There are so many themes in this Christmas season that comes to a close today. Light, gift, family, the humanity and divinity of Jesus (incarnation), etc. One that I had not paid so much attention to in previous years really struck me this year—this is the theme of journey.
Most of the stories in the Infancy Narratives of Luke and Matthew involve a journey. The “slightly pregnant” Mary journeys from her home town of Nazareth to the hill country of Judea to visit her “more pregnant” kinswoman Elizabeth. Mary and Joseph journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, where Mary gives birth to Jesus. The shepherds journey a short distance to Bethlehem to see the baby Jesus. The magi travel a great distance to see Jesus, then return home “by another route.” The Holy Family journeys to Egypt to escape Herod’s attempt to kill the child Jesus, then travel back to Nazareth. Years later, the Holy Family journeys from Nazareth to the Jerusalem, then return back only to discover on the way that Jesus was “not in the caravan”—so they go back to find Jesus still in the temple, speaking with the elders.
This word “caravan” appears another time in the Christmas season readings. The reading from Isaiah for the Feast of the Epiphany says, “Caravans of camels…from Midian, Ephah, and Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, proclaiming the praises of the Lord.” Recall that this word “caravan” has been prominent in the news lately as well, especially just prior to our midterm elections last November—but this caravan did not include camels. The large group of people who have fled violence and poverty in Central America, travelling a great distance north through the entire length of Mexico, hoping to find a home in the US, has been referred to as “the Caravan.”
Some politicians have highlighted this “Caravan” to advocate the need for “the Wall.” Others have pushed back, pointing out that the overall number of people coming to our border in 2017 was less than in previous years, or that illegal immigrants contribute to our economy more than we like to admit. As we are all too aware, this clash of ideologies has led to the current partial government shutdown.
These disagreements cut across denominational lines, with plenty of Catholics on each side of the divide. Our pope and our bishops, however, have reminded us that whatever position we take, it should be consistent with the Scriptures and Gospel we profess. We should never forget that the Holy Family themselves were refugees fleeing persecution, as were the Israelite people centuries earlier.
Once the Israelite people made it to the Promised Land, they were reminded that they are to treat aliens in their new land well, because “you were once were slaves and aliens.” Jesus reminds us in his parable of the Good Samaritan that when we say, “love thy neighbor,” the word “neighbor” means everyone, not just fellow countrymen. (We Catholics should also remember that most of these Latino people are in fact Catholics.)_
Recalling Mary’s consternation at Jesus having been left behind, we should never allow our leaders to separate children from their parents for any political reason. Above all, our policy decisions should never be motivated by fear. The message “fear not” is repeated over and over in both the Old and New Testaments, including three times in Luke’s Infancy Narratives. God’s messengers, the angels, tell first Zechariah, then Mary, then the shepherds, “Do not be afraid.” Recall that it is Herod who is motivated by fear—the fear of losing his grip on power!!