Advent 2022: The Joy of the Journey

Published December 12, 2022 by Greta Buehrle

When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. (Matthew 2:10)

Have you ever considered which character you would be in the Nativity story? I'd want to be part of the Magi. You see, I love to travel. If I had my way, most of my days would be spent trekking the globe. The only thing better than traveling might be planning the trip itself.

There's scientific evidence to back up this pre-trip felicity. A 2014 Cornell University study proved that the anticipation of an experience substantially increases a person's happiness more than the anticipation of buying material goods. Matthew Killingsworth, a coauthor in the Cornell study says, "Our future-mindedness can be a source of joy if we know good things are coming."

Back in 2011, I turned 30 years old. I was five months pregnant with my first child, and I got the trip bug. I announced that in 10 years, when I turned 40, I wanted to celebrate by taking a multiday rafting trip down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. A couple of friends said they would do it, too. For nine years, I sent a yearly reminder. "Have you started saving?" (It's an expensive trip.) In 2020, as the pandemic shut down all other travel plans and stymied joy everywhere, my friends transferred their money to me and we held our breath as I submitted the paperwork to hopefully be put on a 2022 trip. It was a little "iffy." The pandemic had shut down commercial trips for the summer and those people were getting first dibs on 2022 departures. After a couple months of worry, the news came that we had been assigned a trip. We were officially going!

Suddenly it seemed real. Over the next year and a half, the four of us would purchase gear, complete test packs of our backpacks, and fret over the right kind of clothing. Collectively we lost lots of weight and trained to walk long hikes in the desert. And undergirding all of this busy activity was the thrill of anticipation for the approaching journey.

At 4:00 AM on July 7, our group of four headed down the Bright Angel Trail on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. As the sun rose that morning (and for seven mornings afterwards as we traveled west on the Colorado) my heart burst with what can only be described as fulfilled joy. Ten years of built up anticipation and a journey complete.

How much did the Magi anticipate their arrival at the feet of the child king? It's not hard to imagine the overwhelming feeling of fulfilled joy as the star guided them through their final steps. Indeed, as the hymn says, "what a day of rejoicing it will be," when we too, fall down at the feet of Jesus. After all, we know good things are coming.

Father God, help us during this time of hopeful waiting to revel in anticipation of joy fulfilled.