Review: The Journey

July 18th, 2011

Pastor and prolific author, Adam Hamilton, has written an engaging, highly-readable book for the Advent/Christmas season based on portraits of the major characters and places in the Christmas story: The Journey: Walking the Road to Bethlehem. Mary, Joseph, Nazareth, and Bethlehem come alive in new and deeper ways to provide depth and understanding to the biblical story of Jesus’ birth through this book and accompanying DVD with study guide (ideal for small group use during Advent). As these familiar stories are fleshed out, the reader sees things in each not previously noticed and asks questions not previously posed. The result is a rekindled love of the story and a more profound sense of God’s loving engagement with humankind in both the ordinariness and the complexity of life’s opportunities and challenges, joys and sorrows, disappointments, and fondest hopes.

Hamilton himself journeyed to the Holy Land to research this book. Drawing on his own experience as well as more extensive study, Hamilton shares customs, practices and beliefs of the time which open new windows onto these familiar faces and places. The actual route taken from Nazareth to Bethlehem is examined and found to be rich with meaning and allusions to the historic faith. Marriage customs, the significance of both Nazareth and Bethlehem, the meanings of key Scriptural words and concepts, the significance of the manger and the inn, of caves and of living water, of angels and shepherds—all these and more are explained and explored in Hamilton’s engaging way that invites the reader into a world and a time quite different from our own.

As readers make the journey to Bethlehem with Mary and Joseph, they will also find themselves identifying more closely with each and discovering how the feelings and experiences of this young couple mirror their own. This is the book’s pastoral side, opening up the possibility of conversation, for example, about pregnancy prior to marriage, pregnancy late in life, infertility, miscarriage, social ostracism, self-doubt, dark moments of doubt and fear, living without the expectation of reward, and other human experiences not commonly associated with the Christmas story, yet most surely experienced by God’s people in each generation.

Hamilton does not shy away from some of the more controversial and prophetic implications of the Christmas story, involving, for example, the obligation of the rich to give generously to others, the experience of Palestinians, and affection and respect between Christians and Muslims. While not the focus of the book, these honest observations hook the story’s timelessness to its timeliness, ensuring that it does not become a quaint exercise in seasonal nostalgia.

Theologically, Hamilton unpacks the meaning of the stories to let light shine on their true purpose and meaning: faithfulness, blessedness, hope, trust in God, the truth and power of the incarnation itself. This is a book that lets the basics of the Christian message emerge from some of its most familiar stories in ways that preserve the salvific import of deceptively simple stories about familiar people and places by bringing them wondrously into focus for the church in the present day.

Adam Hamilton offers here a Christmas gift back to the church itself, a gift to be opened in the armchair, around the dinner table, or in small group discussion by youth or adults. It will make Christmas more meaningful. And it will bring the old, old story to life in a new, new song to bring healing and salvation to the people of God and to the world God so loves.


Note: In addition to the book and DVD-based small group study, youth, childrens, and devotional editions are available for use in a variety of contexts.

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