January also involve perilous travel, although icy roads probably played no part in their particular perils. But, the birth of Jesus, which we heard on Dec. 25, takes place in a backwater kind of town, Bethlehem, far from the comforts of home in Nazareth, where Mary and Joseph lived. This journey, on foot, or possibly with the aid of a donkey, had to have been difficult, with Mary due to give birth at any moment. As we all know, they couldn’t even find good accommodations once they arrived. The Magi, whose coming was observed on the festival of Epiphany, Jan. 6, also traveled a perilous road from a distant country to an uncertain destination, a road where thieves and cutthroats awaited the unwary. After paying homage to Christ, once they located him in Bethlehem, they were warned in a dream to return home by a different road than that which they’d come, in order to avoid a run in with King Herod. Another travel inconvenience!

Finally, soon after the Magi’s visit, the Holy Family was forced to flee from Bethlehem to Egypt as homeless refugees, in order to escape Herod’s murderous plans for the new born king. There was another journey that had to have been scary and difficult — leaving the familiar to enter a different country with foreign language and customs. Perilous travel abounds in these stories!

Entering a New Year, 2014, we naturally wonder what the road ahead will be like for us…both literally and figuratively. We might hope to have fewer actual icy roads to drive down and to travel with more confidence and ease. We might also hope to encounter, metaphorically, a journey in the coming year that may seem brighter and more peaceful than that of 2013. This is especially true for those who had more than their share of struggles during the past year. We wish for this safer travel not only for ourselves, but for our country, for our world, and for our church. For this reason, we might pray this ancient prayer for travelers from our hymnal: “Lord God our Father, you kept Abraham and Sarah in safety throughout the days of their pilgrimage, you led the children of Israel through the midst of the sea, and by a star you led the Wise Men to the infant Jesus. Protect and guide us now in this time as we set out travel, make our ways safe and our homecomings joyful, and bring us at least to our heavenly home, Amen.”

Pastor Susan Berge ministers at Knife River Lutheran Church and lives in Duluth. She loves the winter, but hates the driving!