Advent Riffs: Fourth Sunday

Mary and Joseph are on the road this week, leaving home in Nazareth and walking to Bethlehem, a town where they do not belong, a town where no one waits to welcome them, where they have no place to stay.

Nazareth to Bethlehem. That is 90.2 miles, says Google Maps. Walking will take 31 hours. And a warning: “This route may cross country borders.” 

Carolina and José left home in Honduras, carrying two-year-old Emily, looking for safety. They  crossed country borders, traveling 1,700 miles to Texas.  

“The family traveled easily through Guatemala without a permit, they said. But once they entered Mexico, they were forced to walk or hitchhike most of the way to the border with the United States.

“Jose carried little Emily on his shoulders so she didn’t get cactus spikes on her arms and legs. They stopped at gas stations and hitchhiked rides.” 

Along the way, they were kidnapped twice before reaching the Rio Grande, crossing on a raft, and looking for a Border Patrol agent to ask for asylum. 

Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a town that the prophet Micah calls “too small to be among the clans of Judah.” Jesus was born in Bethlehem, to an outsider, someone not born there, someone not belonging there, a migrant who arrived only on the week and day that she gave birth. Jesus was born into homelessness. Jesus was born to a teenager, pregnant while unwed, now married to a good man who still could not protect her from the dangers of travel and the outcast status of the migrant in a place she does not belong. 

Carolina was pregnant with a second child when she finally got to safety in the United States. 

“Months of living homeless had taken its toll on pregnant Carolina. She was malnourished and could not hold down any food or liquids. The bus ride was excruciating for her, she said. She vomited blood. They spent their first night in Houston at an emergency room where Carolina was given fluids and prenatal vitamins. Once stabilized, she was released with a $1,500 bill the family said they could not pay.”

The innkeeper who has no room for pregnant Mary often seems the villain of the story. “No room in the inn,” he says. Likely, he is the last of a whole series of innkeepers in Bethlehem who have turned away this scruffy young couple, weary and dirtied from days on the road. We think he should have done better. He should have responded to their need with more than a space in the barn. 

What would we have done? 

More importantly, what can we do, now, today, to help the outsiders at our borders, the homeless in our communities, the hungry at our foodshelves?

Sister Norma Pimentel, the executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, has a message that resonates in this fourth week of Advent:

“As we journey on this Christmas pilgrimage, let us not forget that there are many in our midst who are struggling — the elderly who live in isolation; young adults who are trying to find their purpose; young families who are trying to pass on the faith and values to their children in the midst of the pressures of our time; and the elderly who are alone.

“God meets us where we are on our journey. He gives us families to walk together, to help one another, just as the young man and the woman I met in Reynosa were strangers and became a family. Who are the holy families today in your midst who need some help along the way? How have you helped someone this Christmas season?

“Be alert. You may encounter a Holy Family when you least expect it, as I do daily at the border. May the Lord bless you and your family and each encounter with another this Christmas.”

x x x

Prepare ye the way of the Lord—that’s a call for action. Here are some ways to act:

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