On December 26, Helen, Marian, James, and I drove down to the Panhandle of Florida to celebrate the Christmas season at my sister’s house with our extended family. Google says that trip should take 13 hours and 14 minutes. But of course that’s just driving time. Google doesn’t take in to account stops for refueling, food, and other necessities. It also didn’t know about the 45-minute traffic jam between Huntsville and Birmingham, Alabama, at least not when we were initially planning our trip. It also didn’t know that I would take a wrong turn after a stop for gas and to change drivers. (The sign said 69 North and I knew I didn’t want to be going north. It also said 24 East, but I didn’t notice that until it was too late.) And when you take a wrong turn in that part of Kentucky you get to drive an extra 18 miles. We took two cars from our house, because James had plans to drive back before the rest of us so that he could meet Peace Corps friends in Nashville for New Year’s Eve. And then we met up with my parents and sister and her kids coming from St. Louis, also in two cars. So, in the words of that old 1970s hit, we had ourselves a convoy.
The point of the trip is to reach the destination, and driving is a lot cheaper than flying, especially considering all the stuff we wanted to bring along with us. But the trip is also part of the fun. The way it worked out this time with changing drivers, I got to spend several hours of one-on-one time with Helen, James, and Marian each. Marian and I started out together in James’ car with her driving. Helen drove our car while James slept. He had just come off a 12-hour shift at Carle and didn’t manage to get any sleep before we got up at 3:00 a.m. to get on the road by 3:45. So, with clear skies, Marian and I watched Venus rise, and then Jupiter. I also tried to spot the “Christmas comet” (46P/Wirtanen), until I figured out it was no longer bright enough to be viewed without a telescope. We might have had a chance to see Mercury just before dawn, but by the time I thought to look the sky was too bright. (Mercury is hard to see because it stays so close to the sun. The conditions have to be just right – clear skies and a decent view of the horizon). We also listened to the soundtrack of Hamilton, which Marian has seen but I haven’t. I also hadn’t listened to the entire soundtrack all the way through. Se we each got to share something that we were passionate about with each other.
Then we switched drivers. Helen took over driving James’ car, and I drove ours, with James still trying to get some sleep. There wasn’t much talking on that leg of the trip, but we were back together at the end, when I listened to a couple of stand-up comics that he’d been wanting me to hear. Especially good, I thought, was Hasan Minhaj, and his extended story of his upbringing as the son of immigrants. We also got to talk some, when he wasn’t sleeping.
But before that, Helen and I also ended up together, with each of us driving for a while. We got back to a mystery novel set in Ireland that we started two years ago during our trip to Denver and never finished. We had to start it over again because we’d pretty much forgotten everything. But then as we listened to it again, it started coming back to us. We hope to finally find out “who done it.”
It struck me me toward the end of our trip what a nice day it had been, even if those 16 ½ total hours, door to door, were also rather grueling. Having someone to share the journey with can make a big difference. That is true for a long road trip, but it is also true for our journey through life. And then I though, because it was still Christmas after all, and only the second day, that that is also what the incarnation is about, at least in part. God comes among us as one of us in Jesus Christ to accompany us in this life, to be present with us throughout our lives through the gifts of Word and Sacrament, but also in the fellowship of the faithful, what Luther called the “mutual conversation and consolation of brothers and sisters in Christ.” As this newsletter goes to print (or e-mail), it is still Christmas. I hope you will give thanks in this season for the gift of companionship in its many forms, and that in giving thanks, you will be inspired to make the most of your journey through life in this New Year.
+ Pastor Chris Repp