“Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. – Luke 2:15-16
They come back every year. Like the swallows returning to Capistrano on March 19, the pilgrims arrive at our house on November 1. They stay about a month. They appear with a turkey much larger than themselves. When they stand too close together, it’s a scene from A Jurassic Park Thanksgiving. He’s carrying a ceramic musket, but it’s not going to be big enough to bring down that turkey. She’s wearing a crisp white ceramic apron, ready to cook whatever ceramic game he brings home from the hunt. But if her pilgrim man encounters this turkeysaurus, not only will he not bring home the turkey, he won’t come home at all.
Like most Americans, I associate the word pilgrim with the Mayflower, Plymouth Rock, Squanto and those blocky shoes with silver buckles on them. But the word pilgrim had a meaning long before those brave men and women arrived on the grassy sand dunes of Cape Cod on November 9, 1620. They were pilgrims because of what they were doing. They were travelers on a journey with a spiritual purpose. Like Chaucer’s band in The Canterbury Tales, like Bunyan’s Pilgrim in Pilgrim’s Progress, like the ancient Israelites who made the annual trek to appear before the Lord in Jerusalem, the pilgrims who came to America were driven by a spiritual motive.
Our American history and folklore has forever tied pilgrims to Thanksgiving. But this is a book about pilgrims of the Christmas variety—and not those pilgrims who flock to Bethlehem every December to be where Jesus was born on the traditional anniversary of his birth. Instead, I invite you to be a Christmas Pilgrim with me—to come along on a journey of the mind and heart to Bethlehem. Along the journey toward our destination, I will tell you stories about other pilgrims who made the trip, what they saw and experienced and how it changed their lives.
During the busy Christmas season, I’m sure you already have something in common with the hurrying shepherds in our text. You’re probably in a hurry, too. But they weren’t running late for the next holiday party or scurrying to meet the shipping deadline for Christmas Eve delivery of gifts. The shepherds weren’t hurrying to the mall or to the post office. They were hurrying to Bethlehem. I’m asking you to step away from those other hurries you’re in to join them for this journey. I hope you can find each day—for the next 30 days—a few moments apart from the frantic holiday pace to reflect on what the shepherds and the other pilgrims found when they arrived in little Bethlehem.
I hope you’ll accept my invitation to come along on this journey. I hope you’ll get a glimpse of some sacred wonders. And I hope you will be forever changed. Because I want this journey to be as personal as possible, I will call you Pilgrim along the way. I hope that is alright.