Christmas is a time of joy, hope, and as I learned from an amazing group of individuals, a time for connections and helping those in need. It’s also a good starting point for seeing everyone as an equal- immigrant, refugee, migrant worker, neighbor, stranger.
“May God be with everyone who is struggling,” is what Séamus, and ten-year-old boy volunteering at the Columban Mission Center, as he was preparing gifts for people coming from Annunciation House.
This year I’ve been on a quest for the meaning of Christmas. It seems there is not one pat answer or meaning to the season. Everyone I speak to has a different view, a different take on what Christmas it.
For Séamus it’s helping people in need. For Father Bob Mosher of the Columban Mission Center, it’s about connections.
“The Christmas story,” began Fr. Mosher, “I think is all about connections.”
As Fr. Mosher said, we are all familiar with the story of Jesus and His birth. How the angel announced to Mary that she would bear the Son of God. How she and Joseph fled, not returning until the time of the census. How, when the time was complete, Jesus was born in a
“Fundamentally,” said Father, “believers in Jesus Christ see this as a celebration of the connections that we are all called to make, and capable of making precisely because of what happened on that first Christmas.”
Father Mosher added, “when Jesus was born, we see God taking the initiative to reach out to humanity, to the human family, and to rescue it from that kind of longing and sadness, despair, and demands that everyone experiences in the human condition.”
Oh, and there are so many demands, and overwhelming despair at times.
We rush around this time of year, searching for that perfect gift in hopes of making someone smile. We are overwhelmed with friends and family who may have besieged us for the holidays.
Or, we may be suffering from depression like no other (see my story about holiday depression) It can be rough, this time of year. It’s even harder on those who are finding themselves in theUnited States, alone, searching for a place to be, a place to belong.
“Jesus is very particular,” said Fr. Mosher. “When He grows up to become an adult, He shows us exactly how to live.”
Fr. Mosher called Jesus the great connection maker. I think it’s true.
This past week, at the Columban Mission Center, a group of volunteers had gathered to prepare tables full of clothing, toys, and other gifts. This year, parents from Annunciation House will have visited the Mission to select gifts for their children that they otherwise would not have had.
Imagine what it must feel like: you’ve made your way to the United States to provide a better life for your family, your children, and you can’t give them even one simple gift for Christmas.
Imagine being in this country, as a migrant worker, a refugee, or even here illegally, worried about how you will face the holidays, much less every other day of the year. That’s why it’s important we make connections with these people who are our neighbors.
I know our current political administration doesn’t allow much wiggle room for individuals who are here illegally. Just try to look at the larger picture.
Many of the families being served by the Mission and Annunciation House have faced trauma, stress, fear, and discrimination. They have suffered for the sake of wanting a better life for their children. They are accosted by rude comments about their status, where they are from and just how they got here.
Many of us have forgotten where we come from. The United States has been peopled by individuals of all ethnic backgrounds. It’s that diversity, that heritage that makes us who we are.
There is Rebekah Bell, from Paso Christian Church, who was at the Mission to help sort items for the Christmas “store.” She, like everyone else, came because of the connections we have to everyone else.
“The shopping day,” says Rebekah of the gift selection at the Mission, “is an opportunity for guests of Annunciation House to connect with their kids and family by actually doing shopping for their family for Christmas.”
The selection of what guests could choose from was amazing. In very short order the items began to spread to fill tables in the main room, kitchen, and sitting room just outside the chapel.
“I think this is the heart of Christianity,” Rebekah says. “At Christmas, we get so focused on ‘hey, I bought this for my family, the people that I love.’ But the whole idea behind Christmas is God sent His Son to just the world in general.”
God sending His only begotten Son to the world is something I think many of us forget. I once attended a Bible study where the teacher asked the group a simple question. He asked if they would pray for a Muslim, a Hindu, or a person of another religious faith if asked to do so.
Not pray with them, or pray how they might pray in their tradition, but to simply pray for them. Several of the people at the study said they would.
The person leading this study said that was the wrong answer. He said that we should not pray for individuals of other faiths simply because they have a different view, a different concept of God. He went so far as saying that one should not pray for anyone outside of the shared denomination.
In my opinion, he missed the point of Christmas. He missed the point of being a Christian. It shouldn’t matter where someone is from, what their religion is, or their legal status within the United States. These are our neighbors, members of our community and the fabric of our lives.
Séamus, a boy who is only ten years old, seems to get this.
“I want to help people who are having bad stuff happen to them right now,” says Séamus. “If they are not helped they might die.”
He has a point. If someone doesn’t step in, help, guide, accompany our neighbors in the broader sense of the word, who will? That is what we are called to do by Christ in Matthew chapter 25. To paraphrase it He said that when we feed the hungry, clothe the poor, visit the
sick and imprisoned, we are doing this unto Him. Even though it’s not mentioned, I am certain He would have included the migrant, the refugee, the person whose legal status might be sketchy at best.
“May God be with everyone who is struggling,” is what Séamus said. Guess what, in my opinion, God put us here to help.
“The process of accompaniment, accompanying migrants and refugees is just so important,” says Emily, from New York, who is living at Annunciation House to volunteer full time.
“For me, it feels like a really good way to push back against most of what I disagree with,” Emily says. “That I see in our country particularly, is anti-immigrant, anti-refugee sentiment.”
She’s right. We, as a nation, have become so anti anything that is not considered homegrown, American, here legally. We seem to view immigrants and refugees as the enemy. We see them as an invading force that is here with an agenda to overthrow our way of life. It’s not true. It’s not. However, look at half the posts on Facebook. “They have come for our jobs, our families, Christmas,” and so on.
Emily made a point- the people who come to this country, seeing a better life for themselves, their families, they are not a nefarious group. They are not here to change anything. They are here to contribute to what we have. To strengthen us and our society.
Look around you. Look at the people you know. Look at the people in your neighborhood, where you shop, where you work or go to school. Take a good hard look because at least one person is a child of a migrant, a refugee, or someone who is simply here to make a better life for themselves.
Think about Jesus, His words, His actions. Think about what He would say to you during this Christmas season. Think what He would say about how we are beginning to treat people simply because they come from Mexico, South America, or other parts of the world.
Think how you would feel if you were in their shoes.
Maybe, just maybe you will seek out those connections, as Father Mosher speaks about in the above video, and you’ll appreciate Christmas just that much more.