A young Middle Eastern couple is forced by an oppressive regime to leave their hometown and walk long hours on a dirt road carrying their few material belongings. They trudge along with the sting of shame having become outcasts from their own village.
When they arrive at their destination there is no room for them. They are unwanted and un-welcomed. They sleep in the dirtiest place — rejected and alone.
Then they are pushed out again. They are forced to walk across countries and over borders to escape a cruel tyrant. Their tiny infant cries from the scorching sun and the long days. The wife, merely a girl herself, is tired and weak. They are strangers in a strange land desperately seeking asylum.
This time of year we remember their story — the story of the family no one wanted. A family that was shunned and ignored. She was just a girl cloaked in shame and rejection. He was just a simple carpenter with calloused hands and a dirty face. Our Lord was just a frail newborn with bits of hay in his hair and the stench of sheep on his clothes.
We teach our children in poems and songs that there was “no room” for them on that holy night. “We would make room for him.” we say. “We would not have turned the baby Jesus away. We would make room for you. You could have slept in our home. You could have had our bed instead of a filthy manger. There is room in our hearts for you.”
Jesus replies, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for Me.”
We know the issues are complicated. We know the risks are real, and the solutions are never simple. We know that these acts of terror are infecting our world with fear and hatred. We know that we cannot afford to be naive or careless. We know the dangers are urgent, and the oppressors are cruel. We know that our emotions must be tempered with clarity.
But we also know as Mary knew:
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
Bless the Lord for He is merciful and mindful of the lowly. And, as his people, so must we be. Let us pray for those suffering, but let us also pray for those in authority. May they refuse to be governed by fear alone. May they be led by prudence and compassion. For if they forsake wisdom, the safety of our nations is certainly at risk. But if they forsake mercy, the safety of our very souls is in great peril.
Let us pray most of all for the greeting to the shepherds on that night to echo in our hearts – PEACE ON EARTH AND GOODWILL TO MEN.